21st November 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
After having a tremendous breakout season last term, Real Sociedad's wildly gifted young attacker, Mikel Oyarzabal, has impressively risen to the challenge and continued his remarkable upward trajectory.
Even before he joined La Real as a 14-year-old from Eibar in 2011, however, the man affectionately nicknamed "Bigfoot" courtesy of his size 12 feet, was hot property across the Basque country. Not only was he wanted by Sociedad, but also their rivals Athletic Bilbao, who even offered him a scholarship in the years prior to him joining La Real, which was turned down due to his parents believing that his progression was going along smoothly at Eibar.
Indeed, upon reflection, both Eibar and Athletic would be wishing he was theirs after witnessing what a fantastic players he has now become.
It didn't take long for the versatile Oyarzabal, who's capable of playing across all the attacking positions, to stamp his mark with the White and Blues, as he shot through the ranks to make his professional debut aged just 17 in 2014. Although his senior bow was with the club's reserve team in the Segunda B Division, it was undoubtedly a sign of things to come.
Roughly a year later, the then 18-year-old was justifiably rewarded for all his excellent work and perseverance when David Moyes handed him his La Liga debut against Levante, with his team 4-0 up.
Despite Moyes suffering the indignity of getting sacked, Oyarzabal's gone from strength to strength under new manager Eusebio Sacristan, steadily adapting and showing his capabilities at the highest level.
Scoring six, including one against Barcelona, and assisting a further two in his 22 appearances last term suitably demonstrated his quality and that he wasn't overrawed playing in La Liga or the Europa League. Amid interest from the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Athletic in January, Sociedad smartly moved quickly to offer their prodigy a new deal that included a €40 million release clause to ward off any potential suitors.
So impressive was Oyarzabal that he even received a call up to Vicente Del Bosque's senior Spain squad in May of this year and subsequently made his debut in La Roja's 3-1 win over Switzerland.
The languid prospect's crucially continued to show promise this season too, as he's really cemented himself as an integral component of Eusebio's side. The fact he's started 11 of La Real's 12 league fixtures and provided an important four assists aptly depicts his undoubted worth.
While many are justifiably claiming he's the best youngster to come through the Sociedad youth setup since Antoine Griezmann, he's still got a long way to go before he reaches the Frenchman's level. Although he's not the polished article yet, he still possesses a very impressive set of attributes.
Blessed with sublime vision, technical qualities and an underrated understanding of space, that sees him regularly take up dangerous positions, Oyarzabal's proven a real handful for opponents to come up against. Moreover, he handles himself assuredly in tight spaces, where his ball control and passing skills see him more often than not get himself out of harms way to either retain possession or orchestrate openings for his teammates.
Deployed usually on the left wing, the 19-year-old's tendency to drift infield into the left half space or into the 10 spaces sees him not only add some vital variety to his game, but also lets him utilise his slick build up play and work with the ball in more damaging central areas.
Upon parlaying the afore with his diligent defensive work, powerful shooting prowess, fantastic timing of his runs into the box and his overall clarity in his decision making, and it's easy to see why he's such a highly regarded prospect, who's destined to achieve great things in the future.
For now, though, the Eibar born man will be focused on gaining more essential experience and developing his craft within the confines of Eusebio's superbly coached Real Sociedad side. Eusebio himself is quietly pleased with Oyarzabal's progress, saying: "I see him grow from day to day. Everything that he brings to the side is positive and as a coach I'm very happy with him."
On a side note, despite his class on the pitch, the grounded starlet isn't letting football get in the way of his desire to complete his business administration and management degree in San Sebastian. "You never know where you might end," he insisted, showing a maturity beyond his years that illustrates his knowledge of how fickle the world of football can be.
Whether on the field of play or in the classroom, Oyarzabal appears destined for big things in both frontiers in the future. His humility, attitude and work ethic should see to it.
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Mikel Oyarzabal Destined for Greatness with Real Sociedad
21st November 2016. By Edward Stratmann.