Since 2008, Spain have won six European Championships at all levels of football which just cannot be a coincidence. Their style is unmatched and they are seemingly in their own league currently when it comes to the Beautiful Game. Critics said they wouldn’t be able to produce a new Xavi, Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets, all of which have dominated the Spanish senior midfield in recent years. Step forward, Asier Illarramendi.
The Real Sociedad midfielder had a cracking season as the club qualified for the Champions League in a 4-2-3-1 formation leading to comparisons with Alonso who does a similar job at Real Madrid. It has been in the recent Under-21 Championships that he has entertained a brighter spotlight. Despite dazzling displays from Isco, Thiago Alcantara and Alvaro Morata, Illarramendi has been my star performer, taking the role of the glue that holds the whole Spanish Under-21 side together.
Some of his passes between the lines were reminiscent of Busquets and Alonso at their best as the Sociedad playmaker showed that he is one of the hottest prospects on the continent. He linked defence and attack like a true expert but in truth he is new to international football.
All the arrows point towards an extremely positive future for the youngster with Madrid rumoured to be looking at him as the long-term replacement for Alonso and Arsenal also keeping tabs on the situation.
As well as possessing a passing range similar to Alonso, he also does a phenomenal job of screening the defence, much like Busquets at Barcelona. His ability to be strong in the tackle is an attribute that makes him different to most other Spanish midfielders out there, making him a very strong bet to hold down a regular place in the senior team in years to come.
He may have little flair in his game but his ability to break up play and distribute efficiently makes him a desirable purchase for any team in Europe. For Illarramendi to be my star of the Under-21 tournament, despite other tremendous performances from his teammates, means he must have been superb.
I’ve got a feeling we will be hearing his name for many years to come.