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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

Striking the right balance

Imanol Alguacil.
Imanol Alguacil. / Diario Vasco
  • David Moyes struggled with the unspoken 'Basque rule'; now, boosted by his knowledge of the youth set-up, Imanol Alguacil has Real Sociedad flying

Nobody could understand why David Moyes had selected Imanol Agirretxe ahead of Willian José when he was manager of Real Sociedad, so I bluntly posed the question.

His 'off the record' answer was that the Basque club had an unwritten rule that the balance of the eleven starters should always have more players from the region than non-Basques.

La Real (never call them just 'Sociedad') are the latest team to top the La Liga table and their unassuming coach Imanol Alguacil is getting the balance just right.

It's a winning mixture of raw talent, produced by one of the finest youth academies in world football, blended with some imaginative signings.

The headline act is of course David Silva. It looked like he was heading to Lazio until Real's sporting director made a cheeky enquiry to the 34-year-old. He leapt at the chance to lead a talented bunch of youngsters and live in stunning San Sebastián.

He's been a bit-part player in a season where they have found the perfect equilibrium. Roberto Olabe and Alguacil are the brains behind the operation. Ex-goalkeeper Olabe is the man who recruits the players, Alguacil is the former youth coach who forms them into a team.

The skill of Olabe is spotting talent which may not be appreciated at other clubs. Mikel Merino cost 12 million euros from Newcastle in 2018 which looked costly at the time; Alexander Isak joined from Borussia Dortmund where he hardly got a game. Now Merino looks to be Sergio Busquets' successor for Spain and Isak is filling the spot vacated by Zlatan Ibrahimović for Sweden.

San Sebastián is a wonderful place to get a career back on track. Wonderkid Martin Ødegaard was a frustrated teenager until Real Madrid loaned him to Real Sociedad and he returned as a rejuvenated and driven young man.

It's a similar story for Brazilian wanderer WiIlian José who had played for seven clubs in seven years before settling at the Anoeta. Adnan Januzaj left Manchester United as an unfulfilled talent; he's now realising that promise.

It's not all about the foreign players, though. In fact it's quite the opposite. Remember the Moyes rule: of the sixteen players involved in the victory over Celta, twelve were graduates of the club's development squad.

That's where coach Alguacil comes in. He's worked with most of them at academy level and knows all about their ability and personalities. Ander Barrenetxa is the latest graduate. He's only eighteen, was born in the city and is holding down a regular slot.

The best player for me, backed up by leading the Spanish scoring charts, is Mikel Oyarzabal. He was given his debut in Moyes' short spell and has improved season on season, hitting double figures for the past three campaigns. The 23-year-old skipper is also a regular in the national team. I expect he'll be a regular at an elite European club very soon.

Previously, the only thing Real Sociedad may have won was a football version of scrabble, given all the wonderful Basque names. Now they're serious contenders in the oddest of football seasons.