By Tom Hayward
LONDON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Roberto Soldado was a regular in the Spain squad before joining Tottenham Hotspur in the close season but the striker's poor form for his new club means he has little hope of going to this year's World Cup in Brazil.
It is a measure of how far his star has fallen that when on Friday he was again omitted from Vicente Del Bosque's squad - this time to play Italy in a friendly - nobody was surprised.
Soldado joined Spurs for what was then the London club's record fee of 30 million euros ($41.43 million) and was tipped to fire their new-look side to Champions League qualification.
Tottenham brought in several international players for the new season with the 100 million euros they got from Gareth Bale's sale to Real Madrid for a world record fee.
Among the new arrivals was the 28-year-old Soldado, who had gained a reputation as one of La Liga's most lethal finishers. He had scored 81 goals in 141 games for Valencia and was fifth in the La Liga scoring charts last season with 24 goals.
However, this term he has so far netted only five Premier League goals, including four penalties, having failed to fulfil the hype that surrounded his arrival at White Hart Lane.
The Spain squad to face the Italians is the last Del Bosque will name before he chooses his preliminary 30-man party for the World Cup, with Soldado overlooked on the last five occasions.
Last year the striker was first-choice as Spain opened their Confederations Cup campaign in Brazil and only injury kept him out of the semi-final against Italy but he has fallen behind players like Alvaro Negredo and Brazil-born Diego Costa.
Soldado has scored seven goals in 12 games, including a hat-trick against Venezuela in 2012, since making his Spain debut back in 2007 but the stocky forward has not played since opening the scoring in a 2-2 draw with Chile last September.
The former Real Madrid forward has even failed to hold down a first-team place at Spurs as the goals have dried up and his confidence has drifted away in recent weeks.
Under Tottenham's previous manager Andre Villas-Boas, they played a conservative style of football and struggled to supply Soldado with the service on which he could flourish.
His slow start to the season was attributed to the cautious Portuguese coach's failure to use a formation to suit the goal-poaching forward who thrives on crosses into the area.
The more positive, attacking approach adopted by new boss Tim Sherwood, who took over from Villas-Boas in December, is more suited to Soldado's predatory instincts.
But the Spaniard has continued to cut a disconsolate figure with Emmanuel Adebayor now the first-choice striker, the Togo forward's goals helping Spurs stay in the race for Champions League football six points behind fourth-placed Liverpool.
Nevertheless, Sherwood has been steadfast in his support of Soldado, making a point of applauding the striker as he came off after being substituted late on in Wednesday's 3-1 Europa League last 32 victory over Dnipro Dnipropotrevsk.
Soldado unluckily had a goal disallowed for offside against the Ukrainians while another chance bounced over the bar when it could easily have found the back of the net.
Sherwood, though, insists a return to form is just around the corner for the hard-working but misfiring striker.
"He's getting the opportunities to score but he just needs to take one," he told a news conference after Soldado came off the bench and immediately missed two good opportunities during a disappointing 1-0 defeat at lowly Norwich City last Sunday.
"Strikers sometimes have a lull at times and Robbie needs to get out of this one. You know its probably going to take one off his backside for it to happen," added Sherwood.
"It's all about scoring on the big stage and he can do that and we've seen him do it over the years."
Soldado, obviously talented and with a proven goalscoring record, is clearly bereft of confidence despite the Tottenham fans sticking with him and serenading the forward with his own song: "He came from sunny Spain to play at White Hart Lane".
He is getting in the right positions to score goals but he won't start to justify his hefty price tag until he puts the chances away. Sherwood believes it is a matter of time before he starts to find the back of the net on a regular basis.
"We're waiting for him to take one (chance) and then all that confidence will start flooding back," he said. "We're hoping that it'll be sooner rather than later."
($1 = 0.7240 euros) (Reporting by Tom Hayward; editing by Ken Ferris)
- Sports & Recreation
- Roberto Soldado
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Vicente Del Bosque