22 Midfielder Atlético Madrid Spain
2014 has been...
There is not a single team in world football that would not be made better by the inclusion of Atlético Madrid’s Koke in their starting 11. Fact.
Last year when we looked over the-then 21 year-old, we marveled at the grunt work he was willing to do in order to help Spain romp towards the UEFA European under-21 Championships. Aware of the balance that needed to be brought to the side, his work rate ensured that Isco and Thiago were able to dictate the tempo of each of Spain’s games. He was no shrinking violet however and his own ability to create chances and be an attacking threat helped Spain to lift the 2013 crown.
In the 12 months since, he has been able to kick on again as a player. Having shouldered the mantle of being a leader in Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid side, he looks a natural on the left wing and have proved himself capable of the spectacular on countless occasions in 2014. All the while, he has continued to be the busy, hard-working, constantly pressing midfielder that they needed to secure an unlikely league win.
The 22 year-old has blossomed at just the right time for both the club and the manager. Born and raised through the youth teams of Atlético, he represents a little bit more than many of his reasonably expensively assembled teammates as he stands proud as a local in the Atleti team. The ambition of both Koke and his manager – both men are coveted the world over – is being met by an Atlético side that is continuing to challenge the two giants of the Spanish game despite a summer that would sink other teams.
Atlético aren’t a poor club but they don’t have the muscle of others and deals ultimately have to be done. When players excel, money talks. Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Adrian departed in the summer but were smartly replaced by Alessio Cerci, Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic. Importantly, Koke remained and the team have continued to impress.
Constantly trying to involve himself in the play of his side, Koke is a naturally busy footballer – either chasing the ball down or trying to find space to receive a pass. He possesses everything required in the modern game – technical skill, pace, strength and a sharp football brain. His partnership with Diego Costa at the front end of the field for Atlético helped both men claw their way into the Spain squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and his early work with replacement Mario Mandzukic is pretty good too.
Koke wasn’t supposed to be quite this good. He edged into the World Cup squad ahead of Isco and Jesus Navas to name but two of the incredible players left at home by the World Champions because of his incredible development in the last two seasons. He has gone past where his potential was supposed to cap out and is really benefiting from a manager that plays a style of football that suits his strengths.
He will eventually cost a pretty penny when the time comes for him to depart the Vicente Calderón Stadium; and unfortunately, he will depart. Atlético are in the habit of selling their prized assets and no matter the success of the club in the next two or three years, their asking price will be met. No number of consecutive runs into the latter stages of the Champions League and competitive runs in La Liga will be able to sufficiently boost Atlético’s own bank balances that they can avoid selling their latest star performer. For now, they can simply continue to enjoy a truly magnificent player blooming in front of their very eyes.
"Has become one of Atletico Madrid’s leaders and most essential players, all before his 23rd birthday. Koke’s progression has surpassed the expectations of many in Spanish football, and now it seems only a regular slot on Spain’s midfield is what’s required to label the player as well and truly one of the best midfielders in the world." - David Cartlidge
"Only Angel Di Maria (17) provided more assists in Europe's big five leagues last season than Koke (13)." - OptaJoe
A The leader of a new Spain.
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