Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are fighting for the title on the final day as La Liga reaches its conclusion for 2013-14. With Atletico having taken only one point from their previous two games, there was an air of expectation around Camp Nou as Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Tata Martino prepared to say their goodbyes with a perfect finishing touch.
The man who has played as big a part in Barcelona’s famous era as anyone, though, is on the bench, and all eyes are on another No.6. As Martino and Barca attempted to claim the league title without Xavi, Atletico’s star was Koke, who has evolved and improved perhaps more than any other Spanish footballer over the course of the season, leading him to be tipped to solve Manchester United’s long-running midfield problems.
His growing influence at Atletico was clear to see at Camp Nou as he made precise and intelligent use of the ball under pressure, playing like the complete modern midfielder. His qualities have been recognised by national team coach Vicente del Bosque from the outset and while there is still room for improvement, has Koke earned the chance to take his place in the Spanish starting XI?
On March 5, Spain faced Italy in the last friendly before beginning their preparations for the World Cup. For the first time in a long time, Xavi was named only as a substitute. Thiago, another heir to the throne once targeted by Manchester United, took his place.
Maybe this was the beginning of a natural transition away from the player who has amassed 130 appearances for his country but if that was Del Bosque’s intention, Thiago’s recent injury may force him to rethink. If the script is not written for Bayern Munich’s midfielder, might it be for Atletico’s? This summer could be Koke’s time.
Jaime Collazos has always been passionate about football, to the point of making it his profession. He attempts to explore leagues, stadiums and cultures around the world through his Spanish-language blog www.viajesfutboleros.com, where you can find his footballing experiences, travel tips and, of course, path to the World Cup in Brazil from his base for the tournament in Rio de Janeiro. You can also view Jaime’s photos on Instagram (jaimecollazos) and interact with him directly on Twitter (@jaimecollazos).