Most footballers influence on their teams tend to lessen as they get older and younger players take over their responsibility. This is the normal path of a footballer’s career. Not Aritz Aduriz though. The Basque striker is 35, and better than ever before. Then again, Aduriz is no ordinary player, and his beloved Athletic is no ordinary club.

Aritz Aduriz was born in San Sebastian and joined Athletic Club for the first time in 2000 as an 19-year-old striker. Two years later he made his debut against FC Barcelona, but went on to spend the next two-and-a-half seasons away from San Mamés, first on loan at Burgos and then sold to Valladolid before returning to Athletic after 18 months. Upon his return, Aduriz found his place in the first team, but was overshadowed by the performances of Fernando Llorente. Aduriz was sold to Mallorca in 2008 and settled quickly on the island, scoring 23 league goals in his two seasons at the club.

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This prompted Valencia to purchase the striker in 2010. Aduriz mostly found himself on the bench, with Roberto Soldado preferred as the lone striker, but the Basque striker was a useful option from the bench and scored a total of 27 goals for Los Che. After two seasons at the Mestalla, Aduriz returned to Athletic in 2012, signed by the club for the third time.

“It’s a lot more than a football club”

-Aritz Aduriz on his feelings towards Athletic.

Aduriz first season back in Bilbao saw the striker score 14 league goals and 18 in all competitions. This was the best goalscoring season in Aduriz career so far, along with his first season at Valencia where he also netted 18. His second season at Athletic saw him repeat the first season’s success, again scoring 18 goals in all competitions, with 16 in the league.

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Then 33-years old at the start of the 2014/15 season, not many thought the striker would improve further. But that he did. Aduriz scored 18 goals in La Liga, and a total of 26 in all competitions to make a name for himself as one of the best strikers in Spain. A lot of people wanted Aduriz to return to the Spain squad (he received his first call up in 2010, making his only international appearance against Lithuania). National team coach Vicente Del Bosque, however, resisted.

Incredibly, Aduriz returned for the 2015/16 season even better than before. He started the season with a hat-trick against Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup to give Athletic a 4-0 win in front of a rocking San Mamés. In the replay, Aduriz scored again, and the 1-1 draw meant Athletic lifted the trophy at the Camp Nou. The magnificent start to the season for Aduriz continued, and, to date, the 35-year-old has scored 31 goals in all competitions. And we’re only in March. Finally, last week Del Bosque could resist no more. Aduriz was called up to the Spain squad and is in line to go to this summer’s European Championships, which would represent his first international tournament. It comes as no surprise as Aduriz is quite clearly Spain’s best striker.

“The feeling players have towards the club is much greater than at other clubs.”

Aduriz clearly enjoys playing at Athletic Club.

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Like Brad Pitt’s character Benjamin Button in the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Aritz Aduriz seems to get younger the older he gets. His development over the last few years is nothing short of remarkable and Aduriz should currently be acknowledged as one of the best strikers in Europe. He should be a certainty to go to the Euro’s, and in my mind he should be Spain’s number one striker. Diego Costa has struggled for Spain, Alvaro Morata is not a lone striker and Paco Alcacer isn’t a regular for Valencia. Alcacer has impressed for Spain, and is a really good fit for their style with his movement. However, Aduriz looks like the perfect striker for Del Bosque’s team. His movement is excellent both horizontally and vertically, he’s a great target man if Spain would ever need to go long (I know) and his intelligence around the box is second to none. Also, Aduriz’ heading is fantastic and his touch is impeccable. Considering Juanfran of Atlético Madrid is likely to be Spain’s first-choice right-back this summer, Aduriz has an even stronger case to make in terms of starting. Juanfran has consistently been one of Europe’s best crossers the last few years, and, coupled with Aduriz heading technique, the two would be devastating.

“It’s almost like a religion.”

Aduriz explaining what it’s like playing for Athletic.

Never mind what happens in the summer, Aduriz has been fantastic for his beloved Athletic and long may it continue. On the third attempt he finally found his home at Athletic after a quite nomadic career and he hasn’t looked back. Just like a really fine wine, the Basque Benjamin Button gets better with age and this summer we’ll hopefully see him bring his goals to France. If not, then next season can’t come quick enough for the fanatic supporters inside the San Mamés, where the Athletic faithful will be singing for their hero, the great Aritz Aduriz.

@DaveSelini

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