Moving clubs for a fee in excess of €30 million carries with it a significant level of expectation and pressure, with plenty of cases of big-money stars failing to live up to their billing after blockbuster transfers.
Although Asier Illarramendi has returned to former club Real Sociedad this week after two unfruitful seasons with Real Madrid, it would be unfair to suggest that the gifted midfielder was weighed down by his sizeable €32.2 million transfer fee.
In truth, with the supreme amount of central midfield talent at the Spanish capital city club, the 25-year-old was simply not given enough opportunities to show his ability on the biggest stage.
World Cup winner Sami Khedira was a victim of Madrid’s embarrassment of boiler room riches last season and left the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in the summer to secure regular first-team football elsewhere; if the German could not get a look-in, in truth Illarramendi stood little chance.
The likes of Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, James Rodríguez and Isco are all in contention for a place in the heart of the Los Blancos midfield and in the end up Illarramendi simply fell victim to the presence of an overabundance of world-class talent in the same position that he operates in.
Despite it being hard to look at the Mutriku-born man’s time in Madrid as anything other than a failure, the star can now embark on the new chapter of his career in an environment he knows well.
There was consistent talk in both the Spanish and English media over the potential for Illarramendi to move to the Premier League this summer, with Liverpool and Arsenal in particular mentioned as reported suitors.
However, despite the calibre and standing of these teams in comparison to the modest Sociedad to which he has returned, it is clear to see that the decision to rejoin the San Sebastian club is the correct one.
After watching on from the bench as Carlo Ancelotti’s men won their La Décima Champions League and starting only 25 La Liga games over the space of two campaigns, regular action will surely be Illarramendi’s number-one priority.
This will be all but guaranteed at Sociedad, with scope for an exciting midfield link-up with another man who knows all about the stern competition for places at Madrid, Esteban Granero.
Alongside other able midfield practitioners such as fellow ex-Madrid man Sergio Canales, the promising Rubén Pardo and veteran Xabi Prieto, David Moyes has a gifted heartbeat in his side.
However Illarramendi has the ability to be the team’s driving force and dictate its attacking play from deep due to his wonderful vision and ability to bring others into the game.
The 25-year-old has been likened to Xabi Alonso for years given that they have both come through the ranks at the Basque club and both signed for Real Madrid.
The duo’s style of play certainly contains similarities, even if Illarramendi is yet to reach the heights of the now Bayern Munich star.
Sociedad will be very pleased with their recapture of the midfielder, with Illarramendi now ironically the club’s record acquisition and sale. However, in the space of two years the San Sebastian outfit have made over €16 million on his departure and return.
For the player it will be an important season ahead, with the midfielder and his impressive range of passing surely a key asset in Sociedad’s chances of exceeding expectations.