clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Getting to know Koke: Atletico Madrid’s midfield engine

He joined Atletico’s youth team at just eight and has become the team’s heartbeat at 24

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In a way, Koke's devotion to making sure his parents are comfortable and content is similar to his commitment to Atletico Madrid. “I try to give them everything they need,” he said in an interview with El Pais last season. That includes a house in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid, a car for his father and a physiotherapist for his mother to deal with aching joints. Tell me what you need and I'll find a way to provide it for you.

But it was not always meant to be this comfortable. Born and raised in a house in working-class Vallecas, Koke exemplifies the area. In his own words, they are “humble, working class people, who live their lives with plenty of value.”

Koke has been asked to play in a position that was not entirely natural to him for the last number of years, causing him to miss out on a certified place in Spain's national side and possibly countless other individual awards and recognition. Instead, he spent that time engraving a path from the left hand side of the pitch at the Vicente Calderon, and in grounds the length and breadth of Spain, back to the centre as he worked tirelessly to ensure Atletico were never left wanting in attack when they had the ball, or defensively, for the long stretches when Atletico had to do without.

In a recent game against Deportivo, Koke represented the team for the 190th time six months shy of his 25th birthday, entering the top 40 list of appearances makers for los Rojiblancos. In that game, against Deportivo la Coruna, he dictated the midfield and the game like an experienced choral director standing before his orchestra; when the director wants more Saxophone, he gets it with a flick of his wrist. When Koke wants more space, he simply looks up, commanding so much respect that opposing players back off rather than be caught out with an inch perfect pass over or through their last line of defense.

Spain v Georgia - International Friendly Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

"When you go out there and say you're from Vallecas, people look at you in a special way. Vallecas has personality." Respect. Fear. Curiosity. Koke does not specify what that reaction is but the place is in his blood and he has been experiencing those reactions all his life. It manifests in the way he chases the ball and the way he recovers after a bad performance; something that has become increasingly rare. You can't and won't keep him down.

It was fitting that he dominated that game against Depor with his metronomic passing, beyond-his-years leadership and indefatigable work rate in such a monumental game in his career. He attempted 110 passes and received another 103, meaning he was involved in 35% of Atletico's passing interactions. He also won the ball back 10 times, which was almost double that of any of his teammates. A snapshot of his style. Humble, hard-working and with plenty of value.

“He is extraordinary...he will be my successor for Spain”, said Xavi, which is probably the highest praise you can think of for a creative central midfielder. Former teammate, Mario Suarez, thinks he can be better than the former Spanish maestro in midfield, “to me, when compared with Xavi, Koke seems much more complete.”

How do you explain Koke? There are times when he moves into some kind of stereotype. A caricature of what a Diego Simeone footballer looks like. He might be that but he gets the job done on a weekly basis and this season we are seeing a footballer, who has matured into a leader. If there was any doubt where the heartbeat of this football team lay, the answer is wherever Koke finds himself on the field.

Koke and Simeone are kindred spirits. Three years ago, Koke said, “He’s planted an idea in our heads of a working mentality and it’s one in which we only think about going out to win.” Instilling a working mentality into boy from working class Vallecas. He took to it like a fish to water.

A profile piece of Koke in Spanish football magazine, Libero, in 2015 describes Koke as not being born with the “third eye” that many players from the South of Spain are born with or with that creative instinct; the likes of David Silva and Santi Cazorla, who have some form of a radar that senses movement from the very periphery of their vision. Koke was born in the concrete playground just 14 kilometers southeast of the centre of Madrid where he developed his own set of skills – and they include a version of that precise vision that makes Silva and Cazorla so important to their teams. He just blends it with the kind of work rate and humility that you associate with a less talented footballer. And it works for him.

“Koke is an extraordinary player”, Simeone said after a particularly impressive display against Granada last season by his anchor. There's that word again. Extraordinary. It's ordinary with a little extra. It's a kid from Vallecas making something of himself. It's a world class player willing to put in the work of an also-ran. It's Jorge Resurrección Merodio. Or Koke, as he is known, the kid from Vallecas.