It was September 2005 when Roberto Soldado scored his first ever European goal, with a cross from David Beckham for Real Madrid against Olympiacos.
If he scores against Manchester United on Thursday night, it will be just as good – 16 years have taken none of the Granada striker’s enthusiasm.
Maybe his old teammate Beckham can take him to Miami when he’s finally done playing in Europe?
Roberto Soldado celebrates his goal against Molde in the final round of the Europa League
The experienced 35-year-old attacker was helped in the celebration by teammates
It is Manchester United’s turn for the Spanish underdogs in the quarter-finals of the Europa League
“My legs don’t last that long,” he says from the training ground in Granada in the run-up to the biggest match in the club’s history.
Granada is just as surprised to be here as Soldado. “It has been so long since that first European goal,” he says.
“Who would have thought that I would be here so long and that I could play in Europe at almost 36 years old against a team like Manchester United?”
The former Tottenham forward is one half of the oldest strike partnership in La Liga. The club signed Jorge Molina in the summer. He will turn 39 at the end of this month.
“I was very happy that I would no longer be the oldest player on the team,” laughs Soldado.
It’s usually one or the other in the lead, but when they both play, they give 32-year-old coach Diego Martinez nearly 75 years of experience.
Soldado (left) celebrates with Aaron Lennon (center) and Christian Eriksen after Tottenham scored in their victory over United at Old Trafford on New Years Day 2014
But this was a more typical scene of Soldado at Spurs, after 16 goals in 76 appearances
Soldado always said there would be life after Madrid when he left the club in 2008. His two-season spell with Spurs from 2013 included a win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on New Years Day. Does he remember the game?
“It’s hard to forget!” he says. “Because I’d been home alone on New Year’s Eve.”
The Spanish take December 31 as seriously as the rest of the world and with the added ritual of eating 12 grapes at 12 strokes of midnight with friends and family.
‘I ate the grapes alone; it was a bit sad, ”he says.
‘Since we were playing in the afternoon on January 1, I said to my wife,’ I’m definitely going to Manchester on the 31st, so you’re going to Spain to be with the family.
‘She went two days before and then the coach said we would travel on match day, so we could have spent the night together anyway. I could not believe it. We ended up eating the grapes on the other end of a video call.
The 35-year-old attacker immediately feels at home with Granada as his career enters the final phase
Granada has specialized in overcoming the odds this season, be it more backlash or a Covid-19 breakout in their camp.
‘It was a disaster! But it was worth it, because the next day we won at Old Trafford. ‘
Manchester United have already done away with one Spanish team this season by beating Real Sociedad 4-0.
Granada doesn’t have the Real Sociedad fine-tuning, but it’s a sustainable diesel from a squad that finished seventh last season when many tipped them.
This year they have admired their 47-game marathon, despite being hit so hard by coronavirus positives earlier in the season that they almost lost a game against Real Sociedad by default because they couldn’t line up enough players.
Soldado’s recovery from the virus coincided with that desperate search for the numbers that would help them fulfill the match.
“I got the virus in late October and November,” he says. “I was down in the basement of my house, completely isolated from my family for 20 days.
Soldado celebrates with Zinedine Zidane after scoring a goal during his Real Madrid days
The striker played against Manchester United for Valencia in the 2010-11 Champions League
“I passed a second negative PCR on Thursday, I came in on Friday to do some gym work and on that Saturday they told me to travel with the team.”
“I lost my sense of taste and smell when I had the virus and after that I found it a bit more difficult to recover after workouts.”
The weight of matches, injuries and illness took their toll on the squad and there were tears in the locker room after sawing Napoli down in the first knockout round, despite an early goal and the loss of three players to an injury in the first hour.
The road leg was crazy. If you are 2-0 ahead after the first game, you don’t want them to score in the first few minutes and to start scoring in the first minute.
‘Some of our players had a hard time. They shouldn’t have been in the squad, let alone on the field. But there were no alternatives.
Soldado shoots in the opening goal for Granada against Noren Molde in the last 16
“The sacrifice we all make is huge, because if we can only play for 10 minutes, we say it, the manager knows that.
‘I remember one of the team doctors was emotional [after the 3-2 aggregate win]It is the accumulation of so much responsibility. He was crying in the locker room.
The day against Napoli was a matter of who can help, will help. We are all in it together. That complicity has brought us here to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, which was unthinkable for us. ‘
Unthinkable for Granada and also for Soldado who joined them at the start of last season with the idea of being in the top flight for another year.
“My expectations have been overcome by miles,” he says. ‘I just wanted to avoid relegation. That was the goal here. And now we are going to play a quarter final of the Europa League. ‘
Spanish striker Soldado has scored eleven goals in all competitions for Granada so far this season
He is the father of this group that makes history. When I tell what it was like to play Ronaldinho, the reactions are funny. “You played Ronaldinho ?!” they say.
“I like that, I enjoy it all.”
That is also his message for Thursday evening: ‘Although we are the smaller team, the ambition is of a large team. That is the mindset we need if we want to take out United.
‘We have to enjoy it and see where our level can take us. If they’re better than us, that’s fine. But we will compete. I’m convinced of that. ‘