They don’t just make them in the mould of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta they say. Of course it is unjust to expect replica’s of heroes of a glorious era, but something closer to their profiles is expected to fill the void created, when they eventually do hang up their boots. And there is one such rough cut diamond who has only recently emerged onto the scene of Spain’s top flight- Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi.
To speak of Illarramendi, one cannot do without the mention of Xabi Alonso. For nearly a decade, Xabi Alonso has been recognized as the untiring soul of the Spanish national team. At Liverpool, Xabi Alonso was responsible for Rafa Benitez’s success, as the former Valencia manager bought Champions League success to Merseyside after nearly two decades. After moving to Madrid in a Les Meringues shirt, Alonso continues to stamp his supremacy with his play-making style even at the age of 31, so much so that the otherwise ruthless, Florentino Perez would love to have Xabi Alonso end his career at Madrid.
Illarramendi is still light years from stepping into Alonso’s shoes or even the much under-rated Arteta’s shoes for that matter, but his playing style and stats have earned him comparisons with the likes of the previously mentioned. Illarramendi’s rise to prominence in Sociedad’s midfield alongside the highly rated, Inigo Martinez (click here to read a Scout Report on him), has brought many top clubs to Sociedad’s door for Illarramendi’s services.
Asier Illarramendi was born in Mutriku, Gipuzkoa in northern Spain. He has been at Sociedad since he was a kid and steadily rose through the ranks of their Academy. Illarramendi has spent a majority of his time at Sociedad playing for their B-team in the Segunda Division B, making 93 appearances between 2008 and 2011.
His rise to the first team coincided with Sociedad’s return to the Spanish top flight in 2010, after a three year absence. Illarramendi made his debut for the first team on the last day of 2009/10 season in an away defeat to Elche CF, even though Sociedad had already wrapped up their promotion.
Illarramendi has since made 38 appearances for the first team, in a side which is hoping to secure Champions League football next season. He is yet to receive a call for the national side from Vincent del Bosque, but has already featured 11 times for the U-21’s and twice for the U-23’s. He was also a part of Spain’s U-17 side in 2007, that finished as runner up’s in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in South Korea.
Illarramendi also received a call up to Spain’s Olympic team last summer but did not feature in any of the games during the campaign.
His rise to prominence in the current season is marked by his 29 appearances this season, which has put him on the radar of clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Illarramendi has featured as a defensive midfielder throughout his promising campaign this season, partnering Markel Bergara in Sociedad’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This is much similar to Alonso’s role at Madrid and Arteta’s at Arsenal, where the latter is often deployed just in front of the defense with a partner in Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere.
Illaramendi’s game is compared to Alonso’s due to their similarity in passing and ability to cut open passes while lying in the deep, with splendid through balls. A high passing accuracy of 81% along with an average of four long balls in every game, further define the similarity in their style of play. Meanwhile, he has also notched up two assists, with one of the assists coming in the game against FC Barcelona, which was the Catalan club’s first defeat of this season.
Illarramendi most notable attribute is his strong tackling which consolidates his claim as an exemplary defensive midfielder. He averages 4 tackles per game this season and 2 interceptions (at the time of writing). These stats lend him a rank of 9th in the list of successful tacklers in the La Liga this season. An exceptional sense of position means he can nip any advancing attacks in the bud with successful interceptions.
Though he hasn’t scored any goals this term, he does play the long ball very often and create chances from the deep. He also possess an average shot accuracy of 29%, a decent stat by any means for a defensive minded player.
Mikel Aranburu’s retirement meant that Illarramendi was immediately expected to step up into his role. His industrious work rate means he shuts down any leaks in the midfield to prevent advances from the opposing play makers, while also being able to regain and retain possession due to his exceptional tackling and interception.
Unlike other defensive midfielder’s plying their trade in Spain at the moment, Illarramendi has a direct approach to the game and is a more traditional defensive midfielder, even when compared to Alonso and Arteta. He may have little flair in his game, mainly due to his role in Sociedad’s starting XI, but when it comes to his defensive abilities, he has mastered them excellently for a player aged 23.
Illarramendi’s abilities may have earned him a comparison to Xabi Alonso, but it is also his composure on the ball, his confidence and vision that are much akin to those of the former Sociedad captain.
Though his stat’s may be modest compared to others, his passing and finishing will certainly improve with time and Illarramendi could earn a call-up soon to Vincent del Bosque’s side in upcoming friendlies.
While Manchester United and Chelsea have only been linked to the Zubieta graduate in the recent past, Real Madrid and Barcelona have closely monitored Illarramendi’s transfer situation over the past couple of seasons.
Real Madrid are more desperate than the rest to land the lad, as they seek to find a long term replacement for Xabi Alonso who has reportedly refused to sign a contract at the Bernabeu, though Florentino Perez himself wishes to offer him a two-year extension on his current deal.
It is rumored that Real Madrid may use Alonso as a bargaining chip to lure Illarramendi to the capital, with the possibility of a swap deal not being ruled out. Alonso’s father, Periko Alonso has showered praise on the young player saying:
“He covers a lot of ground, is always involved and does everything well, offering the team a good outlet. He’s a really important player and has come on in leaps and bounds this season.”
Illarramendi has a contract with Real Sociedad that runs until 2018, and any team wishing to prise him away from the San Sebastian based club will have to match a reported clause of 30 million euro’s.
UPDATE: Asier Illarramendi joined Real Madrid.
Original image (pre editing) taken from AS.com
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