Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why Asier Illarramendi will be crucial to Real Madrid's success in the near future...

Having already sealed the €30 million signing of Isco and brought back former youth prospect Dani Carvajal to Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid are now hot on the tails of the latest Spain starlet to emerge in La Liga: Asier Illarramendi of Real Sociedad. If reports are to be believed, Real Madrid are hoping to seal the capture of the central midfielder later this week, with the fee possibly amounting to €30 million.

Reports suggest that an agreement with the player is close, with just minor details to be settled, while Real Sociedad will be unable to refuse any such offer due to a buyout clause in the player's contract. "As of today, Illarramendi continues to be a Real Sociedad player. We are counting on him for this season," Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay told reporters on Tuesday morning.

Such words are all well and good, but the overwhelming feeling is that Illarramendi is almost certainly headed for the Bernabeu this week. Indeed, reports that he will take the No. 8 shirt from Kaká have already been doing the rounds for a couple of days.

A product of la Real's youth system, Illarramendi was born in Mutriku, Gipuzkoa in northern Spain, and has risen through the ranks at the club since his B-team debut in 2008.

His breakthrough coincided with the Basque outfit’s return to La Liga after a three-year absence, making his senior debut in a 4-1 defeat on the final day of the 2009-10 Segunda Division season. Despite that loss, Real had already secured promotion and Illarramendi received his first taste of top flight football against Villarreal in January 2011.

He has gone on to make 51 appearances so far for the club, including 32 last campaign as Real Sociedad secured a sensational fourth-placed La Liga finish, earning a Champions League berth.

Though Illarramendi has yet to receive a call-up to Vicente Del Bosque’s senior Spain squad, he has represented his country across all youth levels and was an instrumental part of the team that secured the Under-21 European Championship crown in Israel this summer.

"If Madrid meet his buyout clause then it's up to them and the player to agree terms. I must say that Real Madrid have been behaving very well during negotiations so far," Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay told reporters.

Assuming the transfer will eventually go through, Illarramendi is a player who could potentially play a part in a successful future for Los Merengues.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that, should he sign, he will become the club's third high-profile Spanish addition this summer—following Real's captures of Under-21 colleagues Isco and Dani Carvajal.

It is a dramatic change of approach from recent years, when the club's Spanish influence has been limited to just a couple of players. However, it could be argued that it will mean little if talents such as forward Jesé Rodriguez are still allowed to walk away.

In Illarramendi, though, the club will hope to  sign a potentially special midfield talent. He may even bring about the exit of the excellent Xabi Alonso—the man to whom he is most often compared.

Deployed as a defensive midfielder, Illarramendi's skill in breaking up play and feeding his team-mates has established his reputation as one of Spain’s most prodigious young talents. His style of play, particularly his ability to expose the opposition with accurate long balls from deep, has led to comparisons with the likes of another Real Sociedad youth product in midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Illarramendi does, however, have a tendency to attract the attention of officials. He picked up 11 yellow cards in La Liga last season, and a further two in five matches during the European U21 Championship, with his desire to regain possession quickly for his side often spilling over.

However, Illarramendi’s talent outweighs his recklessness and he has not escaped the notice of Europe’s top clubs. Real Madrid are said to be leading the way in securing the 23-year-old’s signature, ready to meet the highly-rated youngster’s €30m release fee, while Arsenal and Liverpool have also been credited with an interest.

It has been over the past 12 months at Real Sociedad that the 23-year-old midfielder has really come to light, helping La Real to a place in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League.

His controlling influence at the base of the midfield, retaining possession and bringing the side's skilled creative players into play have all been major reasons behind that success. Illarramendi is always available and is confident receiving the ball even in tight spaces.

In Ancelotti's favoured diamond midfield setup, he is a perfect candidate to take on the deep-lying midfield role occupied by Andrea Pirlo at Milan, John Obi Mikel at Chelsea and Marco Verratti at PSG.

Defensively, he is also more than willing to "get stuck in" for his side—another shared trait with Alonso. Illarra picked up 11 yellow cards in La Liga last campaign, making a total of 121 tackles over the course of the season. His industry in that respect was another key reason behind Sociedad's success.

To expect Illarramendi to go straight in and perform at the levels of Xabi Alonso would be too much, but given time he may well match his illustrious Basque compatriot. That is the level of potential he has shown.

With Real Madrid looking to build a young Spanish core for the future, Illarramendi will be central to their planning. Reports in the Spanish media on Saturday claimed Madrid sporting director Zinedine Zidane has personally spoken with Illarramendi in order to convince him to join the capital club and that the deal could be completed in the next few days.

If he does indeed elect to make the move, he could form part of a truly formidable young midfield under Carlo Ancelotti as the new Madrid boss seeks the formula for the fabled Decima triumph next season. The high initial outlay on this summer's targets will soon be forgotten should they provide the club with continued success. It won't be easy, but the moves suggest Real are evolving for the better once again.