Last campaign, Martin Odegaard received a wealth of praise for his creative performances for Real Sociedad, and rightly so. However, a certain Mikel Oyarzabal went slightly under the radar for the regular football fan. If you take a look at his numbers, he may not go under your radar for much longer.
Whilst taking into account that Odegaard’s primary role in La Real’s set-up wasn’t goal-creation, Oyarzabal managed more than double the Norwegian’s goal contribution tally in 2019/20, with 21. Since then, their fortunes have changed dramatically.
Odegaard is now, more often than not, stuck on Real Madrid’s bench. In contrast, Oyarzabal is taking La Liga by storm and has arguably been the league’s most impressive performer so far this season. The Spaniard already has seven goals and two assists to his name, the most goal contributions in the league, and is seemingly firing Sociedad to an unlikely title challenge.
Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two giants of Spanish football. Discounting Atletico Madrid’s title win in 2014, not since Valencia in 2003/04 have a side other than the Clasico rivals won the Spanish top-flight, but this could well change in 2021.
Barcelona appear shaky and Real Madrid out-of-sorts, in fact newly promoted Cadiz have beaten them both this campaign, and alongside the Felix-led Atletico, Real Sociedad appear to be right in the mix for the title.
And it’s in no small part thanks to their tricky left-winger, Oyarzabal.
Manchester City were reportedly interested in Oyarzabal over the summer but were ultimately put off by his price tag and opted for Ferran Torres instead; come January and the summer, expect more of Europe’s elite to be circling.
So far in 2020/21, Oyarzabal is completing half the amount of dribbles per 90 than he did last year (1.0 down from 2.0), but his shots are way up, from 1.8 to 3.9 this term. This shows that his role in the side has changed; he’s now a goalscoring wide-man who doesn’t dribble as often, and it has paid dividends so far.
Furthermore, his key passes per 90 tally of 1.9 is the highest it’s ever been in La Liga. Put simply without any numbers, Oyarzabal has been on fire.
With 11 caps and four goals for his country already under his belt, Oyarzabal will be eyeing up a starting spot at the delayed Euro 2020, and on merit, he deserves a place. Nobody in La Liga can match his xG + xA per total of 1.03, with Lionel Messi currently at 0.97, and he’s doing it in a Real Sociedad side that’s undoubtedly talented, but doesn’t possess the abundance of superstars that the traditional ‘big three’ have in their ranks.
Oyarzabal’s contract doesn’t expire until 2024, and as a boyhood La Real fan, he will likely want to remain at the Basque club. Regardless of his want to stay, offers will no doubt arrive in the summer. Where could interest in Oyazarbal’s services come from?
OYAZARBAL TO ATLETICO MADRID?
There’s history here. Atleti poached Antione Griezmann from Real Sociedad back in 2014, and they could do far worse than going back there and picking up Oyarzabal.
Vitolo, Thomas Lemar, and to some extent Yannick Carrasco, have all failed to make the step up to a side challenging for La Liga year on year, with the problem area at Atleti indeed coming on the flanks.
Step up, Oyarzabal.
Whilst Diego Simeone has expanded his customary defensive system by allowing Felix to roam the pitch, their xG is the sixth in the league, behind 16th placed Celta Vigo. Oyarzabal could help to fix this, and pump in some much needed attacking threat alongside the Portuguese starlet.
By combining the two current most in-form players in the league, and matching both with Luis Suarez, the returns would be frightening.
OYARZABAL TO ARSENAL?
Mikel Arteta’s side stand 15th in the Premier League after what has been a reasonably woeful start to the season. Only the current bottom three have scored less than their 11 goals – even Fulham have more.
Like with Atleti, Oyarzabal would help plug such a conundrum.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been ineffective off the left-wing this season, and with the signing of Oyarzabal, he could be moved centrally and find more joy there.
Oyarzabal is making both more key passes and shots per 90 than any member of the Arsenal squad, and whilst they may not be able to finance the move, he could help push them back towards the top of the Premier League.
OYARZABAL TO BORUSSIA DORTMUND?
Jadon Sancho seems destined to leave the Bundesliga in the near future, and with Marco Reus ageing and still injury prone, Dortmund’s attacking options start to look threadbare.
Oyarzabal could shape up to be the perfect signing for Dortmund to play off the left, with Giovanni Reyna floating near Erling Haaland in their 3-4-3 formation. With the potential Sancho money, a deal would be easily affordable. RB Salzburg’s Dominik Szoboslai has been touted as a potential purchase for Dortmund, and if that deal comes to fruition, Real Sociedad will receive no contact from the Germans.
Bayern Munich have entirely run away with the league for the best part of a decade now, as the days of Dortmund’s resurgence under Jurgen Klopp fade into a distant memory.
With a front three of Haaland, Reyna and Oyarzabal, those days could well be re-lived soon at the Signal Iduna Park.
ONLY AN EXTRAORDINARY OFFER WILL SEE OYARZABAL LEAVE
Whatever the likelihood of Real Sociedad’s captain leaving, rest assured he would be a fantastic signing. At only 23-years-old and making a name for himself in Spain’s national side, his stock is rising.
His current club will fight tooth and nail for him to remain, as would the supporters if given the opportunity. Perfectly summing up the feeling surrounding the club, local journalist Alexandra Jonson stated,
“In San Sebastian, it’s not Messi, it’s not Ronaldo, it’s not even Antoine Griezmann or Xabi Alonso. Everyone there wants to be Mikel Oyarzabal.”
When asked whether an Oyarzabal departure may be likely in the summer, Alexandra told ZICOBALL,
“So, what’s important to understand with Real Sociedad and Oyarzabal is that they aren’t like most football clubs, and he isn’t like most players. In Gipuzkoa, the small area where Real Sociedad are from, and where Oyarzabal has grown up, everything is about this football club. You will never see a kid wear any other kit than that of Real Sociedad. And the quote [above] of kids wanting to be like Oyarzabal is explained by that.
“Before, when Oyarzabal was a kid, they all wanted to be like Xabi Prieto. When Prieto came up through the youth ranks, they talked of him as being as good as Xabi Alonso if not better. He was incredible for Real Sociedad (in my opinion one of the most underrated Spanish footballers, maybe ever), Prieto got a lot of offers, including one from Liverpool the same season that Real Sociedad were relegated from LaLiga. He turned them down as he did with everyone. He spent his entire career at Real Sociedad, always saying “I never dreamt of becoming a football player, I dreamt of playing for Real Sociedad.
“Xabi Prieto was Oyarzabal’s (and all kids in Gipuzkoa) idol. The identity of being Basque is really important in the Basque Country. For many who grow up in Gipuzkoa, the identity of being a Real Sociedad fan is just as important. You will see players leave the club when they get great offers like Xabi Alonso, Griezmann, Illarramendi (who went to Real Madrid and came back), Odriozola who also went to Real Madrid, or even Iñigo Martinez who went to the rival, Athletic. But I do believe that in Real Sociedad it’s way more common than in other clubs to see players turn down those types of offers. Mikel Oyarzabal has already turned down Athletic Club – I think three times, they’ve even tried to double or more his salary. His response was to take over Prieto’s number when he retired, as a hint of how loyal he is to Real Sociedad.
“I can’t say Mikel Oyarzabal will never leave Real Sociedad. But what I can say, is that he is one of those players who identifies himself so much with the club that it would have to be something extraordinary for him to even consider leaving. Even more so now, when they are showing they can actually compete. And honestly, I would not be surprised if he never left, but I can’t say he will stay forever. However, it’s highly, highly unlikely for him to leave next summer.
At Real Sociedad, he has everything he wants, and anywhere else he wouldn’t because he wouldn’t have La Real.”
Words by Cameron Smith – @_CameronSmith10
Insight from Alexandra Johnson – @AlexandraJonson
Graphic by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_