David Farris with his TSG debut.
The Third Wheel.
To the casual outsider, La Liga exists as a fierce and epic battle between two clubs: Real Madrid and Barcelona. As if El Classico weren’t enough to keep people’s attention, last year’s race between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the top of the scoring list was spectacular. Part of what made this race so magical was that it was a microcosm of the athletic, the religious, and the political battle between the historically advantaged Real Madrid (represented by the impossibly good looking Ronaldo) and the precise, genius futbol of Barcelona (represented by little Messi).
And if you heard or read anything about soccer last season, you probably recognize that whole first paragraph as some recycled version of someone else’s story. Yes, it’s exciting to watch two captains of industry go at it week in and week out and then to have the crazy finish they did between the league and non-league stretch they played last Spring. Yes, YouTube is littered with videos like the one linked above showing goal after mind-blowing goal that you can watch until blood is shooting from your eyes to your laptop, phone, iPad, etc.
But for me and probably a few of you, watching that battle was a bit like playing FIFA on its Amateur setting. There is definitely something cathartic about putting together a dream team and watching it steam roll the landscape. And while historic campaigns like the 2010-11 are great PR directed toward the outer fringes of the La Liga and general futbol fan base, it just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
Maybe it’s all of those years of playing video games on the wrong difficulty level just to build confidence that I can carry into the outside world. Maybe it’s my nearly obsessive proclivity toward avoiding the bandwagon, the popular, or the otherwise widely known and appreciated. But if La Liga is going to hold my attention this season I’ll need some kind of alt-choice – something to make my hipster soccer friends jealous.
For the last few seasons that choice has been easy – Sergio Agüero. He’s talented at a level that could only be scientifically described as “bonkers”, has a tattoo written in a language invented by Tolkien, and is married to Diego Maradona’s daughter.
Agüero was the obvious choice to crown as the Third Wheel of the Spanish League. He scored 20 goals last season – second only to Ronaldo and Messi – and had essentially set up camp in every soccer writer’s transfer headlines all season long. Even with all of that press he was still flying just under the radar of most soccer fans because he played on a team that rarely, if ever, is shown on ESPN or The Deuce.
And then it happened. The siren’s song of petrodollars could only be held off for so long. At the end of July, Kun Agüero was tapped to be the next in what will probably be a long line of stars to watch from the sidelines of the City of Manchester (errrrr Etihad) Stadium as other, more star-y stars run around the pitch–hey folks, let’s be honest, that was Swansea and that could still happen.
The alt-dream was over. A million hipster hearts were broken and my knock-off Atlético Madrid shirt was declared ‘totaled’ and sold for scrap parts. The dream had died.
But of course, he wasn’t the only player in La Liga to score 20 goals last season. There was in actuality, a fourth wheel that worked quietly and efficiently to crash the talent party in La Liga last year.
That fourth wheel was Álvaro Negredo.
If you are a US Men’s National Team supporter and reading that name brings about an inexplicable migraine, it’s because Negredo was the guy who scored the second of 4 (four) goals for Spain when they played the US at Foxborough earlier this summer. In case you were looking for some nightmare fuel, you can find it here. The only things keeping him from consistently starting with the Spanish National Team are names like Torres, Llorente, and Pedro. Torres, for now that is.
Álvaro Negredo started his career with Real Madrid, who thought enough of him to retain re-purchase rights after shipping him off to Almería in 2007. Those re-purchase rights were exercised at a bargain price of €5m since all he did was score 32 goals in his two seasons with the club. He was then moved to Sevilla that same summer in 2009 where he has since earned a starting spot over Brazilian star Luís Fabiano and alongside Frédéric Kanouté.
Negredo is still young at 25 and should have the steady veteran Kanouté and Jesus Navas at his side for the foreseeable future. He has a manager who has served with the club in many different capacities since 1986 and has carefully guided it to steady success. Contrast his situation with someone like Guisseppi Rossi at Villarreal who will get some help from Nilmar but will mostly be on his own to try and recapture the glory of his 18-goal wunderseason.
To reiterate: the currently €15-20 rated Álvaro Negredo scored as many goals as the €35-40m rated Sergio Agüero last summer and over the last four years has scored 63 goals to Agüero’s 68. While Messi and Ronaldo would be clearly the two to watch in La Liga, it was possible that we were going to be treated to truly epic alt-battle between Kun supporters and Negredo supporters.
But as noted, Agüero is gone. Oil money, etc. Álvaro Negredo? When his name was floated last January and late last spring connecting him to three relatively unknowns named Tottenham, Liverpool and Real Madrid (through another re-purchase clause) he re-upped with Sevilla. For 5 years. Is it possible that by signing that deal and then turning in another 20+ goal season that Negredo could up his stock to stratospheric levels? Sure – but based on some of his most recent comments, I’m lead to believe that he wants to stick around and perhaps challenge the two-headed beast at the top of the league table and scorer’s list .
“I feel more and more comfortable and relaxed here at Sevilla.”
“I want to continue with this club and form a good partnership with Kanouté to bring more titles to Sevilla.”
I don’t remember hearing Sergio Agüero talking up his comfort at Atlético Madrid or how he and Forlán were going to partner to bring them trophies for years to come. In fact, I remember hearing Diego Forlán essentially cold calling clubs through the press to push Agüero toward the exit. Maybe that was at the direction of management or maybe it was just a favor for a friend who would now be able to cash in on all of the attention he was getting.
But I feel like there’s a larger sense of identified purpose and loyalty in the case of Negredo. While he has been quietly going about his business (i.e. scoring goals), we’ve been preoccupied with Ronaldo and Messi. I hope this season you’ll join me in supporting a man that is no longer pecking around the edges of the top of the scoring table. I, for one, look forward to supporting this year’s stand-alone third wheel.