The Middlesbrough flop who is now lighting up LaLiga

Matt Morley by Matt Morley @rfutbol - 0 983

Pin Stuani has been reborn since returning to Spain. EFE
Stuani has been reborn since returning to Spain. EFE

The Middlesbrough flop who is now lighting up LaLiga

Matt Morley by Matt Morley @rfutbol - 0 983

Ask someone to take a guess at who is the current top scorer in LaLiga and no doubt a host of household names will immediately come rolling off the tongue. However, it is none other than little-heralded former Middlesbrough man Cristhian Stuani who currently holds the title of the Spanish top flight's top goal-getter.

The Uruguayan has plundered an impressive eight goals in eight games so far this season to rise to the top of the goalscoring charts in Spain, ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema and many more.

Despite having passed the dreaded 30 mark, Stuani's haul of 21 LaLiga strikes in 33 games last season ranks as the second most prolific of his career, with only the 22 in 40 games during a loan spell with Albacete in the second division in 2009/10 beating it out.

Indeed, despite having played just 41 games for Girona, Stuani has already matched the highest tally he had ever previously managed for a single club, having scored 29 in 117 games during a three-season stay with Espanyol earlier in his career.

Interestingly, it was a spell in England that split up his time in Catalonia, with second-tier Middlesbrough completing a coup by securing his signature in the summer of 2015.

An experienced LaLiga player who was being kept out of his national side only by Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, there was a palpable sense of excitement surrounding the capture, something which was only heightened by the drawn-out nature of the deal, which Boro fans would later reference in the player's own song(He came from Uruguay, he took six weeks to buy).

After a lengthy paperwork-based delay the deal was eventually completed, with Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka's pulling power proving a huge factor in convincing Stuani to partake in a spell in the Championship.

The physical nature of the English second division meant Stuani was eased into life at the Riverside, though early expectations of what to expect from their new hero went through the roof as fan favourite 'Muzzy' Carayol revealed that he was something of a "sharpshooter" in training.

A brace in each of his first two starts in League Cup wins over Oldham Athletic and Burton Albion furthered the calls for him to be involved more regularly, but whilst he played as a striker in those games, Stuani was to wind up being more of a wide option than an out-and-out striker for his new employers.

With the somewhat cavalier former winger/ striker Emilio Nsue at right-back, it was easy to see why Karanka favoured Stuani on the flank to a more tradition, attacking winger, with the Uruguayan providing solidity and cover in a team built around its defensive strength.

Whilst not as prolific as he is now, Stuani did also provide a goal threat, notably from well-timed runs to the far post where he could use his aerial ability to bully full-backs and latch onto crosses from Albert Adomah, who was shifted onto the left as an inverted winger to accommodate Stuani on the right.

The sparkling form of Patrick Bamford (that season's Championship Player of the Year) meant that an opportunity to play up front never really came during his maiden season in England, though it was a testament to his reliability that Karanka brought him back into the fold form the start in the final day promotion shoot-out against Brighton, with Stuani scoring the goal that secured the Teessiders' return to the promised land to take his tally to 11 in 40 in all competitions for the campaign.

However, there was to be no Premier League fairy tale for Stuani, who turned into something of a scapegoat as Boro crashed back from whence they came at the first time of asking. Even a brace against north-east rivals Sunderland was enough to win over the fans, who felt that Stuani was preventing fan favourite Adama Traore from receiving more regular game time.

The forward would end the season with just five goals in 28 games, and was sold to Girona that summer alongside team-mate Bernardo Espinosa and Boro cleared out their ranks.

However, given the modest fee received and the way that Stuani has performed since there are more than a few Boro fans who feel that the decision to move him on was a huge error.

Playing once again as a genuine number nine, Stuani is now thriving in a side that sets up fairly similarly to Middlesbrough under Tony Pulis, leaving English football fans wondering if they ever saw anything close to Stuani's best during his time in English football.

As things go, he is likely to be one of those players who most forget ever set foot in England, but as he continues to battle for individual gongs with the likes of Messi, the man himself is likely to see leaving Middlesbrough as the best decision he ever made.

Matt Morley

Matt Morley

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