26th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Having scored an outstanding 23 goals in his opening 33 matches for Manchester City, in his debut Premier League season back in 2013/14, many thought Alvaro Negredo would go onto become a star at the Etihad for many years to come.
Unfortunately, however, this wasn't to be the case for the Spaniard, as his time in Manchester came to an abrupt halt. He would score his last ever goal for the club in January 2014, with reports citing homesickness and personal issues were to blame for his demise, but Negredo vehemently dismisses such claims. "I don't go along with this. I was not homesick," he insisted to the Daily Mail.
"At City, we had a dressing room full of Spanish speakers. Javi Garcia, David Silva, I came with Jesus Navas from Sevilla, then there were Argentines like Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis. There were more than enough people to make me feel welcome."
In addition, he learned English and became very competent with the language, so it came as a surprise to him to hear such allegations. Negredo clarified the issue by explaining that the real reason behind his downturn began when, after a rough patch of form, the then manager, Manuel Pellegrini, suddenly lost faith in him. Edin Dzeko was then installed in his place, and with the Bosnian going on a fine run of form, Negredo was subsequently resigned to a spot on the bench.
Thereafter, the man nicknamed "The Beast of Vallecas" never understood why he couldn't regain his manager's faith, no matter what he did to win his place back. "I trained harder than ever and tried to show Pellegrini I deserved to play," he explained.
"In the end, though, when you do all that and you still don't get a game, it's difficult. I need to play for a manager who wants me."
By the end of the 2014/15 preseason, Negredo still felt unwanted and justifiably made the call to return to Spain, where he joined Valencia on an initial loan.
Things disappointingly didn't go to plan for him here either. With his confidence depleted, he could only muster 10 goals in his two seasons with the Bats, in a stint where he battled unsuccessfully to recapture his form from his glory days at Sevilla and those early Man City days. Falling out massively with the then Valencia coach, Nuno Espirito Santo, last season only compounded his troubles.
When Gary Neville was appointed Valencia's new manager, he did, however, begin to feature again, but aside from fleeting moments of brilliance, he continued to struggle.
Once the 2015/16 season finished, the 31-year-old knew he needed to get out of the toxic environment at Los Che, and Middlesbrough offered him the lifeline he needed. For Negredo, who, in hindsight regretted leaving Man City so hastily, and wanted another opportunity to test himself in the Premier League, moving to the newly promoted club was a perfect fit.
"I want to do it here because they are giving me this opportunity. It didn't take me long to decide because I wanted to get back to playing and to feel good again," he explained to the Telegraph.
"I'm coming here to work and to keep on growing as a football player. I think that the Premier League is a great league for this. I know that I didn't do things well in my last stage in Valencia, but never have I stopped believing in the qualities that I have and in what I can bring."
With there being such a strong Spanish speaking contingent there, including manager Aitor Karanka, Gaston Ramirez, Cristhian Stuani, Victor Valdes and former Valencia teammate Antonio Barragan, the move appeared a match made in heaven. And judging on his fine start to life at Boro, the early signs are positive things might just work out for him, both in the short, and the long term.
Playing under a manager who understands his personality and who wholly supports him is clearly integral in getting the best out of Negredo. "You can see that in Seville, all the coaches had confidence in me. At City, I had that during one third of the league with Pellegrini, then I didn't. I think that's what I, as a football player need, in order to be happy," he said.
Fortunately, in Karanka, he appears to have found the ideal manager too get his career back on track too. After scoring on his debut in Middlesbrough's 1-1 draw with Stoke City, Karanka's comments evidenced how well he knows his new pupil's temperament, noting: "It was really important for Alvaro Negredo to score. I always said he was a top player but he needed to recover his confidence."
Although Negredo is only two matches into his Boro journey, it must be said he's been excellent in his team's opening two EPL outings. Aside from scoring that aforementioned goal vs the Potters and registering two classy assists in Middlesbrough's 2-1 win over Sunderland, Negredo's work rate and multifaceted skillset has seen contribute immensely.
Backed by the trust of his manager the former Spanish international has led the line with equal measures of intelligence, physicality and authority, which have provided a solid platform for him to make an immediate impact.
His movement, combined with his technical proficiency, particularly when dropping deep, has seen him successfully able to link play and subsequently instigate so many dangerous attacking forays by way of a crafty flick or a crisp one touch pass. Moreover, his hulking strength has been vital in these instances whenever he's needed to hold the ball up while waiting for a viable option to materialise.
Another key byproduct attached to this facet of his play has been that it's created space for his fellow attackers to exploit behind him, for whenever he's ventured upfield, his markers are forced to leave their post and follow him.
Being so adept in aerial confrontations has amplified what a fantastic weapon he's been for Karanka's men too. Whether from goal kicks, set pieces or in open play, his heading prowess has given his side an additional attacking dimension, which will unquestionably serve his side well against the many towering central defenders he'll come up against this term.
Now with the fire back in his belly, it's great to see Negredo playing with such passion, intensity and fight again. As Middlesbrough search to achieve their chief objective of survival, you can guarantee their experienced, battle-hardened hitman will be an integral component in their quest to stay in the top flight.
Playing within an environment where he feels wanted and appreciated, the sky really could be the limit for the Beast of Vallecas this season.
Edward also writes for Licence to Roam
Alvaro Negredo: Off to a Flying Start with Middlesbrough
26th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.