“When you work tirelessly without giving up, when above all and in any situation you are unbeatable and that way of being does not change, things like today happen. Man of the match. It gives me a lot of joy and you so deserve it, Marcos Llorente.”
That was the message sent by Alaves player, Ibai Gomez, after the Roma match. During Marcos Llorente’s one year loan spell at Alaves in the 2016/2017 season, he spent the year as a roommate with none other than Ibai Gomez. Ibai saw first hand, the relentless dedication and sacrifice Llorente put into every single day as a professional. Their relationship went well beyond the football pitch; they were close friends and their partners became close as well.
By the end of the 2016/2017 season, Ibai put out a heartfelt message describing the incredible bond that formed between the two. Five years Llorente’s senior, Ibai noted “Marques” incredible maturity: “You are the person whom I have most connected with in all of my career. I have to say thank you, with your 22 years, for everything you have taught me, everything you supported me with, and everything you have given me — you and your family…I know you will never change your simplicity, your maturity, your hospitality, I will take it with me all my life”. Ibai Gomez can be one of the first to attest, if anyone deserves their Real Madrid opportunity, it’s Marcos Llorente, thus his message holds just a little more weight.
Messages of congratulations, similar to the above, were in abundance Tuesday night — and then again on Saturday after the match against Valencia — as Marcos Llorente proved why he is a Real Madrid player with two outstanding performances. After becoming one of the revelations of La Liga with Alaves, Llorente has spent the last 16 months playing very little football. Zidane and Lopetegui both felt Marcos was surplus to requirements for most match day squads. By the end of Lopetegui’s tenure and even at the start of the Solari era, young Fede Valverde had displaced him in squad ranking, falling even further down the pecking order. With injury to Casemiro and a disastrous performance by Dani Ceballos as the single defensive midfield pivot in the 3-0 loss to Eibar, an opportunity finally emerged. Solari rolled the dice on the former Castilla product and it paid dividends.
Llorente never stopped, despite what was most likely a miserable 16 months, preparing for his moment. His work ethic is on par with Cristiano Ronaldo. Those who follow him on social media will see the endless cardio and strength training he puts in after hours coupled with regeneration and recovery exercises. He takes his discipline to extreme levels. The Spanish contingent on the team jokingly calls him “lechuga” meaning lettuce in Spanish, as he is believed to have the strictest diet on the team — sticking only to vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and a few other protein sources. Others, who had been left out in the wilderness, more than likely would have lost their fitness levels and failed to perform like Llorente has in the past 180 minutes of match play. He touched the ball 161 times, won 4 tackles, had 2 interceptions, 139 passes with a 94% passing accuracy, and 4 dribbles over the course of those 180 minutes — it’s not luck for Marcos Llorente, it is preparation meeting opportunity.
Despite the pressures of coming from football royalty and forming as part of the bloodline of the legendary Paco Gento, Llorente fought his way up the ranks in Real Madrid’s youth system and ultimately made it to the first team. He is an example for all, an example of persistence and fortitude in the face of unrelenting struggle. The words of the deceased American poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, best describe the blue eyed Madrileño’s will: “There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul”.