Nick Blackman: The English striker hoping to knock Valencia out of the Copa del Rey

Updated: 25/06/2022


Nick Blackman (centre) celebrates scoring Sporting Gijon's winner against Valencia

Nick Blackman can walk through the streets of his home city of Salford without being recognised.

It is a different story, however, whenever the 29-year-old forward ventures on the Calle Corrida, a busy shopping area in the northern Spanish coastal city of Gijon on the Bay of Biscay.

Having spent the past five months on loan in Spain's second tier, Derby County's Blackman is making a name for himself at Sporting Gijon, one of the country's best supported clubs outside La Liga with average gates of 20,000.

“They are very passionate people when it comes to football – and demanding as well,” Blackman tells BBC Sport.

“I went to get my hair cut the other day and a fan walked into the barbers just to wish me luck. That's what it's like.”

Last week, the striker scored his side's winner – a diving header with his first touch after coming on as a substitute – in a 2-1 victory against top-flight Valencia in the Copa del Rey last 16 first leg.

Valencia's team included Belgium forward Michy Batshuayi, who has since been recalled from his loan spell by Chelsea, and former Paris St-Germain forward Kevin Gameiro.

On Tuesday, Blackman and Sporting Gijon, the lowest-ranked team left in the Copa del Rey, will attempt to finish off the six-time champions of Spain when the teams meet in the return leg at the Mestalla.

“Sporting Gijon are a massive club,” adds the former Manchester United academy player. “Everything is geared towards getting back in La Liga from the training ground, to the stadium, to the fanbase.”

Nick Blackman played in Sporting Gijon's win over Eibar in the Copa del Rey in December

From Macclesfield to the Segunda Division

Since Blackman's last appearance for Derby – a 1-1 draw under Gary Rowett against Rotherham in May 2017 – Rowett has left Pride Park, managed Stoke City and been sacked by the Potters.

Last season, Blackman, who made his league debut as a 17-year-old for Macclesfield in League Two, was on loan in Israel at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

He appeared on Gijon's radar after scoring the winner for Jordi Cruyff's Maccabi away to Villarreal in a Europa League group game in December 2017.

Blackman has played in the top four tiers in England – Blackburn/Reading (Premier League), Blackpool/Reading/Derby (Championship), Oldham/Sheffield United (League One) and Macclesfield (League Two).

Far from missing England, he has embraced the chance to continue his career abroad. This is his sixth loan move and Blackman says he has been inspired by the likes of journeyman England-born forward Jay Bothroyd.

Former Cardiff player Bothroyd, 36, has played in Italy, Thailand and Japan, and Blackman added: “I take every experience and try to use that going forward to make me a better person and a player.

“Jay Bothroyd has gone into the unknown, tried something different and backed his ability. I admire that.”

Nick Blackman celebrates after scoring the winner for Maccabi Tel Aviv against Villarreal in the Europa League

Speaking Spanish and a YouTube hit

Having started to learn how to speak Spanish last year, Blackman, who has made 11 league and cup appearances for Sporting Gijon, had a head start before arriving in Spain.

“I was the only player in the dressing room at Maccabi Tel Aviv to speak one language so I decided to learn another,” said Blackman.

“When I chose to learn Spanish in Israel I had no idea I would be playing in Spain a few months later. It's a coincidence but it's helped me to settle.”

Blackman is documenting his time in Spain with a series of video diaries on YouTube.

“I've got one brother, Robbie, who lives with me in Spain,” he added. “My other brother, Ritchie, spent the whole year with me in Israel.

“Last year, Ritchie started to do a documentary about my life playing abroad. We've carried it on in Gijon.

“It's gone down really well in the changing room with the players and the people around the town. They like the day-to-day insight of a footballer's life.”

San Lorenzo beach in Gijon

‘I've not spoken to Lampard since August'

Will Blackman earn a contract at Sporting Gijon?

His three-and-a-half-year deal at Derby, who paid Reading £2.5m for him in 2016, expires in the summer.

Blackman, who played in Gijon's victory over top-tier Eibar in the Copa del Rey in December, has not spoken to Rams boss Frank Lampard while he has been in Spain.

“The last conversation I had with him was just before I came out to Spain,” he added.

“Where I'll be next season I don't know.

“I'm just focusing on each day and each game. I need to fully embrace this experience while I am out here.”

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