In November, Spain announced their squad for two friendly matches against Costa Rica and Russia. With qualification for the 2018 World Cup secured, they had an opportunity to experiment. One of their selections, Luis Alberto, was more experimental than the rest.
A versatile 25-year-old midfielder who had failed to make it in his home country with Sevilla, whose prestigious youth academy he came through, or in the Premier League with Liverpool, he was far from an obvious choice for national team duty. Yet, for those with their attention fixed firmly on Serie A, his call-up made plenty of sense.
Alberto has been one of the most consistent players in an outstanding campaign for Lazio that sees them competing near the top of the Italian football hierarchy. Operating in a floating midfield role that grants him plenty of creative freedom, he has reached a new level of performance.
Considering the quality of his displays in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues and inclusion in the Spanish national team, it’s only natural that the midfielder has been linked to a host of clubs, including Spanish giants Atlético Madrid.
ALBERTO’S LAZIO LOVE AFFAIR
Alberto signed for Lazio in a £3.6million deal in August 2016, but struggled to make an impact initially. Just as he had with Sevilla and Liverpool, he found himself looking in from the outside, unable to make a dent on the first team.
In total he made just nine league appearances during the 2016/17 season, and only four of them were starts. In a squad filled with exciting young players, led by an exciting young coach in Simone Inzaghi, he appeared to be an outcast.
Alberto’s situation changed drastically at the start of the 2017/18 campaign, however. He started the Italian Super Cup win over reigning champions Juventus and kept his place for the opening league fixtures. Perhaps the major turning point came when he helped to orchestrate a 4-1 thrashing of an expensively assembled AC Milan side in September.
There was then a five-game period in October in which the Spaniard set up one goal in each match; the assists came in the league against Sassuolo, Juventus, Cagliari and Bologna, as well as Nice in Europa League action.
Speaking to Spanish sports daily Marca in November following his call-up to the national team, he revealed the reason for his complete turnaround, stating:
“Between January and February, I experienced the worst moment of my career. Everything looked black, I was bored and couldn’t focus. Thanks to my family and the mental coach Juan Carlos Álvarez Campillo, I escaped that tunnel. Over the course of a few weeks, I made radical changes and found the strength to go forward.
“I had one of my best pre-season training regimes and now things are going so well. It’s all because I rediscovered my confidence. I wasn’t aware of my capabilities before, but Campillo put in my head that desire to do it. Now I believe in myself and therefore take more risks.
“This is the best moment of my career and I’ve never played so well in my life. I used to be really inconsistent…Now I have changed and am more of a complete player.”
Inzaghi’s Lazio are a flexible outfit capable of changing shape, though they have stuck primarily to a rough 3-6-1 system this season. Ciro Immobile leads the line, and Alberto acts as one of the creative central midfielders responsible for feeding the Italian hitman.
Alberto’s own versatility makes him an ideal player for the team, as his coach admitted earlier on this term following a Europa League win over Vitesse Arnhem, saying:
“Tonight he had three different roles in one game, as he started out as a support striker, then trequartista and eventually in midfield…He has been so precious this term and I've played him non-stop, because right now we can't do without him.”
Along with his ability to operate effectively in multiple roles, Alberto is a gifted technician with wonderful control of the ball. His right foot is capable of defence-splitting passes and he is comfortable carrying possession forward.
His quality is shown statistically. This season he has completed more dribbles (2.2) and made more key passes (2.8) on average than any of his team-mates. Indeed, in Serie A only seven players have better dribbling numbers, while only two – Lorenzo Insigne and Antonio Candreva – set up more scoring opportunities.
The Lazio playmaker’s development mirrors that of AC Milan star Suso. Both failed to make the grade in their home country or at Liverpool before performing well in Italy’s top flight and gaining international recognition in the process. And, like his fellow Spaniard, he is attracting interest from abroad.
If he maintains his current form, Alberto may soon return to the Premier League or La Liga. And, when he does, he will be in a much better position to succeed.