It would’ve been easy to jump on the bandwagon and predict the end of Spain’s international dominance after their dismal World Cup defence in 2014, but hindsight would have it that a new era was just starting. Hindsight would also tell us that the player at the forefront of this new era was indeed among Vicente del Bosque’s party in Brazil.
Koke was making his first appearance at a major tournament, the Atletico Madrid midfielder having played an instrumental role in the side’s charge to the Primera title only weeks before, but he was not deemed ready to displace Xavi Hernandez – the man who defined a generation of Spanish success and identified the 24-year-old as his rightful heir.
As such, the Vallecas native did not feature until Spain’s elimination was all-but-confirmed as a 5-1 defeat to Netherlands in their first group game was followed by a 2-0 loss against Chile. Faced with no choice but to throw caution to the wind, Del Bosque made the bold step of replacing Xabi Alonso with the new boy at half-time, in a sign of things to come.
Koke may have had little impact on La Roja’s fortunes against the Chileans, but he was in his element when picked to start versus Australia. Despite only pride at stake and the pressure off as a result, the midfielder showcased the intensity and desire he has become renowned for between both boxes and almost found the back of Mat Ryan’s net with a long-range effort.
But Koke’s game is so much more than that, to the extent he is arguably the most complete player of his generation. In many ways, the starlet suffers from the same inferiority complex as his club side. Atleti’s technical qualities, while having improved in each of the team’s four-and-a-half seasons under Diego Simeone, remain secondary to tirelessness and tenacity in the eyes of the masses.
Stereotypes aside, Koke is Spain’s future. A pass-master, capable of mixing up his range, and a specialist at set-pieces, the extra value that he brings to La Roja’s core is his versatility, which allows him to take up any position across midfield – or even in attacking positions – and his direct approach, as seen by his regular runs towards the opposing box.
Simeone has used Koke’s versatility to full effect, constantly moving the player out to the left in a 4-4-2 formation or centrally when adopting a 4-3-3. Although primarily right-footed, the excellence of the midfielder’s distribution makes him a prolific source of assists for teammates, with many of them capitalising on his pinpoint deliveries from wide areas.
It seems Koke was always destined for greatness. Having accumulated 77 caps for Spain’s youth teams, which ended in 2013 European U21 Championship glory, the Atleti ace has yet to truly establish himself as a regular for La Roja, despite his 22 appearances to date. Yet, Del Bosque’s provisional squad for Euro 2016 is a clear show of faith in the 24-year-old, who must now prove his Coach right.