La Liga: Has Portugal's Postiga Finally Found a Home at Real Zaragoza?
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In assessing Portugal's national team over the last two decades, one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at them has been the lack of genuine top-class strikers in their ranks.
A harsh assessment in some respects, though one with some truth to it.
From the so-called "golden generation," Joao Pinto and Nuno Gomes performed well enough for their country, but were never sustained goalscoring threats over multiple tournaments.
Pauleta flattered to deceive, netting 47 goals in 88 games, but failed to deliver when it mattered most.
Then there is Helder Postiga, a player who has managed to carve out quite a respectable international resume, even as his club career has floundered.
By no means the long-awaited heir to Eusebio, Postiga has generally managed to remain relevant in the international picture since his debut in 2003 and has been relied upon by a succession of coaches as a steady and sufficiently talented presence upfront.
But the difference now is, for the first time since his international career began, Postiga may have finally rid himself of the journeyman tag and found a club to call home.
They are Real Zaragoza, currently 11th in Spain's La Liga, and looking as though they are the team to finally get the best out of the Portuguese wanderer.
The striker was the northern Spanish club's top scorer in 2011-12, his nine goals helping them to safety as they finished above the relegation zone by just two points.
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He has already struck a further six goals in 11 league starts this season, including a brace this past weekend, as Zaragoza came from two goals down to beat Deportivo la Coruna 5-3.
The best previous spell in Postiga's club career came way back in the early part of the last decade, before he had even been capped by the national side.
Having progressed through the ranks of FC Porto's youth system, he joined the first team in the 2001-02 season and then flourished the following year under the management of Jose Mourinho.
Postiga scored 13 times that season and was a regular in the side that won a Portuguese League and UEFA Cup double (though he missed the final through suspension).
However, rather than the beginning of sustained success over the following years, it was in many ways to be the highpoint of his club career for a long while.
Porto accepted a bid for the then-20-year-old from Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, a fact some may view in hindsight as saying something about Postiga's quality (Porto did fine without him too, winning the Champions League in 2003-04).
But as damaging as two goals in 24 appearances might look, Postiga's season with Tottenham was blighted by bad luck.
Glenn Hoddle (the manager who signed him) was sacked two months into the season, and while he had sporadic chances in the initial months thereafter, caretaker boss David Pleat never much fancied him for his side.
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The Spurs fans did warm to their Portuguese striker (when he returned to White Hart Lane for a friendly in 2005 he was afforded a good reception) for his effort and some great moments of play (notably the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Liverpool), but the arrival of Jermain Defoe in the January transfer window ultimately signified the end of his time there.
Though accompanied by some nice moments on international duty (that late equalizer in a Euro 2004 quarterfinal against England springs to mind), Postiga's career since his time at Spurs has been a stop-start affair.
His return to Porto in 2004 brought with it a further two league-championship medals, the second of which, in 2006-07, saw him contribute 11 goals along the way.
But loan spells in Greece and France, as well as a three-year stay with Sporting Lisbon, were not successes.
So what has changed so as to allow the now-30-year-old to flourish at Zaragoza?
Postiga has been around long enough now that he has undoubtedly learned a lot from his experiences in different leagues and under different managers. And of course, it is helpful to have a manager (in this case Manolo Jiménez) who has enough faith in him to start him regularly.
Some players are better suited to certain leagues, and in La Liga he may have found the ideal setting for his particular talents.
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It probably doesn't hurt either to be in a division where emphasis is placed on creativity, one where a striker with a decent instinct for positioning himself in the right places can make the most of his teammates' efforts.
Whatever the reasoning, it is a fine sight to see Postiga confident and playing his best football for quite some time.
His opener in Zaragoza's 2-1 win over Sevilla last month typified this in quite wonderful style, as he took Franco Zuculini's pass and proceeded to dribble past both a defender and the goalkeeper Andres Palop before firing into an empty net.
Postiga may have found a home at Real Zaragoza, but rest assured, if he carries on like this, they in turn will be more than happy to have him stay.
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