The first thing you notice about Roberto Soldado is the way, when he crosses his arms, his biceps look like they are going to rip through his designer shirt. The second is that he loves to talk in depth about his profession – and he is terribly good at it.
It has been a tumultuous summer for Valencia CF's No9. He did not make Spain's UEFA EURO 2012 squad and he had the chance to leave Mestalla, yet when Valencia offered him a new deal, he signed up as soon as he could find a pen. Why?
"The two years until now at Valencia have been just fantastic," he said. "Valencia is my city, where I was born, and playing here is one of the greatest things that has happened in my life. When the club gave me the opportunity of five more years I didn't think for more than a second. Valencia have ambition. We're a young team that intend to win important things and I'll be doing my best to make sure that happens."
Soldado took the long way home, joining Real Madrid CF and moving to CA Osasuna and Getafe CF before arriving at Mestalla in 2010. The then 25-year-old had to follow one of Valencia's all-time heroes, an added pressure he has never talked about until now.
"When I came here I never expressed it openly, as in 'replacing David Villa'," Soldado said. "But I was really conscious that if things didn't go well that tag was going to weigh very heavily for a long time – not just in my own mind but for the press and fans. Growing up I was fixated by all the centre-forwards who were around at the time, so now, to have my name on the shirt, to be the '9' for the team where I grew up and to be captain is a source of pride.
"You're out on the street, you see kids with a Valencia shirt with your name – it's a massive motivation and reminds you of your responsibility. It's one of the greatest things that can happen to a player."
When asked about the forwards he modelled himself on, the names trip enthusiastically off his tongue. "I favoured the finishers, the goalscorers. [Iván] Zamorano – I loved him when he was at Madrid. Jimmy [Floyd] Hasselbaink at Atlético, Ronaldo when he was at Barcelona. They really were the best of the best.
"If I look across the Champions League the guy I most look forward to watching is Wayne Rooney. Previously, he was more of a centre-forward – a goalscorer – but now he's the type who defends a lot, whose game is growing."
There's something in Soldado's make-up – his attitude to pressure, the timing of his movement, the special stuff of which champions are made – that chimes well with the UEFA Champions League: he has scored 12 goals in 17 games in the tournament.
"This is the optimum competition, the most beautiful you can play in," he said. "You feel the importance because every weekend in your domestic championship, it's what you strive for. You're defending the colours of your team against all of Europe. I just hope the ratio of goals I get in the Champions League stays the same and that they mean something important for the team."
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