Real Madrid have triggered the €39m transfer release clause of Asier Illarramendi, to sign him from Real Sociedad for a period of six years.
In what was an expected announcement after hectic negotiations between the two clubs, Real Madrid were able to pull off the deal, ensuring Illarramendi’s availability before the pre-season kicks off.
Asier Illarramendi rose to prominence last year when he guided Real Sociedad to a Champions League spot, being the metronome in Sociedad’s hugely entertaining campaign. He further highlighted himself during the UEFA Euro U-21 Championships in Israel, where he started every game while playing a crucial part in winning the trophy for Sapin. While Isco and Alcantara mesmerized with their skills, it was Illarramendi’s quiet presence in the midfield that enabled them to pull of their tricks. His positional sense, defensive discipline and ability to read the game, earned him comparisons with Xabi Alonso. Vicente Del Bosque endorsed the quality of the Basque player in a interview with Radio Nacional de Espana calling him a “complete midfielder” and possessing “the personality to play for any team in the world”.
“Illarramendi is the complete midfielder. He has the personality to play for any team in the world” – Vicente Del Bosque
It is no secret that Xabi Alonso has been the heart beat of Real Madrid during the Jose Mourinho era. Alonso’s unique passing ability had made him indispensable for the team. Such that, when the opposition marked out the Spaniard, the team lost its composure during crucial matches.
Infact, Borussia Dortmund coach, Jurgen Klopp emphasised that his tactics revolved around nullifying Alonso and not Cristiano Ronaldo while beating Real Madrid in the group stages as well as in the semi finals of the Champions League.
Alonso isn’t getting younger and has only a year remaining on his contract. While negotiations to extend his contract are in progress, his physical frailties may start to come to the fore, more often, after he had a surgery on his hip at the end of last season.
Luka Modric was signed last year to decrease the reliance on Alonso, however, the Croatian actually excelled in a free role further ahead rather than playing deep, which incidentally restricted his intelligent movement near the opponent’s box.
Real Madrid were also being linked to Paulinho and Geoffrey Kondogbia who are box to box midfielders and have a more dynamic presence on the pitch. The Brazilian is a physically strong player who covers a lot of ground and can also score some terrific goals. While he is undoubtedly an excellent player, Real Madrid already has Sami Khedira doing the job.
The signing of Casemiro, provides the club with an alternative to the German, but in Illarramendi Real now have a prospective replacement for Alonso, avoiding a Xavi-esque situation in future.
According to many Spanish football experts, Illarramendi is the best footballer to have come out of San Sebastian after Xabi Alonso. ESPN’s Phil Ball was effusive in his praise of Illarramendi calling him “an astonishing player for his lack of years, who simply does everything right”. He is pre-dominantly a defensive player who revels in intercepting balls, blocking them and can also tackle. His 11 yellow cards for Real Sociedad in La Liga reveal his willingness to do the dirty work if need be. He can pass short and long, forward and sideways, and has the uncanny ability to pick up a team mate anywhere on the pitch.
Illarramendi, still only 23, perfectly epitomises the second most wonderful quote from Spanish football, from Jorge Valdano. “Hay jugadores quien, si les dejas en un bosque sin brujula, siempre saldrÃ¡n. La mayoria se perderÃ¡“. (There are players who, if you leave them in a forest without a compass, they’ll always find their way out. Most players will get lost.) It’s the perfect description of the good central midfielder. – ESPN’s Phil Ball
With Illarramendi’s signing, Real Madrid aim to build on a strong Spanish base comprising Isco, Carvajal, Jese Rodriguez and Morata who are all destined to be the future of the Spanish national team if their recent performances are anything to go by. Florentino Perez appears to have learnt from mistakes made in his previous tenures when he built his team on more flamboyant players outside the country rather than on the technically brilliant Spaniards.
It is clear that Real Madrid have started preparing for the future, investing in gifted and proven youngsters, with experienced personnel around them to help them improve. Carlo Ancelotti and Zidane are ardent supporters of nurturing young players and a new project under them is appearing to look sounder than in any of the previous terms of Florentino Perez. The Real Madrid president intends to leave a legacy after the forgettable Galacticos project and this is just the beginning.