Asier Illarramendi was named one of the best players of the UEFA U21 Championship in June.
Asier Illarramendi was named one of the best players of the UEFA U21 Championship in June.
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Real Madrid signed holding midfielder Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad on Friday as it intensified its efforts to capture Spain's latest generation of talent.

Sociedad club president Jokin Aperribay said Madrid paid Illarramendi's buyout clause worth 32 million euros ($42 million) plus another 6 million euros ($8 million) in taxes to secure his release.

"I had to think about it a lot, but we arrived to the conclusion that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' a tearful Illarramendi said. "It was a difficult decision, but (the offer) was impossible to turn down.''

After moving up through the Basque club's youth program, the 23-year-old Illarramendi had a breakout season in the last campaign when he helped Sociedad finish fourth in the Spanish league and earn a Champions League berth.

Illarramendi also formed part of Spain's Under-21 European champion side this summer. He said two more of Madrid's offseason acquisitions, Francisco "Isco'' Alarcon and Daniel Carvajal, who were also on Spain's title-winning team, had influenced him in his decision to move to the capital.

All three must convince new coach Carlo Ancelotti they deserve playing time in a star-studded squad that includes the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Xabi Alonso.

"Clearly I am beginning a new stage in my career,'' Illarramendi said. "It will be different. Everything there gets much more media attention, but I will give it my all as I always have here. Then we will see.''

Illarramendi debuted for Sociedad's first team in January 2011, the first of three appearances that season. He then played 18 games in 2011-12 and started 34 last season.

A versatile midfielder, Illarramendi has developed a skill set similar to that of former Sociedad standout and current Madrid starter, Alonso. His quiet defensive work and sure passing allowed Sociedad to deploy one of the league's most attractive and effective attacks.

Illarramendi's signing comes a day after Madrid sold homegrown forward Jose Callejon to Napoli for 10 million euros ($13 million).

Besides being active in the domestic market, Madrid is still rumored to be interested in Premier League stars Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez.

Aperribay said Sociedad both tried to persuade Illarramendi to stay and told Madrid it didn't want to negotiate his transfer, but it failed to convince Illarramendi and "could do nothing'' once Madrid paid his buyout clause.

Aperribay said the loss of his team's key midfielder as it heads into the Champions League is cause for the club to reflect on its youth programs and the quantity of the buyout clauses it asks for in the contracts of its young players.

"It's very difficult to bring a young player up to the first team,'' Aperribay said. "Maybe we will have to increase the amount of our buyout clauses until they turn 24 or 25. It worries me that players play 50 games (with the first team) and then leave. We have four or five players who are shining in the lower divisions. We have to benefit from them on the pitch before we benefit from them economically.''

Illarramendi's exit may open up room for Sociedad's 21-year-old playmaker Ruben Pardo to take his place. Pardo's contract ends in the summer of 2015.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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