There’s a reason Aarón Martín Caricol made the list of the top 50 breakout stars of 2016/17. At just 19, he ascended to Espanyol’s first team and completely took over the left back position of the Blanquiazules. An indisputable starter for Quique since October 2016, the Montmeló youngster’s progression has no end in sight.
Quique Sánchez Flores’s Espanyol started the past season with worrying defensive frailties. The Madrid-bred manager, discontent with his defenders’ performances in the first games of the season, decided to change several pieces in his defense to solve the weaknesses that Espanyol was showing at the start.
A team must build itself from the back, and Quique, a right back in his years as a footballer, knows it more than anyone. Because of this, he decided to allow new defenders in, providing greater stability in defense. One of the victims of his overhaul was Rubén Duarte, a left back who was single out after his weak performance at the Sánchez Pizjuán in the 6-4 defeat in the first matchday of La Liga. Víctor Sánchez, a fan-favorite box-to-box midfielder, played in his position until the eighth matchday, where Quique realized that the true solution to this problem was in home, in the consistently prolific Perico academy: Aarón Martín Caricol (22/04/1997) was his name.
The 19-year-old southpaw debuted as a starter in the eighth Liga week against Las Palmas in the Estadio Insular in a meeting that ended in zero. Aarón already played 22 minutes the previous week against Villarreal, but it wasn’t until the eighth week where he finally started for Quique’s Espanyol against the Canaries.
Since then, nobody has been able to remotely challenge Aarón for the left back position. The Montmeló youth broke onto the scene with stunning ease, putting in amazing performances game after game. With just 19 years and without even being part of Espanyol’s first team squad, Aarón Martín became a guaranteed starter for Quique, developing into one of Spain’s most promising footballers.
Such was his rise in Espanyol’s first team, that just three months after debuting for the team, that the club decided to make him a full-fledged first team player, renewing his contract until 2022 with a buyout clause of €30m, as a response to the numerous offers that began to accumulate in Espanyol’s front offices for the young Catalan.
With the many promising Spanish left backs, from Valencia’s Jose Gaya, to Benfica’s Alejandro Grimaldo, to Real Madrid’s Theo Hernandez, Spain are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a competitor for the veterans, be it first-choice Jordi Alba, or the weathered Cesar Azpilicueta or Villlarreal’s Jaume Costa. Still, despite all of this competition, do not be surprised if it is Aarón on the first team for perhaps not the World Cup next summer, but realistically, the 2020 Euros. His blend of ferocity and versatility makes him a daunting fullback to play against, and a manager’s dream, whether it be for locking up livewire wingers, taming link-up play on the right side, or launching attacks from his own side.
Aarón Martín’s season was simply brilliant. In his first year with Espanyol’s first team, he played 33 matches, 28 as a starter, becoming one of the strongest pieces in Quique Sánchez Flores’s XI. His buccaneering runs down the left lane and his measured crosses into the rival area were extraordinary for a teenager without any prior experience in the first division. This season should be the definitive test for Aarón, given what he already achieved last season. Aarón, the advanced pupil of this Espanyol team, will continue expanding his skillset. At 20 years old, Aarón will continue to cement his status as one of the most promising defenders in football while evolving into one of the pillars of Quique Sánchez Flores’ Pericos.
By: Javi Lorca/@JLorc23. Translated by Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio
Photo: Louie Hendy/@LH_BCFC