The people of Montmeló know a lot about overtaking. The little Catalan town is the home of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which hosts the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix and the MotoGP Catalan Grand Prix each year. It is also the hometown of Aarón Martín Caricol, the 20-year-old left-back who started at the back of the grid, but who is rapidly weaving his way towards the podium of great Spanish full-backs.
During the summer of 2016, the then-19-year-old was the sixth-choice for Espanyol at the left-back position, behind Carlos Clerc, Juan Fuentes, Rubén Duarte, Víctor Álvarez and Víctor Sánchez. For the Espanyol youth graduate, the path to Quique Sánchez Flores’ starting lineup was about as crowded as it could be.
Yet Aarón impressed so much that he was the undisputed starter by Halloween. Clerc and Fuentes were sold to Osasuna, Rubén Duarte and Víctor Álvarez were dropped and Aarón eventually proved to be a better and more natural fit that midfielder-turned-left-back Víctor Sánchez, who had started the season on the left side of defence.
“Sometimes I have to ask myself if this is really happening,” Aarón said in an interview with Mundo Deportivo around that time. “Everything happened so fast and I’m still trying to take it in.”
His debut came in on October 2, 2016, when he was brought on for the final few minutes of a 0-0 draw at home to Villarreal, before his name was written in the starting lineup for the following round’s clash away at Las Palmas, another goalless draw. In the next weekend’s match he found himself back on the bench, but Espanyol were awful and went into the half-time break against Eibar 3-0 down. Aarón was one of a couple of half-time substitutions and his presence helped change the game, with the Catalan club fighting back for a 3-3 draw.
He has since played the full 90 minutes of 49 of the 52 LaLiga matches Espanyol have contested since that afternoon, only being absent from the starting XI due to a couple of yellow card accumulation suspensions and due to being rested on one occasion. That’s truly incredible. From sixth on the grid to the race leader.
Of course, Aarón holds loftier ambitions than simply starting at left-back for mid-table LaLiga side Espanyol. For now, he gives the usual soundbites in every interview, insisting that he is happy at the RCDE Stadium and only thinking about the next game, but a move to a bigger club is just around the corner. With Espanyol needing the money, it’s inevitable that the player who rejected Barcelona in 2012 will eventually move on. His release clause increases to €40m on July 1, 2018, but his club’s financial desperation means he could depart for much less, with Atlético Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton, Napoli and RB Leipzig among those believed to be interested.
Whoever does win the battle to sign him will have plenty to celebrate. Aarón is the perfect modern full-back, boasting such outstanding technical ability that he has been labelled ‘the next Jordi Alba’ by some in the Spanish media. In terms of his style of play, it’s hard to know just how similar to Spain’s current starting left-back the 20-year-old really is, given that Espanyol and Barcelona play such different styles of football. For Aarón, he and his teammates are often playing on the back foot, but he thrives in these situations and is an excellent slide tackler, while his aerial presence isn’t bad for such a slim player and is constantly improving. In terms of his attacking play, he can dribble past defenders and he can deliver excellent crosses into the box from his wing, another thing Jordi Alba is rarely asked to do.
“Aaron has dribbling ability which creates the most advantageous situations in the top division,” his former youth coach Dani Fernández recently told Diario AS, when trying to explain the player’s style. “He attracts other defenders to him and helps his teammates from the outside. He’s persistent on the wing and he crosses well, while he’s also a full-back who can come and play inside.”
Only time will tell just how stylistically similar to Jordi Alba he turns out to be, but many are convinced that he can enjoy similar success and that he is the heir to the left-back spot in the Spain national team. Already he has won silverware for his country, having played a significant part in the Under-19s side’s European Championship win in 2015. It’s surely only a matter of time before he is called up to the senior side, which he probably will be following the 2018 World Cup.
His rise so far has been a rapid one and he’s only just getting started. Get the champagne on ice, because there’ll be plenty to celebrate over the course of this young talent’s career.