Part of the #WFIFriday series, written by @JDNalton
In a time when Premier League clubs appear to have the pick of players from across Europe, and indeed the world, it’s surprising that a team is yet to take a punt on Jorge Resurrección Merodio.
The Atlético Madrid player, known simply as Koke, would fit right into a league which has a penchant for Spanish midfielders.
From Cesc Fabregas to David Silva, and from Xabi Alonso to Ander Herrera, since the turn of the century Premier League clubs have looked to Spain for something their homegrown British players can’t offer.
There are hints of Britishness in Koke’s play. Whereas some of his Spanish football colleagues may be all about finesse, technique, neat passing, and clever movement, Koke possesses an inner steel which adds a tenacity to his play in the middle of the park.
This work ethic has its roots in the Vallecas district of Madrid; a working class area of the capital where Koke was born and raised. According to Wikipedia “Vallecas is known for its working-class inhabitants who are very proud of their district.”
Writing for Bleacher Report, Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague stated that Vallecas is “an unglamorous, uncompromising, hard-working, no-nonsense community, not steeped in history or culture, but a modern functional suburb populated with proper people that ask for nothing that they don’t work for.”
Outlining the characteristics of Vallecas is to outline the characteristics of Koke. He joined the club’s youth academy at a young age, before working his way through the age groups and going on to earn caps for youth teams at national level.
He was part of the Spain squad which finished third at the 2009 U17 World Cup in Nigeria; one which included names such as Isco, Iker Muniain, Álvaro Morata, and Sergi Roberto.
In an interview with Marca, Fernando Hierro, then Director of Sport at the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), recalled Koke’s spirit during a game at this tournament:
“I will never forget the image of Koke lying on the stretcher shivering. He had made such an effort in the game, and it was so hot that he ended up dehydrated. He had a huge, massive game, running as much as he could and then running some more. That’s Koke, as generous in his play as he is off the pitch. He’s as good a footballer as he is a good person, an exemplary kid”
By this time he’d made his debut for the Atlético Madrid first team in a game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in September 2009. He replaced Paulo Assunção on the 67th minute as their side lost 5-2.
Ever since this day, Koke has regularly been mentioned in the same breath as Barcelona thanks to comparisons between himself and Xavi, but in an interview with Marca in 2013, he shrugged off this comparison in typical fashion:
“There is only one like him [Xavi], he is the best midfielder in the world. He has won everything and is a benchmark for all. Apart from that, we are different players. It’s a compliment to be compared to him, but Xavi is unique.”
Koke went on to achieve further international recognition at youth level when he was part of the Spain side which won the 2013 European Under-21 Championship. He was named in the squad of the tournament alongside numerous other Spanish players, including player of the tournament Thiago Alcântara, and top scorer Álvaro Morata.
It was only a matter of time before he received a call up to the senior national team, with his first appearance coming in August 2013 in a friendly against Ecuador. He has since gone on to achieve 17 caps for Spain, and now has over 200 appearances for Atlético Madrid.
In this current incarnation of Atleti under Diego Simeone, Koke is an ideal midfield engine for the Argentine manager’s game-plan based around team-work, organisation, and tactical discipline.
If manager and player were to somehow resist offers for their services from around Europe, there’s every chance that Koke will become Simeone’s captain at the Vicente Calderón in years to come.
However, Atleti have a huge task on their hands if they’re to keep the pair who are much coveted by top sides around the continent.
In a game which is demanding more and more from even the most technically gifted players when they haven’t got the ball, Koke’s work rate is priceless to a team.
As well as topping his side’s assists chart for the past three seasons, he also features highly in terms of defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions per game. While these defensive numbers aren’t the most revealing pieces of data in the world, you can see what Koke brings to the team under Simeone.
He provides a creative outlet from any of four midfield positions, but is often used on the left where he’ll drift inside onto his stronger right foot to play passes through to forwards or attacking midfielders.
He brings the combative qualities of a central midfielder into these wider areas, which suits his manager down to the ground. On top of all this he’s also an expert set piece taker, and can create chances for his team-mates from corners and free kicks.
As the graphic below from Squawka shows, many of the chances he creates come from corners, as well as from left midfield or the central attacking midfield position.
Down to earth, hard-working, technically gifted, and true to his roots. These traits would make Koke an excellent signing for many clubs across Europe, and especially the Premier League, but they’re also traits which mean it could be difficult to prise him from his boyhood team.