Back in the early 2000s, La Liga was not dominated by the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The former were usually pushing for major honours but the Blaugrana, under the misguided leadership of Louis van Gaal, were struggling to attain Champions League football.
As such, a few other Spanish teams strutted their stuff at the summit of La Liga; Valencia, Real Sociedad, Real Mallorca and, of course, Deportivo la Coruna. The latter’s impressive status back then was symbolised by their prolific centre-forward, Diego Tristan.
Before his underwhelming spell with West Ham United in 2008 – where he managed just three league goals in 14 games – the clinical Spaniard was terrifying defences across La Liga. He was aptly nicknamed ‘The Lizard’ due to his evasive, conniving style which would see him score a huge volume of goals in a short but prolific spurt.
After impressing with Mallorca in 1999/2000, where he managed 18 goals in 35 games, Tristan was on the move to Deportivo who that year, had actually won the league. Real Madrid had put in a bid but the Spaniard made the move to the champions.
Everyone noticed his talent; quick, powerful, skilful and with an eye for goal that few in Europe could match. His absurd talent would not earn him in a starting role at first due to the presence of Dutch legend, Roy Makaay, but he would still assert his goal scoring prowess despite playing a bit-part role.
He would end his first season with 19 goals, an outstanding haul which would see him propelled into Depor’s first-team on a regular basis. In 2001/02, he was the go-to man for the club and he repaid their faith in the finest way possible, notching 21 La Liga goals and claiming the Pichichi. His finest hour in what was the most fruitful campaign of his career, Tristan scored a 12-minute hat-trick against his old club Mallorca, assisting another in the 5-0 demolition.
When he and Makaay were given the chance to operate as a partnership, it would work to devastating effect, slicing teams open with shrewd movement and feeding off the excellent supply route that was Juan Carlos Valeron. Back then, Depor were a joy to watch, efficient, riddled with flair and bulging with match-winners.
Tristan was mean, ruthless and willing to scrap for everything across the pitch but when the ball arrived at his feet in the box, his elegance, composure and delightful skill shone through. Depor would go on to lift the Copa Del Rey in 2002 with Tristan scoring five times in just six games on their road to victory. The seasons that followed would be slightly more frustrating for the Spaniard, but he still bore the fruit of goals.
It was injuries that got him, a serious ankle knock on international duty took away the yard of explosive pace that inspired fear in every defender he faced and Makaay got his starting berth back in 2002/03. Tristan still managed 19 goals in all competitions but his attitude and application as a secondary option seemed to suffocate his clinical side.
Diego Tristán puro talento en las áreas rivales. pic.twitter.com/qveEdizbBR
— El Otro Fútbol (@EOFutbol) May 7, 2017
Injuries continued for the next three seasons and he would never regain his title as the undisputed leader of Depor’s forward line. Sporadic showings of his former greatness would sometimes surface but it was clear his short but exciting stint as a world beater was over.
He would leave the club in 2006 with 87 goals under his belt in just 177 games. Spells at Cadiz, Livorno, West Ham and a return to Mallorca would follow for the man who once had La Liga under his spell. Far from the hallmark of consistency but for a short period in the early 2000s, there were few strikers in world football that were better than Deporitvo’s reptilian centre-forward.