After a storming start to the 2017/18 season, Real Sociedad winger Mikel Oyarzabal is the talk of La Liga, and being touted for a big-money move away from the Anoeta in the near future.
With seven goals and two assists to his name in all competitions so far this term, despite having missed a large chunk of September through injury, the 20-year-old attacker is blossoming into one of the most effective attackers in Spain, and his timely form could see him force his way in Julen Lopetegui's La Roja squad for next summer's World Cup.
Born in a province of Eibar, Oyarzabal initially represented his local team at youth level, before joining La Real as a 14-year-old.
Promoted to the club's B team at 17, he quickly showed himself to be too good for the second-string level and was promoted to the first team by then-Sociedad manager David Moyes for a debut in October 2015, coming off the bench to replace Carlos Vela in a 4-0 La Liga win away to Levante.
Oyarzabal shot the attention of the wider football audience by scoring the only goal of La Real‘s 1-0 win over Barcelona in San Sebastián in 2016, racing into the box to plant a firm header beyond Claudio Bravo with only four minutes played, one of six goals he netted in 22 outings in his maiden La Liga campaign.
As rumours of a €40million bid from local rivals Athletic Bilbao gathered pace, with the San Mamés side viewing the youngster as an ideal addition given their Basque-only policy, Sociedad moved quickly to tie Oyarzabal to new terms in the summer of 2016, raising his release clause to €50million.
Despite his youth, Oyarzabal is now in his third season as a regular starter for Sociedad, and is producing by far the best football of his career. From his station on the left flank, the creative Spaniard has formed a profitable understanding with Brazilian journeyman striker Willian José, feeding the powerful centre-forward with pinpoint crosses from wide.
Stylistically, Oyarzabal isn't the quickest of wingers, but what he lacks in raw speed he more than makes up for in intelligence, savvy and a sound appreciation of how to find and utilise space in the final third.
An increasingly confident finisher, the young Spain international – who became the youngest ever La Real player to debut for the Spanish national side when making his bow as a 19-year-old in a 3-1 friendly win over Switzerland last year – is developing into a real goal threat, as his understanding of how to time runs into the penalty area grows stronger.
Already on the radars of Barcelona and Real Madrid, Oyarzabal is also reportedly a Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal transfer target, while most of the continent's top clubs are believed to be monitoring his rapid progress.
“I see him grow from day to day,” Sociedad boss Eusebio Sacristán said of the prodigious wide man. “Everything that he brings to the side is positive and as a coach, I'm very happy with him.”
Nicknamed “Bigfoot” due to his size 11 boots, Oyarzabal has been tipped emulate another former Sociedad winger, Antoine Griezmann.
Like the Frenchman, the 20-year-old has begun life as a left-winger, where his sublime technique and flair has seen him stand out, but he also appears to have the requisite skills to eventually take up a central role like the one Griezmann now occupies for Atlético Madrid.
Standing a shade under 6ft tall, and filling out physically as he moves into his early 20s, Oyarzabal is maturing into a player capable of coping with the rough and tumble of a more physical division; should interest from the Premier League firm up, he'll have little trouble adapting.
His versatility, too, will be viewed as a huge asset to any prospective buyer and, indeed, on the international stage, just as it has been for La Real. With competition for places fierce at elite-level clubs, his ability to play on either flank, or continue his apparent natural development into a No.10 role, will see him pick up plenty of game time if and when a big-money move materialises.
Oyarzabal is yet to add to his solitary Spain cap, and La Roja are blessed with a swath of talent in the positions he is able to play. As such, the 2018 World Cup in Russia might just come too soon for the Sociedad star.
However, if he continues to perform at his current level, it will be extremely difficult for Lopetegui to leave Oyarzabal behind next summer.