When Koke made his full international debut for Spain against Ecuador last week, he shared the limelight with Real Sociedad’s Iñigo Martinez and Barcelona’s Cristiano Tello. It was quite apt that it wasn’t all about the 21-year-old though, considering that, despite making his Atletico Madrid debut aged 17, his name has not spread particularly far outside the confines of the Vicente Calderon.
Born in 1992, Koke has become quite the soldier in Diego Simeone’s Army over the past 18 months. Last season he was not just present, but extremely consistent for Los Rojiblancos in 33 of their 38 league matches. And while Manchester United continue to knock at the doors of the mansions of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Newcastle, they could actually find the midfield gem they’re looking for in the terraced houses down the road.
Versatility, often considered a troubling aspect of a player, is actually one of Koke’s strengths. Not in that he can play anywhere on the pitch, in that he can slot in anywhere, effectively too, across the midfield. During Spain’s triumphant Under-21 European Championships this summer he formed part of the midfield two alongside Asier Illarramendi. Together they controlled and conducted the play.
Under Simeone his role is different. With Mario Suarez and Gabi often forming the two, the youngster participates in a more advance role. Against Sevilla in the past weekend’s curtain-raiser his Heatmap (above) shows how he was allowed to roam around in front of the midfield, collaborating with Diego Costa, Arda Turan and David Villa, while brilliantly assisting Costa’s second goal with a defence splitting pass – one of two key chances he created on the evening.
It was a case of new season, same story, following the nine assists which came from the 80 chances he created for his colleagues during the last campaign. He even created more chances than any Man United player last term, Robin van Persie was the closest, he created 71 chances.
His combative nature and efficient passing make him an obvious choice to slot into a hard working Man United side who lack midfield quality. He completed over 1100 passes last season, at a completion rate of 81%, while winning 68% of his 81 tackles to allow Simeone’s hard-working tactics to flourish.
Despite making all the right steps, at the all the right times, it is suspect that Koke’s star has not risen as highly as, say, Illarramendi and Isco. An Atletico debut at 17 and a Spain debut, considering the abundance of midfield talent in the country, at 21 are no mean feats, but Koke remains, to a certain degree, an underrated talent. Stylistically he’s not necessarily as beautiful on the eye as Juan Mata and David Silva but, surrounded by the players like Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawka, he could be just the fit United are looking for. Moyes might want to consider knocking on At. Madrid’s door, they could find themselves a young, versatile midfielder who will no doubt improve with time too.
The wait is over...
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