Who is he? Where does he play?
Xabi Alonso went from the heart of the Basque country with Real Sociedad all the way to the very top of the game with Spain's World Cup winners, now Asier Illaramendi is following him as the heir to the throne of the Spanish metronome. 23 and a graduate of the potent Sociedad academy, the small defensive midfielder is passing his way to greatness.
Not hard to guess what he does then....
Just passes, passes and passes the ball. Besides Markel Bergara in Sociedad's 4-2-3-1 system, the deep-lying Spaniard attempted a mammoth attempted 1606 passes last season and completed 1296 of them, giving him a pass percentage of 81%. He created a total of 33 chances though the majority of his work is done deep in midfield, where he is tasked with winning the ball back (121 tackles in total) and moving it on. His gifted use of the ball helped Sociedad qualify for the Champions League as Phillipe Montanier's men completed a superb year in La Liga.
So just like Alonso then?
He is blessed with intelligent use of the ball but, rather like Alonso, the defensive side of his game usually goes underrated. Last season he intercepted attacks at a rate of 2.3 per game, totaling 75 and suggesting he is adept at nipping attacks in the bud with fine reading of the game and positioning. His work-rate is also very commendable, showing willingness to win the ball back for his team, though he needs to work on his discipline, 49 fouls and 11 yellow cards suggests he can be slightly over-enthusiastic.
Currently out in Israel with the under-21s isn't he?
He is, chalking up a pass percentage of 93% out there, "you can take the midfielder out of Spain" and all that..... but cringe-worthy adages aside, if he wasn't competing with such sublime talent, he'd probably be worthy of a place in the senior squad. He now has 14 caps for the under-21s after representing the under-19s and the under-17s before that, with the latter he finished runner up in the U-17 World Cup back in 2007.
Will he stay at Sociedad?
He is contracted in San Sebastien until 2018 and Sociedad now have the lure of the Champions League to offer him, so the odds on him staying will be pretty good, though that has not deterred Real Madrid who seem desperate to land Illaramendi. The release clause in his contract stands at 30 million euros and rightly so given the quality he has shown. Manchester United and Chelsea have also been linked with the player, summed up in this neat little article.