For Asier Illarramendi, this summer cannot come soon enough.
It will mark two years since Real Madrid thought enough of him to part with €32 million, his buy-out clause at Real Sociedad, but that fee, and the expectations that came with it, has been left hanging around his neck.
On Wednesday night the midfielder was handed a rare start as Madrid saw off Almeria 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Carlo Ancelotti had injuries to contend with and was looking ahead to a week of facing Sevilla, Juventus and Valencia - a make-or-break week of matches domestically and in Europe. It was a rare night for rotations.
It was a familiar feeling for a player who shone at the European U21 Championships for Spain two summers ago, that summer he made his ‘dream' move to the Bernabeu, a dream that soon turned into a nightmare. He has lost his coach's trust so much that his starts are limited to the games Madrid can afford to rest their biggest names. When he comes off the bench he is used as a ‘victory cigar' when his side are coasting, or a last throw of the dice to add some extra protection to the back four.
Numerous nails have been hammered into his Real Madrid coffin but the latest one, against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final, will probably be his last. With Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale absent through injury for the second leg ten days ago, the option looked to be between Illarramendi and Khedira for a start. In the end Ancelotti opted for Sergio Ramos.
The Italian has not placed any faith in the midfielder since his error in last season's quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund. Madrid were coasting 3-0 from the first leg but almost threw it away in the sreturn fixture. Pepe also made an error but that is largely forgotten and he did not suffer in the same way his Basque team-mate has. He had the mental strength to bounce back.
Before Khedira confirmed he was destined for pastures new this summer, the German always got the nod ahead of the former Real Sociedad man. He was injured for the majority of last season but, with hardly any match action under his belt, was still given the nod to start last season's final against Atletico Madrid while Illarramendi sat on the bench.
The former Spain U20 international has quality as a player and will no doubt move on to shine elsewhere but the pressure has weighed heavily on his shoulders in the Spanish capital. Reports suggest he was overwhelmed when he first arrived at the club and he has never really recovered.
On Wednesday, against struggling Almeria, he looked a broken man, ready to be patched up by a new chapter in his life this summer. Even in the times of struggle Illarramendi at least showed his quality against the lesser sides but in recent weeks and months that has not been the case. Loose passes, poor awareness and a general confidence-sapped approach left him looking like the odd man out in a team full of stars.
That Ancelotti has opted to place his faith in a defender to hold his midfield in the absence of Modric says it all. The Italian could use Ramos in the heart of his midfield again in his hometown of Sevilla today and he will hope it has the same impact as when the Spain international was deployed there against Atleti.
Ramos has the confidence, experience and know-how that Illarramendi does not in the centre and although he is an out-and-out defender, Madrid looked much more solid defensive, and indeed going forward, with their deputy captain in the middle. Illarramendi will watch on from the bench with the knowledge that he has to move on at the end of the season for the good of his career.
That Athletic Bilbao were willing to part with more than €20 million for his services in January shows that teams still rate him despite his capital struggles. Premier League pair Arsenal and Liverpool have also been linked with him and provide good options for a player in desperate need for a change.
Illarramendi's midweek start may well have been his last in his problematic two-year stint in the Spanish capital. It would be a huge surprise to see Ancelotti use him in any of the games against Sevilla, Juventus or Valencia and with Modric hoping to return for the last game of the season, at home against Getafe, Illarramendi's time could be up.
The problem will be as much Madrid's as it was the player's. That they decided to spend more on the 25-year-old than they did for German World Cup-winner Toni Kroos leaves plenty of questions. A ‘flavour of the month' signing if ever there was one. He is not the first player to suffer such failure at the Bernabeu and he will not be the last. Only a reported possible transfer ban, which has been denied by the club, could save his Madrid future.