Earlier this summer, Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke was targeted by La Liga giants Barcelona as a possible replacement for some of the club’s aging stars.
Xavi Hernandez had turned 34 in January and Andres Iniesta just reached his 30th birthday in May. So the Catalan club identified Koke as the perfect piece to slide into its midfield engine.
But 22-year-old, who was fresh off of making a Champions League final appearance and winning the La Liga title, decided it was best to remain with his teammates and manager at Atletico Madrid.
Koke recently gave an interview to the Spanish newspaper AS in which he described the thought process behind his decision to remain with Los Colchoneros.
“The truth is that part of me said it was difficult to say no to Barca but I wanted to continue at home, at the best time for many years at Atletico,” he told AS.
“It wasn’t time to leave. This is my home, where I feel wanted and the club didn’t need to sell. How was I going to leave at the best time for Atletico?”
“It’s not easy to say no to Barca and that interest is appreciated. It means the work I’ve done has paid off. But I’m at home.”
Manager Diego Simeone has stated in the past that his objective has always been to look for players who are committed to the club. The Argentinian boss wanted young players who would grow together with each other starting from Atletico’s youth academy.
Koke has been one of those players. The midfielder arrived at the club when he was eight years old in 2000 and steadily rose up the ranks of the Spanish side before making his first team debut in September 2009.
The Spanish international doesn’t see himself as the standard bearer in the squad because he has chosen to stay with his boyhood club. He just sees himself as part of a selfless group of players who believe in each other and their manager.
“I’m just another player at Atletico, a player who gives everything for his team and does what the Coach asks,” he said.
“I’m not the best or the flagship, the banner. The most important thing to me is to make a better Atletico and be a team player, which is ultimately what matters.”
“[The new signings] are great players, they’re all important and I believe they will all contribute a lot to the team.”
“They hope to do things right and that is something the Coach values highly.”
Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo have repeated time and time again that their players “know they have a home” with the club. They have done one of the best jobs in the world of football in developing a squad of players into a team that is committed to the club and its supporters.
Koke isn’t the standard bearer at Atletico Madrid. But he is a major piece of the “spine” which provides strength and support to the club.