28 stycznia 2015

Illarramendi: the smallest among the greatest

He was called as new Alonso. Unfortuantely, he only sits on the bench, almost in every match. Who am I writing about? Of course about Asier Illaramendi!
In Real Madrid, every position is at unbelievably high level. What Florentino Pérez tries to achieve, is the end of transfer policy Zidanes y Pavones. Now, there are only Zidanes. Of course, the club is also looking after the future, the usual players joining the squad are not older than 25 years old. Everybody is hoped to become one of the best and be a part of the Blancos' history. The vast majority of them needs a little time to make the fans crazy at their point. Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez or Gareth Bale rarely disappoint the Bernabéu public. But there are also players, who are simply sentenced to stay on the background and one of them is exactly Asier. His cost was very big, although he did not meet the fans' expectations.

The Basque midfielder joined Real Madrid as a La Liga star, Real Sociedad. He cost 32 mln euro, so exactly, what the clause in his contract indicated. The club from San Sebastian was completely unwilling to negotiate any lower price, as Illarra was their key player. Very wisely playing pivot, controlling almost the whole field, thanks to whom Sociedad achieved the incredible 4th place, and the repercussion was the Champions League in the Anoeta. Illarramendi was told to be the second Alonso, what was no surprise for many. They both started in San Sebastian, and the new Merengue's style was almost the same as his predecessor's. Perez could not miss that chance, still having in mind his lack of deciciveness, which led to Xabi Alonso becoming the new player of Liverpool, not of Madrid. It had cost Perez around 30 million euro to make him come back to Spain. It was very difficult to call Illarramendi galáctico, due to the fact, that not many people heard of him before, so the price seemed to be incommensurate to his abilities. The Madridistas, conformed to see great names and spectacular shows, were full of doubts. Some piperos had wanted him out of the club even before he played the first friendly. At the season's beginning he got some chance, for example against Villarreal or Juventus. As the fans thought, his football was not spectacular, not even efficient, what was the reason for Ancelotti to put him on the bench. He was superior only to Casemiro, although the current Porto player's football was much braver. It was not difficult to see, that Illarra had no idea, how to cope with the pressure, almost all of his passes were directed backwards and in many matches not only the rivals, but also his teammates were trying to keep the ball far away from him. One of the worst games was the one against Rayo. Real Madrid had 2:0 lead until the break. Then, Illarra substituted Alonso, whose physical condition was still poor, after the long recovery. Only ten minutes after the break, Ronaldo scored one more time, increasing the lead. But, deprived of the stabil midfield, they lost control, two goals from penalties and (nearly) Carvajal, who was very lucky not to see second yellow card. Rayo didn't stop, the goal of Diego López was permanently attacked, fortunately for the Whites, to no avail. A few weeks later the Basque managed to score a goal after 110 minutes of productiveless trying to beat the Xativa goalkeeper. Some supporters trying to convince the madridismo, that Illarra has a great potential, called that goal vital for the team, what in my opinion was a tragic argument.

The next part of the season was not better at all. The worst game of the year, against Dortmund, was mainly his fault, he did not want to risk, the receiver of the vast majority of his passes was Casillas. What's more, one of them was taken by Reus, who scored another goal. Asier was substituted in the break by Casemiro, mainly thanks to whom the semifinal was possible. The most guilty about this disaster was Carlo Ancelotti, who decided to put Illarra next to Alonso, where usually played Modrić. It was very hard for the fans, acostumbrated to the dynamic box-to-box. Expecting a similar style, they were disappointed one more time. After that, he played in some other matches, not really important, e.g. against Sociedad and accidentally scored the first goal. It's a paradox, because the fans from San Sebastian loved him, even though he had not scored a single goal for them. On the contrary, the Merengues demanded his departure, although Illarra scored three.

New season started, and as the consequence, new hope for Illarramendi. Despite playing in all of the pre-season matches, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez were regarded as better. Though, Khedira's health problems and Alonso's unexpected departure left the club without a defensive midfielder. But something unbelievable happened, as Toni Kroos was requalified to a more defensive position. Asier had to stay away from the best eleven for a long time. At least, when the Rayo scenario was likely to repeat, Illarra substituted Benzema. The game has changed, Madrid scored five more goals, losing only one. Maybe thanks to this match, he started next game from the beginning, but this time the predominance had to be built from nothing, in what he was unlikely to help. Even though the end result was 5:1, the Basque came back to the bench. His comeback against Ludogorets was very, very poor, because one more time it was the opponent, who scored the first goal. It was enough for the coach. The next glimmer of hope, Modric's injury, did not last long, as Isco learnt to fight for the ball and not to lose it. At least in December, when James also had to stop playing for a longer time, he found place in the team. Against Celta Illarra played excellent, his assist to Ronaldo was about to become a part of Blancos' history, but the bicycle shot was a little too high. His cooperation with Kroos in the game against Ludogorets was very impressive. If the next game, against Almeria had taken place on the Bernabéu, a standing ovation wouldn't be impossible. It was even possible to play in the first match of Club World Cup, but then James came back to the squad. The Colombian did not show his best play, but any changes were implausible. Next weeks, Illarra was not even close to the field.

Until the Saturday afternoon. His job was to end up with the chaos regarding one hour of Khedira's presence. And he's done it excellent. He gave the team the calm that let them win at the end. The German was losing a ball once in four minutes, and Illarra was incomparably better. Despite that, Khedira is still more likely to play. In my opinion, it's an absurd, because Asier is a better player, and doesn't want to move at the end of the season. The squad rotation is another case. Kroos said, that he does not cope with playing every match, everybody sees its aftermath. The reaction of Ancelotti was quick; he bought Lucas Silva. Even though the Brazilian players are never a sure point, Lucas seems to have more chances to substitute the World Cup winner. Actually, it's even not certain, that Asier stays in the capital more than a week. As Marca claims, Athletic Bilbao is likely to buy him for 25 million. I will really miss Illarramendi, his calm and humility. Illarramendi has everything to became the second Alonso, but Ancelotti does not want to let him show it. The situation may be even worse, if we would like him to come back after a few years. It's quite similar to the Diego López's departure. A fantastyic player, great Madridista, leaving, because the great names took the whole Ancelotti's trust.

Author: Zbigniew Jankiewicz  zbig.jankiewicz@gmail.com | foto: Real Madrid

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