Asier Illarramendi is about to leave Real Madrid. After the first few weeks of pre-season, Rafael Benítez has thrown in the towel. The Basque has not been able to convince Real Madrid's new boss, showing an alarming lack of self-confidence which overshadows his natural born talent.
Since that awful night in Dortmund during a Champions League game two years ago, Illarra has become stagnant. Real believed he was the long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso in a defensive midfield role, but it is obvious that he is not able to deal with the pressure at the Santiago Bernabeu. Therefore his adventure at Madrid will end, probably during the last week of August.
Benítez, very well known when it comes to the subject of making the most out of young talent, has realised that the player needs a change and subscribes to Florentino Pérez's view. The sooner they sell him, the more money they can recover after paying €36m (£25.5m) for his services two summers ago.
Sources coming from Basque Country confirm Illarra's uncertain future. He is awaiting offers, Real Madrid's final decision and, according to Spanish media, there are five candidates who could be ready to sign him: Liverpool, Arsenal, Porto, Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.
Liverpool have shown great interest since last winter. Illarramendi, who spent his entire youth career at Sociedad as Xabi Alonso did, is a player that would fit perfectly in Brendan Rodgers' current squad, but they are waiting for Real to make a decision.
Looking to Illarra's difficulties at Madrid, Anfield would be the perfect place for him to recover his confidence. Liverpool can offer what Illarra needs at this point in his career: a young squad with great expectations, patience and support from the stands and a more relaxing media atmosphere.
But the Reds are not the only Premier League club keeping an eye on Illarra's situation. According to Diario Marca, Arsenal made a bid last January. Taking into account that Mikel Arteta, aged 33, may end his career at the Emirates Stadium this season and that Illarra's skills are similar to his, it seems like a perfect signing for Arsene Wenger.
In fact, the Gunners travelled to San Sebastian two years ago in order to make a bid for the blonde midfielder after his astonishing season for Real Sociedad and Spain's U21 side. Real Madrid won that battle, however, after the player admitted he could not turn down the chance to join Los Blancos.
Porto may also want Illarramendi. Their manager, Julen Lopetegui, was in charge of that Spain side that won 2013's Under-21 European Championship. Illarra played a major role in that squad, next to Thiago Alcantara. Despite the fact that nothing compares to the Premier League, Illarra knows he needs to recover confidence as soon as possible, and Lopetegi knows him better than anyone. Porto will play in the Champions League, so the Basque would have the chance to shine at the top European level.
However, there are two more candidates who have the money and will want to sign the "best La Liga midfielder" of 2013. Athletic de Bilbao and Real Sociedad. Bilbao offered €30m last winter, according to El Mundo, but the player turned down the move, trying to show respect to Real Sociedad's supporters. "I will never play for Athletic de Bilbao" - Sociedad's arch rivals - remarked Illarra during press conference in 2011.
Meanwhile, Real Sociedad have their own strategy. Wait until the last week of August and try to pull some strings if the player has not signed with a club by that deadline. Illarra has suffered so severely from homesickness that he needed to return home every month during his first season at Madrid.
The player wants to succeed at the highest level and clubs such as Liverpool, Arsenal or Porto will give him the opportunity to do that. But Real Sociedad will offer Illarra the option of living in Mutriku, the small fishing village in which he was born. Illarra is a straightforward young boy who loves nothing more than to play football or chat with his friends or even visit his grandmother. Illarra, who was part of the bright new generation of players which included David De Gea, Thiago Alcántara, Álvaro Morata and Isco Alarcón, will have to make a decision in the next three weeks. It does not depend exclusively on his will, as Real Madrid will not let him leave at any old price. If they don't get an offer they deem fit, they will keep the player until the winter, despite knowing that Illarra will play very few minutes until then.