Making decisions is never easy, even less so when the alternatives on offer involve a high degree of risk. Spanish striker Jonathan Soriano is not the kind to shy away from tough choices, however. He proved as much in 2009 when, ignoring the doubters and despite his first- and second-division experience, he dropped down to the Spanish third tier to sign for Barcelona B.
The move could not have worked out better for the player, who helped his new team win promotion in his first season before top-scoring the following year and then receiving an invitation from Pep Guardiola to take part in close-season training with the first team.
Life seemed sweet for the front man, but an untimely knee injury cut short his promising future at the Camp Nou and ultimately forced him to make another testing career decision. In need of some first-team action after returning from the sidelines, he opted for a move to Austria in January 2011. And once again, what seemed to be a risky choice turned out to be an inspired one.
“I never imagined for a minute I’d achieve what I have today,” said the Salzburg captain in conversation with FIFA.com. The achievement in question is his becoming Europe’s leading goalscorer this season, eclipsing even Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo and doing so with a continent-best strike rate of 1.31 goals per match.
Now 28, Soriano is in the form of his life, having scored 39 times in all competitions this season.
“I’m delighted,” said the self-effacing hitman. “Everything is going really well for me. Strikers always need a little bit of luck, and right now I seem to be getting it right in front of goal.”
An insatiable appetite
Soriano’s sense of satisfaction is made all the more intense by the memory of everything he has had to go through to get this far: “There’s no doubt that when you’ve had a hard time and suffered injuries or been out of the side, as I have, then you enjoy these moments a lot more. You feel it’s your reward.”
The Spaniards purple patch in front of goal has lasted quite some time, nearly two seasons in fact. Making light of the problems that come with settling in a new country, he scored 29 goals in his first year with his Austrian club. Three of them came in somewhat unusual circumstances when, after attending the birth of his third daughter, Soriano rushed out of hospital and arrived just in time for the second half of Salzburg’s match against Wolfsberger. The score was tied at 2-2 at the time, with the front man’s hat-trick helping his side record an emphatic win.
The goals have kept on coming, with Soriano and his team-mates now just a point away from sealing the Austrian league title with nine rounds of games still to play. And that is not all, as Salzburg have also fought their way to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League for the first time, having dished out a 6-1 defeat to Ajax in the previous round.
Not surprisingly, given his recent track record, the in-form Spanish forward scored three of his side’s goals in the tie, one of them a stunning strike from near the halfway line and which silenced the Amsterdam ArenA.
“Those goals are hard to score but very nice to remember because they’re so far out and important too,” said Soriano of his second of that night. “Winning 3-0 at their place … everything went just right for us.”
All options open
This Thursday the Austrians have the chance to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition. Standing in their way are Basel, the two sides having played out a goalless draw in Switzerland last week, thanks in no small part to the performance of the Swiss side’s goalkeeper.
“There’s no such thing as the surprise factor anymore,” commented Soriano. “Everyone saw what we did against Ajax, and Basel went into the game with a much more defensive mindset and denied us space.”
Though he is focused on the return leg with the Swiss, the Spanish centre-forward had a warning for the rest of the sides in the competition, the final of which will be played in Turin on 14 May: “We know it’s going to be very difficult, but if we get through we’re not going to rule anything out.”
With the rest of Europe now sitting up and taking notice of him, has the time for Soriano to change scene?
Offering an honest reply, he said: “I came here because I was tired of being a substitute, and they’ve given me the chance to play every Sunday. I’m not sure if I’d want to swap that for going to a big club. That’s not a definite no, but I’d need to think about it carefully.”
In the meantime, Soriano can no doubt expect a few more goals between now and the end of the season, which is when the time will come for him to weigh up the merits of taking yet another risk.