Following in the footsteps of Xabi Alonso is an unenviable task, with the Spanish midfielder one of his generation’s best players for club and country.
Liverpool found this out when the deep-lying playmaker left Anfield in 2009, with Alberto Aquilani and other players failing to continue where the Basque-born player had left off; the Merseyside club’s drop out of the Premier League top four coincided with Alonso’s departure and was no mere coincidence.
The now-Bayern Munich midfielder’s most distinguished period in his club career came during four years at Real Madrid, where the gifted pass-master became an essential player for the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu outfit.
Alonso won one La Liga title and the Champions League crown for Los Blancos, and has since proved to be a revelation since switching to Bavaria.
It is fair to say that Alonso’s range of passing, control over any game he plays in and positional sense make him a unique player with an enviable list of positive attributes.
Asier Illarramendi’s career to date has not been anywhere near as accomplished as Alonso’s but there are comparisons between the players.
Both were products of the Real Sociedad youth system, coming through the ranks at Anoeta only to be pried away by significant suitors.
Both have ended up at Real Madrid for transfer fees in the region of £30 million and represented Spain at age-grade level.
Illarramendi’s traits of lying deep in midfield and his game being based around keeping possession of the ball are similar to Alonso’s to some degree, but it appears that the 24-year-old has work to do if he is to replicate any of the success that his compatriot has achieved in the game.
Alonso’s departure to Bayern in the summer should have offered Illarramendi the perfect opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place in the European champions’ starting XI, but this has simply not materialised.
Luka Modrić has become ever-more influential for the capital city side, while Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez were added in the summer to increase competition for places.
With Isco also dropping into more of a withdrawn role in Carlo Ancelotti’s bespoke 4-3-3 formation and the Italian isolating certain players by preferring a settled starting line-up, there have been few chances for Illarramendi to feature.
Last season the Mutriku-born midfielder was in-and-out of the team, starting 15 La Liga games in the Madrid side, but 2014-15 has been a different story altogether.
Only three starts in the league and a total of 446 minutes of action has seen Illarramendi’s progression halted, with rumblings of a loan move away from the club this January.
Arsenal were touted in the British media as potential suitors, while Athletic Bilbao are also said to have been rebuffed by the player, who wants to stay and fight for a place in the star-studded Madrid side.
With Modrić on the mend from injury and Isco starring in the Croatian’s absence, the opportunities for Illarramendi to play are not going to increase anytime soon.
Sami Khedira, a World Cup winner in the summer, has suffered the same unfortunate fate this term at the Bernabéu, showing that the uncapped Spaniard has a considerable challenge ahead of him to stamp down a place in the side.
A loan move to get Illarramendi back playing regularly, instil some confidence back into him and to remind the world of his ability seems a lot more beneficial than spending his time on Madrid’s fringes.
As for Alonso, it appears that another player that has tried to fill the void he has left is struggling to replicate the veteran’s unique skillset.