a look at la liga

A club that's going places

Oyarzabal celebrates his penalty against Barça.
Oyarzabal celebrates his penalty against Barça. / Diario Vasco
  • Europe may well be on the cards for Real Sociedad, who are assembling an exciting young team

As La Liga rests for the mid-season break, it’s pretty much all as expected for all but one team. Real Sociedad are rebuilding in more ways than one and are exceeding expectations while having an absolute ball.

This is the club that used to have a running track around the stadium, leaving the players detached from the fans and, in turn, the big clubs in Spanish football. The decision was taken to ditch the track, bring the fans closer to the players and create a more hostile environment for visiting teams.

Now the clinical atmosphere has gone, the fans are buying into the directors’ vision and the team seem to be going places, maybe Europe. They head into the new year in fifth place with a bright outlook for a developing team of young footballers.

The 78.6-million-euro stadium investment is now paying dividends, as is the recruitment drive and promotion of home-grown players.

For the game with Barcelona an attendance record was set, 36,639 saw them hold the champions to a 2-2 draw. When the stadium is completed, the capacity will increase even further.

With the players they’ve assembled the future looks rosy. The star is undoubtedly Mikel Oyarzabal who is on the radar of many leading clubs. As he’s Basque born, Athletic Bilbao were the most interested, but he put them off by signing a new deal until 2024. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as a Pep Guardiola recruit at Manchester City - he fits the bill.

Alongside him is a young player who has already performed in the Premier League. Mikel Merino made just one start in his last five months at Newcastle United and there wasn’t a fight when La Real offered to pay his buy-out clause. The Pamplona-born midfielder, who was likened to Xabi Alonso when he starred for Spain’s under-21s, is now playing like the one-time Real Sociedad star.

Another who has rediscovered himself in San Sebastián is Martin Ødegaard, the teenage wonder-kid who left many wondering what had happened to him. Still only 21, he seems to be realising the potential that took him to his parent club, Real Madrid, in the first instance. On this form, they will be demanding he returns to the Bernabéu.

One of the great strokes was bringing Nacho Monreal back to northern Spain after six years at Arsenal. The former international brings leadership to a young team. One of the youngest is 20-year-old Swedish international Alexander Isak who is developing at his own pace, and he’s one of the paciest around.

To top things off, the club has a big heart. After beating village team Becerril 8-0 in the Copa del Rey, club president Jokin Aperribay has invited all the inhabitants to a future match at the newly named Reala Arena.

It’s only a population of 754, but given the current form of Real Sociedad, it may be difficult to find spare seats in a regularly-packed stadium.