Since Fiorentina signed Real Madrid rightback Álvaro Odriozola on loan last week, Viola fans have been scrambling to figure out what to expect from the former Real Sociedad man. Is he going to displace Lorenzo Venuti? Is he a misunderstood star who just didn’t cut it in Madrid because los Merengues chew up and spit out top players every year? Is he related to Matthew McConaughey?
Fortunately, we were able to track down Managing Madrid’s Managing Editor—double management!—Om Arvind (follow him on Twitter because he’s full of very good stuff) to fill us in on Álvaro.
Viola Nation: Álvaro Odriozola, from what we can tell, really didn’t want to leave Madrid this summer. What eventually prompted him to join Fiorentina after turning down a bunch of other clubs in Spain and elsewhere if it wasn’t the chance to join the biggest club in Tuscany?
Om Arvind: I didn’t even know there were multiple clubs in a battle for his signature. I mean, this is Álvaro Odriozola we’re talking about. I would assume it has something to do with playing time without having any knowledge of Fiorentina’s right back situation. If not, then maybe he was sold on the club’s culture? Training ground? He likes Italian food (I like Italian food; sign me Fiorentina)? IDK.
VN: Odriozola was the Next Big Thing® at Real Sociedad before his €30 million move to Real Madrid in 2018. He’s, uh, not that anymore. What happened over the past 3 years to drop him so far down the pecking order?
OA: You can point to the competition he’s had to face and the effect such a dismal three-year run has had on his confidence, but, ultimately, I think people just came to realize that Odriozola was never that good. It’s hard for a fullback to hide in “big teams” that want to play on the front foot and dominate possession. It’s not enough to hoof the ball against a press — you have to show quality in tight spaces, aid in retention, and progress play intelligently. Fullbacks also bear significant offensive burden against low blocks and must be smart positionally to protect the space in behind them, especially if they can’t overcome defensive weaknesses with offensive brilliance (see: Marcelo). At “smaller” sides, with lower expectations, a fullback can look promising by showing one or two standout qualities, since there is generally far less responsibility on their shoulders and they don’t have to defend transition as much.
Odriozola basically only has one strength: incredible explosiveness. His first touch is bad enough that he’s a liability under pressure and can’t be a trusted outlet for Madrid’s switches of play. His crossing isn’t at a level that covers this and he’s looked clueless defensively.
VN: Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Italiano likes to play a high line and wants his fullbacks getting forward, both on the overlap and on the underlap. Does that sound like Odriozola to you?
OA: Overlapping is Odriozola’s bread and butter and he’s got a decent sense of timing. My impression of underlapping scenarios are that the one primed for the run also needs to have the capacity to receive in deeper interior spaces (where there’s less space) or combine quickly should the underlap no longer be on, which isn’t Odriozola’s bread and butter, to put it delicately. But, as long as he gets to burst in behind, he should be fine doing it from anywhere given that he gets some decent coaching on when to go and when not to.
As for the high line: hopefully your center-backs are good at defending space.
VN: What would a really good season look like for Álvaro? What qualities would he need to show to get back into the Real Madrid setup?
OA: A really good season would involve Odriozola making his first touch passable, improving on his crossing, and gaining some positional awareness defensively. This might make him a decent top flight fullback. Unfortunately (for him), I don’t believe he can do anything to get back into Madrid’s set-up. Zidane was reluctant to play the Spaniard even when we had a full-blown injury crisis last season. It wasn’t personal — Odriozola just isn’t at that level and probably never will be unless something truly dramatic happens with his development over the next few years.
VN: Odriozola really wanted to stay in Madrid despite being third choice behind Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vásquez. He’s also really into racehorses. Basically, he sounds like he’s at least mildly eccentric, which is always fun. What have you gleaned about his personality over the past 3 years?
OA: I’m going to be honest: Álvaro’s irrelevance to Madrid’s outlook has caused me to mostly ignore him. But, hey, maybe if this footballing thing doesn’t pan out at Fiorentina he can take up horse racing! I kid. He seems like a decent enough guy based on what little I know of him off the pitch and it’s always a bit jarring to realize that the players we criticize so fiercely are actual humans with feelings. Hopefully, he isn’t reading this.
VN: Let’s do some numbers. What grades would you give Fiorentina, Madrid, and Odriozola for this deal?
OA: Madrid: B-. Selling him is the only right move for Madrid but at least Fiorentina are reportedly paying his wages! Otherwise, whether Odriozola is here or not doesn’t matter, as he isn’t playing for Ancelotti anyway.
Fiorentina: D+. I have no idea what you guys are doing to be honest. Maybe you’re starving at the fullback position. My ignorance of that and Vincenzo Italiano’s ability to improver players is the only thing keeping me from giving Fiorentina an F. Sorry.
Odriozola: A. He will probably get more playing time in a lower-pressure situation (couldn’t be more different than his Madrid career). I wish Odriozola the best in Italy and am crossing my fingers that he does well enough to convince Fiorentina to buy him.