Vicente Iborra has arisen like a shining pearl, formed after years of frustrations and very drastic changes in circumstances at Levante. His rise took a lot of patience, hard work and constant support from the club. At age 19, he debuted as a tall and gifted striker with the first team in the King’s Cup and a few days later in La Liga, during the club’s last stint in the top flight since its most recent resurrection. He was one of a handful of players to stay with the club after relegation, though with a new manager in Luis Garcia Plaza came a new position: center midfielder. Now 24 years old, Iborra has embraced his new role and has quickly become one of the best defensive midfielders in Spain.
Why Iborra is Key to Levante’s Success
Iborra has long been the subject of heated debate in Levante forums. Supported and defended loyally by some supporters, and belittled by others who demand more from him or see more value in other players not formed in the Levante Youth System. This year, thanks in part to those dedicated fans, it has become unmistakable that Iborra is an essential player for Levante.
Fans have run statistical studies on the games he starts to show that, since his reappearance from injury last winter against Almeria, Levante has a much greater win percentage and point total when Iborra plays with any other combination of midfielders than when he is absent. The team rose from the dead last season with his reappearance against Getafe and Almeria, posting two key wins in the promotion campaign. He quickly won back his starting role and the team went on an unprecedented run of points.
In the 2011/12 campaign, Iborra started with incredible form, helping the team to a historic streak of seven straight victories. His sudden absence from the starting 11 led to not only the ending of the streak, but also a downward streak where the team went several months without posting a victory. Manager Juan Ignacio Martinez, aka JIM, finally gave in and benched Farinós against Real Madrid. Iborra posted an incredible first half, frustrating Madrid’s attack again and again. An unfortunate hand ball in the penalty area sent Iborra off and completely changed the game, allowing a struggling Madrid to tie and later take the lead against a numerically inferior Levante side. After serving suspension, Iborra played one of his best games all season against Espanyol, helping the team pull off a shocker and, in his return to a starting role, end the string of games without a win.
Iborra’s statistics also demonstrate his tremendous quality as a footballer. Though he may not score goals or give the last pass that goes down in the books as an assist, he does an incredible amount of work behind the scenes to create offensive chances for his team. For starters, he wins back the ball from the opponent many more times than his competitors in the Levante midfield, Xavi Torres and Farinos, and Iborra gives up possession many times less than both. In the statistic of clearances, Iborra is far in front of both again. These are the two statistics that should be most valued when analyzing the effectiveness of defensive midfielders.
Put simply, Iborra destroys the other team’s attack and launches counter-attacks, a vital asset to a team like Levante with a counterattacking style of play.
National Team Prospects: #IborraSelección
During Levante’s historic run of seven consecutive wins, SuperDeporte reported that national team coach Vicente Del Bosque was scouting Iborra and considering the possibility of naming him in a future team sheet. To earn a spot on the national team, Iborra would have to compete with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez and Sergio Busquets, a very tall task considering all three were on the World Cup Champion roster, and that they are big names and very decorated players. However, Javi Martinez has been playing as a Center-Back for Athletic Bilbao recently and was even listed as a Defender on Del Bosque’s last team sheet. It would not be surprising to see Martinez play there for Spain this summer, as this is a position with less competition: Pique has been in and out of form, Puyol is pushing the age limits already and will surely be in need of rest come June. With Martinez in Defense, it would seem that there is a potential need for another defensive minded midfielder. Keep in mind, though Spain is known for the Xavi and Iniesta, creative midfielder prototype, it was players like Marcos Senna, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets that have also been vital in Spain’s recent success.
In comparing, Iborra’s ratio of winning and losing possession with that of national team starter Xabi Alonso, Iborra actually comes out the victor. Iborra loses the ball much less than Alonso and wins possession at a much higher rate. At 1.40, his ratio is significantly higher than Alonso’s. In a national team that has dominated the world soccer scene with a style of play based on dominating possession, it would seem that this statistic is very important to analyze.
While it still seems unlikely that Iborra would make the Euro roster, one can hope. While Levante’s European aspirations are still in dispute with 7 games remaining, it should be noted that in the past modest clubs such as Villarreal, Getafe and Mallorca have seen their success and European placements were rewarded with their key players being selected to compete in the 2008 EuroCup. With a national team, like Spain, that has enjoyed incredible success in the last few years thanks in large part to the competition within its own ranks, as well as the humble contributions and hard work attitude that characterizes the reserves. Del Bosque would be making not only a bold decision but also, in my opinion, a correct one. Spain is not just Real Madrid and Barcelona, nor is Spain limited to a short list of “Grandes clubes”. Little clubs, like Levante, doing amazing things, thanks to great players like Iborra, deserve this kind of recognition for a job well done.
A Decisive Summer 2012: Will he stay or will he go?
This summer proves to be an interesting one in the Iborra saga. He is overdue for receiving some serious attention from economically more powerful clubs both in and out of Spain. Only this season has his name begun to appear on transfer short lists at clubs like Sevilla FC and Atletico Madrid.
Club President Quico Catalan has spoken out quite emphatically, something not usually seen from a president who prefers not to enter into the sporting realm, leaving those matters to sporting directors and coaches, stating that he wants to make Iborra “The new Ballesteros”, a symbol for the club and a hero for all the fans, a strong marketing image to represent the club in all facets.
This week in an interview with AS, Iborra admitted he would love to assume this role at Levante. Time will tell whether or not Iborra decides to stay and under what conditions. Playing in European competition has to be a factor. If Levante can beat out Sevilla and Atletico Madrid for a spot, it would seem illogical for Iborra to want to leave Levante for a move to those clubs. Beating Atletico 2-0 this past weekend does not hurt either. Indeed, if Iborra stays, it would mean that he does not feel that he needs to leave the club to grow as a player, something that would speak marvels of what Levante has accomplished in such a short time.
If you think that Iborra deserves a shot with the Spanish National Team, share why and use the Twitter hashtag #IborraSelección