England vs Spain: Julen Lopetegui hails 'fantastic' Aritz Aduriz after unlikely run to first team

The 35-year-old Athletic Bilbao striker became Spain's oldest ever goalscorer on Saturday, and Lopetegui is thrilled by his contributions and so will start him against England on Tuesday

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The Independent Football

Anyone who watched Spain storm to three consecutive major trophies remembers the cutting edge provided by David Villa and Fernando Torres up front, two players now coming to the end of their decorated careers. But Spain are likely to have a very different profile of centre-forward up front at Wembley on Tuesday night, a man who will be barely known to many English observers.

Aritz Aduriz is 35 years old and will be 36 in February. He is three years older than Torres and 10 months older than Villa. And yet now, in what should be the twilight of his career, he is making an unlikely run into Julen Lopetegui’s first team.

Aduriz has never been especially fast and is certainly not quick now. He is classical bustling Basque striker, in the manner of Julio Salinas, Ismael Urzaiz or Fernando Llorente. Like those three before him, his team is Athletic Bilbao, where he is in his third spell now. Since returning there four years ago he has scored goals at a better rate than he ever has done in his career to date. Aduriz has won the Zarra Trophy, for La Liga’s top Spanish goalscorer, in each of the last two seasons. What is most impressive about his remarkable Indian summer is that he is still improving, improving his La Liga goal tally in each of his last four seasons.

Many late-improving players miss the boat for international recognition but Aduriz has not. He made his international debut at 29 under Vicente del Bosque and was then forgotten about for six years. Del Bosque took him to Euro 2016 but he could not make an impression on a team which was running out of gas. It would have been easy to move on without him under new coach Julen Lopetegui, but he wanted to count on him too.  Aduriz has fired up this Spanish side and on Saturday he became their oldest ever goalscorer when he converted against Macedonia, at 35 years and 275 days.

Aduriz had always wanted to be a skier or a mountain-climber growing up, and was never especially keen on football, but his performances for Athletic and now for the national team have been one of the great stories in Spanish football in recent years. Lopetegui certainly loves him and broke into English for the only time in his press conference at Wembley last night to sing the praises of the veteran striker. “Aduriz is important to the rest of the group,” Lopetegui said, “because he is a fantastic professional.”