This could be the breakthrough year for three of Spain’s brightest new stars. Isco, Thiago Alcantara and Asier Illarramendi each secured big money moves to Europe’s elite clubs this summer, with Real Madrid capturing two of them – Isco and Illarramendi – while Bayern Munich snapped up Thiago, seemingly unwanted at Barcelona.
So which one of the three will have the biggest impact in the coming season?
Position: Attacking midfield
Signed for: Real Madrid. From: Malaga
Price: £23million on a five-year deal (£30million buy-out clause)
Signed from Malaga this summer, Isco may just have the brightest future of the trio. A brilliant playmaker and goalscorer, Isco demonstrated his ability in the recent Under-21 European Championships, which Spain won, and for the whole of his wonderful final season at Malaga. Manuel Pellegrini tried to bring Isco with him to Manchester City but he opted for Madrid, and Carlo Ancelotti’s first signing may prove his best.
Blessed with balance and poise, Isco is a graceful midfielder whose turn of pace can leave flat-footed defenders for dead. Asked about Isco at a news conference, Ancelotti said: "From what I have seen of him, it's clear he has a lot of quality. Spain's Under-21 side has a lot of great players and he is one of the best. He could get into any team in the world, so he could also play for Madrid.”
Slightly awkwardly, Isco is a lifelong Barcelona fan and has clearly modelled his game on his hero Andres Iniesta. The way his game is progressing, Isco could be Iniesta’s eventual replacement in Spain’s national team. Now that would be awkward.
Position: Central Midfield
Signed for: Bayern Munich. From: Barcelona
Price: £22million on a four-year deal
Long touted as a replacement for Xavi for Barcelona and Spain, Thiago got impatient with waiting around and secured a big money move to Bayern, where he’ll link up with former boss Pep Guardiola.
Thiago’s success will depend on whether he is considered an automatic first choice in midfield, with plenty of competition in the shape of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Thiago is expected to partner the latter in midfield, with Martinez dropping back to centre back, in the same way Javier Mascherano did at Barca under Guardiola. Sounds like a pretty good plan, even if Javi isn't so happy.
If Thiago can establish himself – and he should given his talent – he has many great years ahead at the Allianz Arena. The Italian-born player, son of Brazil's 1994 Word Cup-winning midfielder Mazinho, was given his Barcelona debut by Guardiola and has demonstrated his ability in his fleeting appearances for Barca and for Spain’s under-21s, whom he inspired to victory in the final of the European Championships this summer.
Thiago has everything to become the complete midfielder, and he looks set to achieve one of the world’s best in the coming years at Bayern.
Position: Defensive midfield
Signed for Real Madrid From: Real Sociedad
Price: £34million on a six-year deal
Perhaps the least well known of the three, Illarramendi was signed for a cool £34million from Real Sociedad. Now, Real have been known to throw their money around before, but Illarramendi looks the real deal. The young midfielder plays deeper than fellow new signing Isco, and is set to challenge Sami Khedira for a place in Real’s starting line-up alongside a player he has long been compared to - Xabi Alonso.
At 31, Alonso is no spring chicken so the plan is surely to mould Illarramendi into the Alonso role as Real plan for the future. Like his mentor, Illarramendi likes to sit in front of the back four and dictate play with his superb array of passing. He may not break into the team immediately, but when he does – Real Madrid will have a very special player on their hands, and one that could feature in the famous white kit for years to come.
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