Atletico Madrid's Koke: A Future Star for Both Club and Country

Thomas HallettCorrespondent IIFebruary 4, 2013

MONACO - AUGUST 31:  Frank Lampard of Chelsea in action with Koke of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Super Cup match between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid at Louis II Stadium on August 31, 2012 in Monaco, Monaco.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

You’ve got to admire the immense talent pool of young Spanish midfielders currently in La Liga. And while those abroad continue to be mesmerised by the artistry of Malaga’s Isco, Atletico Madrid’s Koke is equally deserving of a slice of the limelight.

It doesn’t really get much better than this: one of the big-name high flyers in La Liga this season with a young Spaniard central to most of what is good. Atletico Madrid deserve mountains of praise for what they’ve achieved under Diego Simeone over the past 18 months, but there’s far more to his team than just Radamel Falcao.

In fact, the next name after Falcao to steal the headlines is probably Arda Turan, who was the best player on the pitch in their last league game against Real Betis on the weekend. But you’ve just got to admire the rise of Koke through the Atletico ranks and into a genuine star for the future.

There has been plenty of talk about who will take over for Xavi or Xabi Alonso in the Spanish national team in the near future, when disappointingly both midfielders will have to hang up the boots for good. Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera is a name often touted to pick up responsibilities, and Barcelona have a whole host of names in the first team and in Barcelona B who could take over.

But then what can we say about Koke? He’s a midfielder who has evolved from a deep-lying player into something even more dynamic and useful in a variety of positions in Simeone’s team.

He’s one of the first names on the team-sheet even ahead of established internationals like Cristian Rodriguez. He gives Atletico the option of playing two strikers in attack, with Simeone selecting Arda on one flank and Koke on the other.

When Simeone wants to stack the midfield, Koke is more than good enough to be the central figure in an attacking three behind Falcao. And here’s the other thing: Koke has the ability to conjure the spectacular in front of goal.

It’s largely the joy of seeing yet another name from the Spanish youth system rise up to prominence who is still years away from his peak. English audiences especially can’t find enough superlatives for Isco, while the clamour for their club to sign the Malaga playmaker is immense. That used to be the case for Iker Muniain too.

With Koke, it’s so easy for regular viewers of Atletico to fall under his charm in the same manner as with other Spanish youngsters in the league. Here is a player who every club in La Liga would love to have, and there’s no question that Koke could be a fantastic acquisition for most of Europe’s giants.

It would be heartbreaking, of course, if city rivals Real Madrid decided they fancied a bit of the Madrid-born midfielder. But like with most of the squad at the Vicente Calderon, you really don’t get a sense that Koke has eyes for anything other than success with Atletico.

The midfielder has two winner’s medals with his club, the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup. With Spain’s U21s, he’s been brought up the right way, placed into a younger group with less demands and given the necessary education to prepare him for life in the senior squad. It’s this type of handling of young players that the English could learn from.

Like Isco and Iker Muniain, Koke is the tip of the iceberg for what is available in terms of young quality in Spanish football. Pleasantly, what we’ve seen from Koke up until this point is also a small sign of what’s to come in the near future.