Mexico international Aldo de Nigris seems an unlikely candidate for the title of “El Tri’s Newest Star.”
Unlike Manchester United ace Javier Hernandez, Mexican NT wunderkind Giovani dos Santos and prodigious Arsenal bench warmer Carlos Vela, who turned 23, 22 and 22 respectively this year, de Nigris hit the ripe old age 28 in July of 2011.
Also unlike his young teammates, de Nigris spent the past nine seasons roving about Mexico’s domestic Primera Division, often serving as a secondary figure on teams like Tigres of Nuevo León and Necaxa of Aguascalientes.
There were no high profile European deals, no reams of accolades from prominent international managers and press organizations.
Yet with rumored interest from Fulham, Celtic, Tottenham and more, the striker certainly looks Europe-bound.
De Nigris only realized his full potential two years ago, in 2008, upon arriving in Monterrey, his club-level home for the past three seasons.
In his three years with Monterrey, the striker tallied 32 goals in 72 league games and 36 goals in 80 performances across all competitions, maintaining scoring rates of one goal every 4.4 and 4.5 games respectively.
OK statistics, and de Nigris shows his fair share of technical ability, pace and finishing, but any number of strikers throughout the world post similar numbers in domestic leagues, so why the sudden interest in a man who, until the age of 26, never played for his national squad?
The reasons lie in his impressive performances for the Mexican national team during 2011, particularly during the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament. The striker displayed calm and confidence on the pitch, mixed with the slightest hint of the self-assured swagger patented by Cristiano Ronaldo.
De Nigris scored his first international goal on March 29, 2011 in a friendly against Venezuela, following it with a goal in a friendly match against New Zealand in June.
Later in the same month, Mexico’s seasoned striker, who took a spot usually reserved for Carlos Vela on El Tri, finished as the second highest scorer of the Gold Cup tournament, with four goals scored in four games. Only teammate Chicharito outscored him.
What's more, de Nigris is tall for a Mexican player, with the height, strength and speed required to compete in Europe's top leagues, a trait he shares with Chicharito.
Interest from European squads began in the spring of 2011 and intensified in the wake of the Gold Cup tournament.
According to STV, in May of this year Mexican paper Record quoted de Nigris as saying, “I can not say anything, I just know that there are options in Spain, in England and in Scotland, but I don’t know yet if it is something solid."
Reports have since surfaced regarding Fullham’s aggressive pursuit of the striker and interest from Spanish side Real Zaragoza, a team currently coached by former Mexican NT gaffer Javier Aguirre and rumored to have interest in fellow Mexico international Pablo Barrera.
Sky Sports threw a monkey wrench in the speculation campaign about a month ago by reporting de Nigris as saying, “I can't say the name of the team, the only thing that I can say is that it belongs to a very important European league, one of the most important ones.
It's a team that has the chance to play in the Europa League next year. I can't say the name of the team because I have been asked not to.”
Presumably de Nigris means the team has a chance of competing in the Europa League in 2012. The phrase “very important European league” certainly rules out Celtic, no offense to Scottish football, while Zaragoza doesn’t stand much of a chance of making the Europa League next season.
This leaves Tottenham, Fullham and the possibility of some mysterious unnamed suitor as the prime contenders in the race for de Nigris. Tottenham certainly makes sense, given Harry Redknapp’s obsessive desire to land a top forward, and Fullham could do with some world-class talent up front.
Regardless of where he ends up, de Nigris will have to continue playing the type of explosive football he showed during international competition in 2011 in order to make a mark on the more aggressive, complex, competitive world of European football.
Take the poll and let us know where you think Mexico's newest star will end up at the start of the 2011 season.