41. Álvaro Odriozola
Amid burgeoning talent in the best league in the world, Álvaro Odriozola was one of the best breakout stars of the past season. At the start of the season, he was a reserve option at best, but with the injuries of Zaldua and Carlos Martínez, Odriozola gained entrance into not only Eusebio Sacristán’s XI, but also the Spanish national team. In less than four months, he had gone from an unknown Basque talent to debuting in La Liga, to getting a call-up for the U21 Euros. In a mere instant, he has become the best young right back in football.
Usually, modern right backs are characterized by their incredible pace or nonstop stamina, but Odriozola’s reading of the game makes him one of La Real’s most prized possessions. He knows what play to execute on rival territory, he knows how to surprise defenses, and he knows when to lock down and win back possession. This intelligence, combined with his explosiveness and determination, make him one of the most complete right backs in football.
One of the common flaws in most modern right backs is their lack of defensive ability, but in this facet of the game, Álvaro does not disappoint, always well-positioned and ready to stop attackers from crossing or dribbling down the wing. He’s 21 years old, 178cm tall, and with a 40 million euros buyout clause that was put into place just weeks ago, he is sure to attract the attention of Europe’s top clubs, especially with such high demand for quality right backs, yet such low supply. He will remain with Real Sociedad this season with Europa League football and more game time. The starting spot in San Sebastián is now his, and this season, he must fight to make Julian Lopetegui’s 23-man-roster for next summer’s World Cup.
Odriozola was born on December 14, 1995, in San Sebastián. His footballing career began when he joined the youth system of Real Sociedad in 2006, at 10 years of age. He progressed through all of the youth tiers for the Basque club, and on September 1, 2013, he debuted with Real Sociedad B against UD Las Palmas Atlético in the Segunda División B, or the third division. In the 2014-2015 season, he was officially promoted to the B team, where he scored his first goal on September 6, 2014 against Real Unión de Irún. His first professional contract came in February 2016, renewing until 2018.
Eusebio Sacristán, Real Sociedad’s manager, used Carlos Martínez as a right back, but due to several injuries, Joseba Zaldua had to replace him. Still, the problems repeated themselves, and Zaldua joined Martínez on the treatment table. Unable to call on his two veteran right backs, Eusebio headed to the academy, of which La Real’s is one of the finest in Spain. On January 16, 2017, Álvaro Odroziola made his La Liga debut against Málaga in La Rosaleda and instantaneously won the starting spot due to his explosiveness.
Odriozola was one of the revelations of not only La Liga, but in all of Europe this season. With his 78 meters and his voluminous hair dancing against the wind, he protected La Real’s defense while demonstrating himself as one of the best prospects Spain has to offer. He may have shocked La Real’s fanbase, but that surprise was nothing compared to rival fanbases. He demonstrated his skill and versatility since the academy, yet to the chagrin of many of La Roja’s rank-and-file, and Spain’s U21 manager Albert Celades, gave Hector Bellerín the starting spot in the U21 Euros.
Álvaro Odriozola’s career is accelerating at an abnormal rate, a rate that has not been seen in Spain with a youngster since perhaps Sergio Busquets; 7 months ago, he went from playing third division football to training with the first team. This coming season will be a vital test in proving his place amongst the elite right backs of football.
Still, should he make it to the top tier of the game, he must do what so many promising youngsters forget, and stay humble, never forgetting what his roots are. In an interview with Diario Vasco, Odriozola talked about the importance of keeping his feet on the ground, having a good peer support group, a family, and friends that keep him grounded, that never let him see himself as more powerful than he already is.
“I often put football into perspective. For example, doctors save lives, and we just try to make people happy by kicking a ball around. Success does not change you, but there are many people whom fame has changed, it makes them lose their perspective, it makes them think they’re better than everyone else. Footballers are normal people too, just like everyone else.”
In the same interview, Álvaro revealed that in the lower tiers, he often played as a winger, and sometimes on the left wing, but for modern football managers, it is common knowledge that Odriozola can get the best out of his qualities by playing at right back.
One of the stadiums he impressed most at was the Santiago Bernabeu, and it’s no surprise that, with the exit of Danilo and possible loan away for Achraf Hakimi, Real Madrid are interested in his signature. Florentino Perez never settles for anything less than perspective, and he will do everything he can to sign the best fullback in the world.
By: Carlos Arguello/@CarlosXArguello. Translated by Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio