A human amongst the Superheroes

A decorated player, a proven winner and a man renowned for his professionalism, but the critics continue to describe him as nothing more than mediocre. It appears there is nothing Alvaro Arbeloa can do to win over those who cannot quite fathom how he is an undisputed starter for both Real Madrid and Spain, two teams who boast the very best players in every position.

Heavily criticised for his performances in Euro 2012, one writer went so far as to say that he was a player whose game ‘awakens dissatisfaction and reproach’ whilst Catalan media continue to insist that the defender is not wanted by a certain Jose Mourinho, the Coach who has coveted his replacement since his arrival at the club. Articles upon articles have analysed how Real Madrid and their Coach are hoping for a more technically capable and aggressive full-back able to compliment the work of the right winger.

His contract extension, which sees him tied to the club until 2016 coupled with his consistent deployment last season, seems to suggest otherwise and Mourinho himself has often spoken highly of the defender.

“Arbeloa is the type of player that may not impress people because he’s not Maradona or Zidane or another player but when he plays, he’s never a 6 [out of 10]. He’s always between a 7 and 9.”

So why does the Real Madrid youth product continue to attract negative attention? A capable defender, many point to how little the full-back contributes to the attacking phase of the game. Indeed it is interesting to note that statistically, Spain ranked the lowest when it came to measuring the number of attacks initiated on the right hand side – Arbeloa’s side of the pitch. Only 29 per cent of their attacks, much like the Republic of Ireland, started from the right and the stats went so far as to prove that his teammates often preferred to pass to the left in their quest for success, especially in the opening match against Italy.

Often described as technically limited, Arbeloa is often criticised for his failure to make the most of possession, choosing at times to pass backwards or sideways as opposed to pushing forward. His frequent inability to beat his man to get into good positions coupled with his struggles to provide a vertical edge to a Spanish squad that was heavily criticised for being too horizontal made for uncomfortable viewing.

Yet despite his perceived weaknesses, the player continues to prove his importance within the team, demonstrated by how quickly his fellow teammates rush to defend the player from unwarranted criticism. It is his commitment and tireless work in defence that effectively allows for the more attack-minded players to push forward and progress, safe in the knowledge that he will provide security. His defensive brilliance in the match against Croatia in Euro 2012 garnered praise from UEFA.com as he proved vital in slowing down the opponents’ fast attacking game, winning back possession and distributing accurate passes.

In fact, the player ranked seventh in the Castrol Edge Index – a system that looks at a player’s every pass, save, shot and tackle at UEFA Euro 2012 to measure the impact of such actions on their side’s ability to score or concede a goal. Such was his impact that he proved more effective than the likes of teammate Xavi Hernandez and Portugal’s Pepe.

More than his disciplined approach to the game and his ‘never say die’ attitude adopted from his years with the Real Madrid youth system, Arbeloa offers something his teammates cannot. He is a player many can identify with, a human amongst the superheroes of these extraordinary squads whose personality both soothes and motivates the superstars he plays alongside. Whether it be the inspirational videos he sends to players with philosophical and motivational quotes or the jokes he shares to lighten the tension, Arbeloa may not be a wanted man but he is certainly a needed player.