Marc Roca: Who is Bayern Munich's long-awaited heir to Xabi Alonso and answer to Barcelona's Sergio Busquets?
Bayern Munich midfielder Marc Roca is seizing his opportunity with the record champions, drawing high praise from coach Julian Nagelsmann.
bundesliga.com lifts the lid on the man who has been compared to Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets...
Club: Bayern Munich
Position: Defensive midfielder
Country: Spain U21s (7 caps, 2 goals)
Catalonia is a fertile breeding ground for cerebral midfielders, but it was at Espanyol rather than the region's football powerhouse, Barcelona, where Roca rose to prominence. After moving up through the youth ranks and featuring for the club's B team, the 6'0" left-footer was handed his La Liga debut by Quique Sanchez Flores in August 2016, aged 20. He went on to make 121 competitive appearances in blue and white, registering three goals and six assists.
Bayern did not sign Roca for his playmaking abilities, however. The record champions wanted an Alpha midfielder - someone capable of putting out fires at the back and driving the team forward - and the numbers suggest that is exactly what they were getting. On average, Roca won seven challenges per 90 minutes in his final full La Liga season in 2019/20 - more than any Bayern midfielder in the Bundesliga that year - whilst he also boasted an 89 per cent pass completion.
Roca made his Bayern debut in the 3-0 DFB Cup first round win over FC Düren on 15 October 2020, and managed 11 appearances in total across 2020/21, featuring six times as the record champions sealed an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title, whilst starting the semi-final of the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup that Bayern also went on to win. His first start of the 2021/22 season came in Bayern's 5-0 win over VfB Stuttgart that clinched the nominal autumn championship. He completed 45 out of 49 passes (92 percent), winning three out of four tackles, and making two interceptions in a hugely impressive 75-minute outing.
For his country, Roca was part of Spain's U21 EURO-winning squad in 2019. He began the first two games on the bench, but played the full 90 minutes in the next three, scoring in the semi-final triumph over France. In total, he has seven U21 caps and two goals to his name, but is yet to graduate to the senior team.
Plays a bit like: Xabi Alonso
Renowned for his composure on the ball, footballing intelligence and passing ability, it is little wonder Roca has been likened to former Bayern, Real, Liverpool, Real Sociedad and Spain midfield great, Alonso. His defensive reading of the game, meanwhile, has drawn comparisons with Busquets, Barcelona's master of dirty work and distribution.
Watch: A reminder of what Xabi Alonso brought to the table at Bayern
Did you know?
Although Roca has represented Spain at youth level and is eligible for the senior side, he once represented a Catalonia outfit coached by the late Johan Cruyff.
Barcelona trio Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets missed out, but Roca played alongside the legendary Xavi Hernandez as the Catalans played out a 3-3 draw with Tunisia, before losing a penalty shoot-out.
Catalonia is not affiliated with either FIFA or UEFA, so is only permitted to participate in international friendlies.
What they're saying
"In my position it's important to be aware of everything, and only when you play without thinking are you the true version of yourself, so that's how I train - to play without thinking." - Roca on his football philosophy
"Coming in today, and playing the way he did - the way he fought, the way he gave his all, he had an extremely big impact on the game. I love players like that, who are very unselfish and show the coach that it was obviously a mistake not to play them so much." - Julian Nagelsmann following Roca's superb display against Stuttgart
"Marc, with his attitude, is a boy we love. It's good for him and for FC Bayern." - Bayern sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic
"He's a guy who always gives his all in training, who also shows you sometimes that he's got that fire in his belly. He's a strong character and not a little mouse that hides away. He also speaks his mind and makes it known that he has the ambition to play even more." - Nagelsmann again
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