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Koke is the key to Spain and Atletico Madrid’s future

Atletico Madrid's Koke celebrates after scoring a goal against Malaga during their Spanish First Division soccer match in Malaga

Similar to Dunga attempting to rebuild Brazil’s national side, Vicente Del Bosque has the same responsibility of constructing the future of Spanish soccer. With legends like Xavi and Xabi Alonso retiring from international duty and Andres Iniesta’s quality fading away, La Roja need a new mastermind to dictate the midfield and orchestrate attacks. That man is Atletico Madrid’s Koke.

A couple of years ago, Cesc Fabregas was deemed to be the successor to this role and it coronated in Barcelona signing him back from Arsenal. But after three subpar seasons the Catalans shipped Fabregas to Chelsea and even though he’s currently tied with Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne in leading Europe with 16 assists in league play, the 27-year-old has fallen out of favor in his homeland. Bayern Munich’s Thiago was another popular choice to be Spain’s new deep lying playmaker but he’s had a bad run of injuries which has kept him off the pitch. Last year before Spain’s debacle in the World Cup where they failed to make it out the group stage, Xavi said “Koke is destined to be the boss of the Spanish national team for the next 10 years.”

His statement looks to be correct because the 23-year-old has started in almost every match for the national team since then and he’s been given the No. 8 shirt that the three-time Champions League winner used to wear for the two-time European champions. Also, last week against Ukraine in a Euro 2016 qualifying match, the 2011-12 Europa League winner delivered a brilliant pass from the left channel for striker Alvaro Morata to put into the net. That was the only real chance in that match as Spain won 1-0. His role for his country has expanded, but so has his duty on the club level.

Atletico might have lost striker Diego Costa, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and left-back Filipe Luis to Chelsea after a legendary season but the squad has stayed afloat in La Liga. Most of the credit has to do with the member of the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship team taking more responsibility and thriving in it. In 31 combined La Liga and Champions League appearances for Koke, he has four goals and 13 assists while being versatile enough to play all over the midfield, preferably on the left-hand side. His club manager Diego Simeone is pleased with the progression the young star is making and describes what makes him special.

“He is one of those all-round midfielders who is gifted at reading the game, he knows how to play in different positions in the center and he has very good peripheral vision. When he is on top form, he allows us to play with speed, not because he is fast himself but because his vision allows us to play that way,” said Simeone.

Last season, when Barcelona sold Fabregas and were looking for a replacement, Koke was at the top of their list but he instead signed an extension with Atletico and Barcelona signed Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic instead.

“The truth is that part of me said it was difficult to say no to Barca but I wanted to continue at home for many years at Atletico. 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 their interest was appreciated. It means the work I’ve done has paid off. But I’m at home here,” Koke said to AS.

Unlike Fernando “El Nino” Torres and David De Gea who graduated from the Atletico academy and eventually left for bigger clubs, Koke seems to be comfortable staying in Madrid with the Rojiblancos. He’s tasted club success already in his career by winning La Liga and playing in the Champions League final last season so he believes under Simeone more success can come. Koke has the potential to be one of the best players in the world and his talent can dictate how far his country goes in next year’s European championship in France and the future.



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