Who could have thought on a bright May afternoon in May 2009 that it would take Middlesbrough seven years to regain their Premier League status?
That bright afternoon at Upton Park will be a day that many Boro supporters would have liked to forget, and forget very quickly. But after seven years, finally they are back.
There are notable days on your return to the Premier League. Your first game. Your first goal. Your first win.
A first triumph came just two weeks into the 2016/17 season for Aitor Karanka’s men. Cristhian Stuani’s brace on Sunday earnt Boro supporters the bragging rights in the North East Derby as they defeated Sunderland 2-1.
SHOOT takes a look at the Uruguay international and what he can offer to the Premier League this season…
Where did it all start for Stuani?
Stuani was born in Tala, a small city in the Canelones region in the south of Uruguay. From a young age he loved the game of football. He was quite good at it also! Well, maybe more than just “quite good.”
He started his career with Montevideo club Danubio in 2004, at the young age of 18. Inevitably he was finding it difficult to make a breakthrough into La Franja’s first-team, and just a year after their title success, manager Gerardo Pelusso agreed to loan the future Premier League star to Bella Vista.
It was here where he experienced first-team football for the first time. After making 14 appearances in the second-tier of Uruguayan football, it was clear that this kid was not just your average footballer, and he was recalled.
Maybe a first-team spot with one of Uruguay’s greats loomed?
What happened next?
That is exactly what happened as he made five appearances throughout the 2005 campaign. Despite this ending in frustration with the Black and Whites finishing some 13 points off top spot, it was a season to remember for Stuani.
Finally, he was establishing himself within Uruguay’s top division. Steadily he made his move through the ranks at the Montevideo club. But he still failed to make a massive impact. Maybe a move would lead to him becoming a more all-rounded professional?
By 2007, make no doubt there was huge interest in the goal poacher, including from Europe. A move to Italy beckoned.
The destination was Reggina, a side that had been in Serie A since 1999. Despite the Dark-Reds struggling to regain their status throughout his spell in Southern Italy, Stuani became a fans favourite in and around the Stadio Oreste Granillo as he cemented his position in and around the Serie A set-up.
However, goals were very few and far between for the future Uruguayan international; his only goal being from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw with A.C Siena.
But when your star striker only bags one goal in an entire season, you should be able to smell the danger. For the first time since 1999, it was announced that second-tier football beckoned for manager Nevio Orlandi. But was it to be the same fate for Stuani?
How did he cope in Spain?
Serie B was not part of Stuani’s intentions. He believed his ability was better than the level his club would be playing in.
So in July 2009, he made the move from second-tier Italian football to second-tier Spanish football when he signed for Albacete on loan. Here he got back to the attribute that made him what he was: goal scoring, netting 22 goals in 39 appearances, despite his club only narrowly avoiding relegation.
But how would he cope in the division above? Would he sink? Or would he swim?
The answer was the latter when he made the trip to Levante on loan, following their promotion to Spain’s top-flight the term before.
Eight goals impressed the nation and put him in the world’s eyes. So there was no big surprise that a loan spell the following season was also in La Liga. This time it was not a trip to Valencia; instead a trip to Santander on the north coast of Spain when he signed for Racing Santander. And progress was steady as he scored nine goals throughout the 2011-12 campaign.
But he was still a Reggina player. That was until the move of a lifetime, one where he was offered a permanent switch to La Liga, was put on offer.
How did he get to this point?
By 2012 the Southern Italian’s were resigned to losing a man who had not played for them since their relegation to the Serie B. It was initially looking like a move to Deportivo was on the cards, even undergoing a medical with his prospected new club.
But then he was hijacked into a move to Espanyol. After another successful season-long loan stint, he made the switch permanently in 2013.
He would go on to consistently perform for the White and Blue throughout his spell in Catalonia. Despite not always being the most prolific of individuals in front of goal (he only scored 25 league goals in his 103 appearances for the Barcelona club), he became a favourite for the four-time Copa del Rey winners as he battled for mid-table mediocrity during most of his time with the club.
But a move to England is something that doesn’t come around every day. It’s a dream for most players across the world. In 2015, that dream came true for Stuani when he made the move from the exotic surroundings of Barcelona to the home of the Parmo: Middlesbrough.
After making the move to the Teesside, a move believed to be in the region of €3m, Stuani would go on to make an instant impact for Boro as he netted a brace in a League Cup tie over Oldham Athletic.
Stuani would eventually go on to net seven league goals for the Boro to guide them to second place in the Championship and seal a return to the Premier League for the first time in seven years.
The dream of Premier League football had actually been accomplished.
What about his international career?
Ever since he emerged on the La Liga stage, Stuani has been involved with his national team, making his debut in a 3-1 victory over Poland in November 2012.
He started to impress manager Oscar Tabarez and played an integral part in the South American team’s run to the 2014 World Cup. But could the 1930 hosts do even better than their fourth place finish in 2010?
The answer to that was no. A substitute appearance in a 2-1 demolishing of England was the best it got for Stuani, as his team was knocked out by fellow South Americans in the form of James Rodriguez’s Colombia.
A goal against Panama has been Stuani’s highlight since their exit from Brazil at the Round of 16 stage, with heartbreak at the 2015 Copa America where the reigning champions could only reach the quarter finals.