No-one is more surprised at Aritz Aduriz’s ever-improving goalscoring statistics than the player himself. “If you’d told me a few years ago that I continue to get better after turning 30, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said, with disarming frankness.
It is not hard to picture the Athletic Bilbao frontman raising an eyebrow whenever he checks his stats, or flashing a half-smile, which has become almost a permanent feature on his face lately, a response to all the praise that has been coming his way.
The reason for that is his recent exploits in front of goal. The scorer of 60 goals in the years between his first-team debut in 2002 and his 30th birthday, Aduriz has struck no fewer than 102 in the last five season, 30 of them coming in this campaign alone.
An out-an-out striker, he has spent his entire career tirelessly exercising his duties as the first line of defence, wrestling with centre-halves, making breaks into space and searching for the right time and place to pop up and put the ball into the back of the net. It has been hard, leg-sapping work and yet, despite it all, he is currently in the form of his life, at the ripe old age of 35.
“There’s no magic potion,” the chuckling Athletic Bilbao striker told FIFA.com, attempting to explain his longevity. “I suppose it’s got something to do with my genes, so it’s my parents I should be thanking. There’s also the fact that I really enjoy what I do. That’s the biggest secret.”
Aduriz inherited his passion for sport from his driver father and his office worker mother, though their passion was the mountains, whereas his was football, a passion he nurtured by playing weekend matches on the sands of the Playa de la Concha in his native San Sebastian. Cross-country skiing was another pursuit of his in his childhood years, one that helped him develop the strength and doggedness he shows in every match and training session, virtues that have no doubt helped him extend his career so successfully.
“These days we get a lot of data about ourselves and a lot of thought goes into every detail, like our diet,” explained Aduriz. “I eat virtually anything and I don’t do weird or strange things.”
The same goes for sleep and rest. The days when he tried out high-pressure oxygen chambers and the like are a thing of the past. He now rests whenever he can, which is not always easy with a young child around. “I’ve got a daughter who’s three and a half and doesn’t have afternoon naps,” he said with a smile. “At night, though, I try to get as much sleep as I can, because that’s the best way for your body to recuperate. I attach a lot of importance to it and I try to get eight hours of sleep a day.”
An old-fashioned centre-forward
Aduriz has run a long race to get where he is today, leading the line with élan at the club closest to his heart and where he started his career. Following subsequent spells with the likes of Valladolid, Mallorca and Valencia, he is back where he belongs and is being rewarded for his patience, with goals and the adulation of the San Mames faithful coming his way, not to mention the first trophy of his career, the 2015 Spanish Super Cup.
He had a big hand to play in that success last August, scoring a hat-trick as Los Leones ran out 4-0 winners against Barcelona in the first leg before scoring his side’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in the return.
“It’s one of the high points of my career,” he said, reflecting on that triumph. “You’re always looking to win titles, and to win one with Athletic, a club that’s got such a unique philosophy, is just… We’d gone 31 years without winning anything, and to do it against a Barcelona side containing [Lionel] Messi and the rest…”
Athletic have hit a rich vein of form, thanks in no small part to the spirit of togetherness in a side made up mostly of hungry young players but also featuring a handful of wily veterans such as Aduriz.
“We’re a family, a bunch of friends playing in the elite,” he said. There are times, however, when the generations clash, as he went on to explain: “Unfortunately for some of us, we have to hear more reggaeton than we’d like, but we manage to adapt to the times.”
There are some areas, though, where moving with the times is proving a little harder, such as social networking sites. “I think I’ve got an account with pretty much all of them, but I haven’t dared use them yet. I waste enough time with my mobile as it is,” he said, proving himself the opposite of Athletic’s online media 'experts', such as Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte.
“That’s another area where you notice the age difference more,” added Aduriz. “I remember the times when we didn’t have mobiles and we used to go down to the town square at five in the afternoon. If your friends were there, then great. And if they weren’t, you just went home. Now they’re online 24 hours a day.”
Fortunately for Aduriz, the age-old art of goalscoring has little to do with technology, and while he continues to score goals at the rate he has been doing lately, anything is possible. “I hope the best is yet to come,” he said, full of hope.
With UEFA EURO 2016 just around the corner and Vicente del Bosque searching for a No9 for La Roja, nobody should be ruling out a return to the national team for the Basque striker, who has a solitary cap to his name. He won it before he turned 30, however, and we all know what the ageless Aduriz has been doing since then.