Football Features

Iago Aspas: From struggling to dislodge Liverpool’s SAS to a genuine Celta Vigo legend

By Matt Clark, from La Liga Lowdown

Published: 12:56, 12 January 2022

Iago Aspas is a Celta Vigo legend; this is an indisputable fact.

While Premier League watchers may scoff at this notion – thinking only of his infamous corner at Anfield – for Celta fans and La Liga aficionados, Aspas is genuinely one of the best across the past 10 years, and unquestionably Celta’s premier player. A great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals, just ask Barcelona fans…

The story begins in a suitably magnificent way. It was June 2009, and the Galicians were fighting to stay in the second tier. It was a relegation six-pointer against Alavés, and a win would save Celta. On the hour mark it was still 0-0, and a fresh-faced boy from Moaña, just across the Ria de Vigo and half an hour away from Balaídos by car, was sent on to make an impact. This was his first senior match in front of his own fans too, so no pressure.

With 10 minutes left to play, he found space in the box to head in a cross and send the crowd crazy. He smashed the ball into the sky, took off his shirt and then grabbed a TV pitchside mic – he had well and truly announced himself. Amid the delirium, the visitors went against the script and equalised, turning the mood upside down. But the 21-year-old had the final say, tapping in a rebound in the 94th minute to seal Celta’s safety. He was an instant hero, and his legend has been growing ever since.

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By 2011/12, Celta were pushing for promotion, and Aspas fired 23 goals in 35 appearances to send them up. He had just the solitary season in La Liga before Liverpool came calling. For the boy who was so close to his roots, moving to England proved challenging, and he struggled to get game time ahead of the Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge double-act. He was loaned to Sevilla, where he won a Europa League but rarely featured. He knew he had to return home.

This is now Aspas’ seventh season back at Balaídos and he has been talismanic in every one of them. Celta reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2017, but have endured multiple relegation scraps in the subsequent years.

The 2018/19 season is particularly indicative of his importance. In early 2019, Aspas was struggling with injuries, and his team were languishing in the relegation zone, on their third coach of the season. When Aspas returned, he dragged them to safety almost single-handedly. At the end of March, they were 2-0 down at home to direct rivals Villarreal. Aspas gave them a lifeline then scored the late winning penalty to seal a dramatic win. Overall, he scored 10 goals in the final nine matches of the season to inspire Celta to four wins and four draws to secure their top-flight status. Just as he had been the saviour a decade earlier, now he was the magisterial miracle man.

Things have been less precarious since, but his magic has not faded. In the current season alone, he became the first player to score 100 goals at Balaídos, and recently made his 400th appearance for the club, putting him third on the all-time list. He is already clear as the record goalscorer, currently on 176. He has won three Zarra trophies (the Spanish player with the most La Liga goals in a season) and has reached double figures in La Liga in each of the last seven seasons, putting him in an exclusive club of one. And since 2016/17 only Lionel Messi (162) and Luis Suarez (119) has more goals than Aspas’ 99 in La Liga – his former Liverpool roadblock being the only active La Liga player to score more.

The Prince of Moaña is still delivering, and there can be little doubt that his legacy will continue to grow and the records will keep tumbling.

Article produced by Matt Clark in partnership with La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown