A year ago not many people outside those that closely follow La Liga would have recognised the name Asier Illarramendi, but after an outstanding European Under-21 Championship with Spain and a €39m move to Real Madrid he is now in contention for a place in Vicente Del Bosque’s World Cup squad.
Madrid paid a lot of money for a player with little experience at the highest level but Los Blancos did not mind splashing out for someone they believe could be the new Xabi Alonso.
Born in Mitriku in the Baque region in 1990, the same area of Spain as Alonso, Illarramendi has started 23 games in La Liga so far in his first season as a Madrid player and he has not disappointed. After Sami Khedira’s early season injury, it was the ex-Real Sociedad man who would step up and take the German international’s position.
Playing most games alongside his Basque compatriot in the centre of midfield, Illarramendi has had a quiet yet promising debut season as a Madrid player.
In his 23 games he has managed two goals – two more than Alonso, who has not scored all season. Furthermore, he has a higher average pass accuracy than Alonso with 89%, not far off Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta with 92% and 91% respectively. To further add to this he has won 51% of his duels compared to the 44% of Alonso, with 67% of his aerial duels won compared to Alonso’s 61%.
Statistically, he has had a much better season than his Madrid compatriot, so why not take Illarramendi to the World Cup? Simply because he lacks experience. If you take a look at the Spain midfield, Del Bosque has players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso and Sergio Busquets, who together probably have more experience than any other midfield in the World Cup. It’s hard to envision Illarra breaking into that group.
If picked, however, he will definitely not start and he would probably have to settle for a World Cup spent on the bench. The only time he would likely play would be either if Spain have already qualified for the knockout stage or if Spain need to defend a result. Illarramendi would be very useful for this as he is the physical, Alonso-type of player who would be ideal for these situations.
After a remarkable season for the capital outfit, where La Decima is within touching distance, Illarramendi’s season could be topped off by a place in Del Bosque’s 23 man squad on the May 12. He definitely has the needed level of ability to fit into the Spain midfield, but his little experience at the top level might see him miss out on a place with La Roja.