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Atletico de Madrid Celebrate Winning La Liga Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Koke secures Atlético appearances record at Sevilla

One of the greatest and most important Rojiblancos has made more history.

Jorge Resurreción Merodio “Koke” officially became Atlético Madrid’s all-time appearances leader on Saturday, breaking Adelardo Rodríguez’s long-held club record of 553 games played in all competitions.

As expected, Diego Simeone has named his captain to the starting 11 for Saturday night’s game at Sevilla — Koke’s 554th appearance for his boyhood club in official competition, as well as his 346th league start from 392 games in Spain’s top flight.

Koke tied Adelardo’s overall games record in a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid the previous matchday. He had long been expected to pass his fellow midfielder, who retired in 1976 and still holds the club record for league games played (401).

A Vallecas native who joined Atlético’s academy at eight years old, Koke debuted on Sept. 19, 2009 for coach Abel Resino (who was sacked a month later). He scored his first LaLiga goal the following season against Saturday’s opponents Sevilla, and he was a pivotal player during the Simeone Era’s first triumphs — the 2012 Europa League and Super Cup wins, the 2013 Copa del Rey final win over Madrid, and the miraculous 2014 league title.

Playing as a left- or right-sided midfielder, Koke made a whopping 57 appearances during the 2013/14 season and registered a career-best 14 assists in 36 league games.

Football - La Liga - FC Barcelona vs Club Atletico de Madrid
Koke of Club Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga football match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, on May 17, 2014.
Photo by AOP.Press/Corbis via Getty Images

Koke had been regarded as captain-in-waiting for several years before Diego Godín passed the armband onto him officially in 2019. Though Atlético have had several ups-and-downs in recent years, Koke’s versatility and steadying presence were crucial components to the Colchoneros’ famous 2020/21 league win. He finished that season with only three goal contributions in LaLiga (1 scored/2 assisted), but he made a career-best 37 appearances in the competition — most of them in an unfamiliar deep-lying central midfielder position, in which he excelled.

Unusually for a Rojiblanco, Koke has also captained Luis Enrique Martínez’s Spain on several occasions, most recently in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Portugal in the UEFA Nations League. Koke has made 67 appearances for Spain, with 23 caps coming since Luis Enrique returned to coach the national team in 2020. He has played in two European Championships and in two World Cups — in 2018, he missed a penalty in La Roja’s shock shootout loss to hosts Russia in the round of 16.

Portugal v Spain -UEFA Nations league
Koke of Spain during the UEFA Nations league match between Portugal v Spain at the Estadio Municipal de Braga on September 27, 2022 in Braga Portugal
Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Throughout his career, Koke’s successes have often mirrored the team’s successes — the best Atlético sides from the Simeone Era have featured a Koke playing close to the peak of his powers. Once likened to Xavi Hernández (by Xavi himself), Koke could have moved to FC Barcelona or Manchester United many years ago and forged a very different career path for himself — one laden potentially with more silverware and certainly gaudier goal or assist figures.

Instead, Koke stayed a one-club man, and he will retire some day as one of Atlético’s most-decorated players with eight trophies and 101 assists to go with 47 goals and his games record. All of Simeone’s Atleti teams have been built to some degree on Koke’s adaptability, which has come at a great personal cost to the player — goal involvements are now rare for a midfielder who once had a run of four consecutive seasons with double-digit assist totals.

Though his form has declined over the past year-plus as Simeone continues to field him in a deeper position, Koke remains one of the first names on El Cholo’s team sheets because of his willingness to take on the dirty work. He has started all but one game in 2022/23 and is expected to play in his third World Cup later this year — after which negotiations might begin in earnest to extend his contract, which ends in 2024.

If he remains healthy, Koke will certainly add to his legend and become the first Atlético de Madrid player to surpass the 600-game mark and beyond.

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