Called to be the “new” Xabi Alonso, Asier Illarramendi arrives at Real Madrid as the most expensive Spanish signing of the Florentino era. His character, his age and his skills on the pitch are three aspects which I like about Illarra. Let’s begin with his age.
Illarra comes from being crowned the European champion with the Spanish U21 national team. He was a key brain in the midfield. Illarra was included in the Spanish NT despite being 23 years old since the rules allowed for him to be. There are extraordinary players, like Varane or Morata, who despite their young age display an impressive maturity. Unfortunately, these two cases are not the common thing to happen. It is more common to find players like Neymar, or even Cristiano or Balotelli who at a young age did not have a good experience with fame. In the football world there is a big difference between being 19 years old to being 21 or 23. You don’t need to go far to prove this. We find clear examples at home with Jese in Castilla or Casemiro when he played for Sao Paulo. I think that at his 23 years of age, Illarra already displays the required serenity to not “freak out” about the amount of money Florentino has paid for him. We all know Don Floren is a big fan of paying extra for any player he likes. As a side note, it is worth noting that Illarra was requested by Ancelotti himself and not Zinedine.
There are different ways to judge a player. The evident one is on the pitch, calma, I will talk about this on the next paragraph. I was pleasantly surprised by Asier’s presentation. First of all, the amount of friends he brought. 31 in total, 30 guys and 1 girl – aside from his girlfriend who was sitting with his family. If you rate that saying which claims that you can judge people by who they befriend then I rest calm. The boys that Illarra brought seemed very humble and proud of their friend. Furthermore in his first press conference as a Real Madrid player, Illarra showed to be serene and very excited to be part of the club. Enough with this, lets talk about his skills on the pitch.
Most of us followed Spain at the European Championship and became familiar with the kid. To me, his best game was against Italy, in the final. His ability to pass the ball is impressive. Illarra completed 95% (392/412) of his passes throughout the whole tournament – the highest percentage in the Spanish team if we do not take into account Alvaro Gonzalez, who only attempted 27 passes and just missed 1.
Illarra’s weakness are long passes. The bright side about this is that he has two great teachers at Real Madrid from whom he will be able to learn a lot: Zinedine Zidane and Xabi Alonso.
Despite playing a rather defensive roll, Illarra enjoys contributing to the attack. He averaged a shot and a half per game this season with Spain and Real Sociedad. This season he was not able to score and he only assisted twice in 37 games. While this may not seem impressive it is good for someone in his position. In 28 games, Xabi did not score either last season but he assisted 5 times. Evidently, this comparison is not fair due to Xabi’s experience and skills but it is just to show that someone like Xabi does not assist much more either.
Illarra’s job on the pitch is to regain the ball and as such he is almost forced to commit a lot of fouls. In Real Madrid last season the player with the most yellows was Xabi Alonso and coincidentally in Real Sociedad the player was Illarra. It is part of the job. They both received 11 yellow cards but neither received a single yellow. This shows what I had just highlighted – their job is to cut the opponent’s game for which they must foul sometimes and they may even deserve a yellow however this does not mean they are violent which goes to show by neither of them being sent off once last season.
This upcoming season we will definitely benefit from Asier’s arrival: a player who knows how to cut the opponent’s game intercepting passes and blocking the ball. Our attack will benefit from his initial passes and his eye for spaces.