Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

Carlo Ancelotti to Instigate Youth Revolution in Madrid

July 4th, 2013
Morata (middle) and Isco (right) will be reuniting under Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid.

Morata (middle) and Isco (right) will be reuniting under Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid.

The Italian manager could be poised to unleash the power of La Fabrica during his time with Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho has all but ignored the burgeoning young Spanish talent in Madrid’s cantera but that is all set to change as Ancelotti has voiced his ambition to bring spectacular football back to Spain’s capital while doing so with their homegrown talent. Not only youngsters out of the club’s own cantera, but bringing Spain’s brightest diamond in Malaga’s Isco Alarcon to the flashing lights of the Bernabeu. The Italian will bring an atmosphere of positivity back to the club that was sorely lacking it for most of the season. The youngsters out of the cantera with the most to gain from his appointment include:

Dani Carvajal – Right Back
The twenty-one year old played all of last season with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. At the end of the season he was named one of the league’s best right-backs, behind Phillip Lahm and Schalke 04’s Atsuto Uchida. On June 3rd Madrid wasted no time in exercising the buy-back option on Carvajal and brought the canterano back into the fold. He was a part of the U21 sides European Championship triumph this summer and is set to compete with Arbeloa for a starting spot in Madrid, a competition which could very well spill over into the national team.

Jesé Rodriguez – Forward
The twenty year old led his team in goals with twenty-two this season, helping Real Madrid Castilla finish the season as top scorers in Liga Adelante scoring eighty goals and breaking a team record that had held since the 1983/84 season. The youngster may be best Madrid’s canterano since Casillas. Last summer, Jesé almost single-handedly won the European U19 Championship for Spain, collecting awards for best goal scorer and best player of the tournament and he is on his way to doing the same during the U20 World Cup this summer.

Alvaro Morata – Forward
Twenty year old Alvaro Morata is a complete center forward. His large 6 foot 2 inch frame makes him an aerial threat but he has a change of pace that is not typical of a player his size. He is a tricky dribbler and is not afraid to shoot from any angle, often catching keepers off guard. His scoring record is nothing short of prolific with forty-four goals in eighty-three games with Castilla, two goals in fourteen appearances with the first team, and twenty goals in twenty-six matches with the various youth levels of La Roja.

José Rodríguez – Central Midfielder
José came to prominence in the summer of 2011, when he was voted Most Valuable Player of the Under-17 Club World Cup, where Real Madrid were knocked out by Barcelona on penalties in the semi-final. In a deep midfield position, he stood out above all the rest, really dominating proceedings and showcasing his wide range of talents. Perfect technically, crisp and assured passing, strength and ‘arrogance on the ball’, he is definitely next in line to complement an aging Xabi Alonso.

What next for Arsenal’s young Spaniards?

May 21st, 2013


It’s been a season of mixed emotions for Arsenal’s three young Spaniards – Jon Toral, Ignasi Miquel and Hector Bellerin. First team debuts, cup runs in the NextGen series, injuries, match-winning goals, last ditch tackles. The trio has had their highs and lows. While they may head off now on summer holiday and to sunny climes, they will all probably be thinking about what’s next. So what do we think?

Ignasi Miquel: Made 4 appearances in the Premier League in the 2011/12 season and was probably looking to push on this term but has found his opportunities limited. Able to operate as at centre back or left back, he scored his first career goal in Arsenal’s 6-1 win over Coventry City in the League Cup.

The arrival of Nacho Monreal as competition for Kieran Gibbs meant the Gunners had sufficient cover at left back, while opportunities in the first team squad have been hindered by the continued fine form of more senior players such as Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.

Johann Djourou was shipped off for a temporary spell in Germany in the January transfer window. Should he leave the club permanently, Miquel may well find himself in and around the first team squad next year as back up.  Probably needs a season out on loan at a Championship or Premier League club to get more regular football and prove he can make it at this level.

Hector Bellerin: Has made the right back spot his own in the Arsenal reserve side and has impressed all season long with his rampaging runs forward. Scored a brilliant late winner against Manchester United in April and Wolves earlier this month. Bellerin was also a key part of the NextGen side that went all the way to the semi finals of the competition.

The 18-year-old experienced being in the first team squad for the Carling Cup fixtures against Coventry and Reading, although he’s yet to make his full debut for the Gunners.

Despite his young age, next season may be the time to promote him to first team duties to compete with Carl Jenkinson for the right back spot, particularly if Bacary Sagna leaves.

Jon Toral: Signed from Barcelona at the same time as Bellerin, Toral made a promising start to his Arsenal career with some impressive displays in midfield last season and in the early part of this campaign.

The second half of the season has been frustrating, as he’s had to watch events from the sidelines due to injury.

Will most likely have another season in the Reserves next year to find his form and fitness again, while a loan spell somewhere may also help his development.

Whatever happened to Jon Toral?

April 23rd, 2013


In the summer of 2011, Arsenal signed two exciting youngsters from Barcelona – Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin.

The good friends settled quickly into life in North London and became important members of Arsenal’s reserve team squad.

Bellerin, an attacking right back, impressed with his pace and ability to get forward and help out on the right side of midfield. Toral, who was keen to come and experience life in his mother’s native land, showed a wide range of attributes, notably his ability to pick out a pass.

While the former has gone on to enjoy success on the field, becoming a vital part of the team that made it to the semi final of the NexGen Series, and chipping in with some important goals through the campaign, the latter has not featured since December because of injury.

Toral has had to watch as the likes of Bellerin, along with other talents such as Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom, have impressed U21 manager Steve Gatting and surely caught the eye of first team boss Arsene Wenger.

He’s slowly working his way back to full fitness although the U17 international won’t play before the season is over.

It’s still unclear what his best position is, having played on the left side of midfield, as an advanced playmaker, and a deep lying midfielder for the Arsenal reserves and youth sides. But Toral will be keen to get back to his best next season and force his way into Wenger’s thoughts for promotion to the first team squad –perhaps using the tour of the Far East in the summer to showcase his talent once more.

Bilbao Athletic Pushing for Promotion Playoff

March 17th, 2013


Athletic Club de Bilbao is a club rich with history and known for its unique identity of an all-Basque team. The player policy establishes obvious restrictions, and because of this, there is a great emphasis on harvesting and developing young talent; the Lezama facility where players earn their keep has become synonymous with the club.

This season, Athletic’s reserves (Athletic Club B, or Bilbao Athletic) are having an excellent season as they are currently in second place in Group 2 of the Segunda Division B. The third tier of Spanish football has four groups of 20 teams each; through a playoff system, it sends four teams up to the Liga Adelante.

Bilbao Athletic is striving to reach the Segunda Division for the first time since the 1995/96 season. As one could imagine, the squad has several key players that are primed to earn their own promotion into Athletic’s senior squad.

Currently, the club’s most explosive player is 22-year old Alain Eizmendi. The right winger has amassed 5 goals and 7 assists, leading the team in both categories. Another star this season has been forward Guillermo Fernandez, who has also scored 5 goals so far. The 19-year old is Athletic’s best prospect at striker; the position up top will need to be filled in the near future because of the departure of Fernando Llorente and the ages of Aritz Aduriz and Gaizka Toquero.

The defense has been anchored by center backs Unai Albizua (24 years old) and Jon Garcia, 21. Albizua is the only member of the team to have played in all games this season. Fullbacks Enric Saborit and Unai Bustinza are 20 and 21 years old respectively, with Bustinza looking like an increasingly worthy  successor to current Athletic right-back Andoni Iraola.

Bilbao Athletic has several gifted midfielders, as is customary of modern Spanish clubs. Erik Moran, 21, and Javier Eraso, 22, are talented players who appear to be best suited as holding midfielders. Alvaro Pena, Inigo Eguaras and teenager Ager Aketxe, 19, play higher up the pitch and have created several goals, with 5 goals and 8 assists between the three central midfielders. The 21-year old Pena made two appearances for Athletic’s senior squad in Europa League action this season, starting one match and finishing a match as a substitute.

Three other promising players include wide midfielders Jon Xabier “Jonxa” Vidal and Iker Guarrotxena and central man Inigo Ruiz de Galarreta. Ruiz de Galarreta is currently out with a knee injury but is one of the more promising players in Athletic’s organization. The 19-year old midfielder has been capped for Spain’s U17, U18 and U19 squads but will have to wait until next season when his anterior cruciate ligament heals.

These young players hope to catapult Bilbao Athletic into the Liga Adelante when all is said and done this season. The assembly line of Basque talent continues to roll in Lezama!

The Youth of the Yellow Submarine

February 15th, 2013

Can Villarreal’s youngsters bring them back to La Liga?


The 2011/12 season ended in the worst possible fate for Villarreal: an ugly relegation that saw them head down to the Liga Adelante for the first time in just over a decade. It was a terrible climax to a period that saw the departure of several players such as Borja Valero, Santi Cazorla, and Nilmar. The January transfer of Giuseppe Rossi to Fiorentina had been coming and signified the end of an era. A club that had been lauded for playing attractive football as recently as 18 months ago now competes against sides such as Numancia and Elche.

In the club’s first season in the Segunda Division, it has been made clear that replacing that exodus of players would come in the form of youth. During a time in Spanish football when canteras and influxes of youth are being emphasized more than ever, Villarreal has embraced the philosophy and currently employs many younger players in their fight for promotion.

Most of Villarreal’s defenders earned their keep playing for the B side before making it to the senior squad. Joan Oriol and Juame Costa came to the club at ages 21 and 22 respectively. After about two years in the reserves, they have staked a claim in the first team. However, the two most prized defenders are Mateo Musacchio and Mario Gaspar. Musacchio, born in Argentina, came to Villarreal as a 19-year old in August 2009 and made his La Liga debut in February 2010; since then he has established himself as a defensive stalwart in the back.


All Gaspar has ever known is Villarreal; he started his youth career with the club and escalated through the C side and the B side before making his first-team debut as an 18-year old. Now 22, he has appeared in 11 league matches this season. Joan Guillem Truyols, another young defender at 23, waits in the wings, as does Florian Lejuene, a 21-year old Frenchman currently on loan to French club Stade Brest.

The club has a duo of relatively young goalkeepers that have practically shared the workload this season. 25-year old Juan Carlos has had the majority of the playing time, making 15 starts, while the other 9 games have been played by Diego Marino, 22. Both keepers have ascended through the youth ranks and each have improved throughout the last year.

While the midfield is usually comprised of old veterans such as Marcos Senna, Bruno and Cani, one player in particular has taken the opportunity to shine for the Yellow Submarine. 20-year old Manu Trigueros leads the team in total appearances with 24 so far and has notched two goals and three assists so far. Trigueros was released from Real Murcia after they were were relegated from the Segunda Division and signed with Villarreal at the age of 19. Capable of playing on either wing or as an attacking midfielder, the native of Talavera de la Reina worked his way through the C and B squads just like Gaspar and is in the senior squad to stay.’

Villarreal has other young midfielders making an impact this season. 23-year Hernan Perez of Paraguay was purchased in 2009 and spent two seasons for the B side. He has made 15 appearances this season, contributing two goals and two assists. A duo of teenage centrocampistas that have promising futures are Pablo Iniguez (19) and Moises Gomez (18), as they have played for the senior squad this year. Both of the midfielders completed youth careers at Villarreal and battled through the C and B squads. While Iniguez has played 3 matches as a defensive-oriented player, Moises has played an attacking role in 15 games.

The brightest prospect the club has up top is 20-year old Gerard Moreno, who splits duties between the B team and senior squad throughout the season. During the 2011/12 campaign, he scored an amazing 34 goals in 39 games for the C side, garnering him instant promotion. He has appeared in 5 league matches this season in Segunda Division, scoring his first senior goal against Sabadell in January. Villarreal’s acquisition of young Mexican forward Javier Aquino, 23, shows that the club is really building a foundation of youth at every position.

Villarreal currently sits in 7th place in the Segunda, just one place behind the promotion playoff spot. The club’s promotion prospects will certainly depend on how these youngsters fare. And ultimately, if the Yellow Submarine journeys back into La Liga, its stay may be for a while.

Real Betis and Project Heliopolis

January 16th, 2013

Los Beticos’ young talent is a sign of things to come

Real Betis has been a storied club from Andalusia with ups (Copa del Rey winners in 2005) and downs (relegation after the 2009/10 campaign) in the last decade. After being promoted into La Liga once more and finishing 13th last season, Betis sits at fourth place at the halfway mark of the 2012/13 campaign. The two stars of the club right now are midfielder Benat and forward Ruben Castro, both of whom started playing for Betis in 2010. But who else has been behind the the Beticos’ bounceback?

Several weeks ago, the club announced the commencement of Project Heliopolis (named for the suburb where Betis’ stadium is located), which is a program with a lofty goal: that within 10 years, at least 70 to 75 percent of the organization’s first-team players will be products of Betis’ cantera. This will be done by more investment into a development system that will hope to emulate that of Barcelona’s or even Athletic Bilbao’s, with youth housing and several teams throughout the ranks of underage football.


The club has an impressive core of former Betis B, under-23 and even under-21 players who have cracked the starting XI for coach Pepe Mel this season. Goalkeeper Adrian (26, still young for his position) and left-back Alex Martinez, 22, have appeared in several games this season and show signs of promise for the back-line of Betis.

The midfield trio of Nosa Igiebor, Alejandro Pozuelo and Nono is very young but has accumulated considerable playing time this season. Nosa is a 22-year old who will actually be playing for his home country Nigeria in the 2013 African Cup of Nations starting on January 17th.  Pozuelo, 21, scored in Betis’ first game of the season, a go-ahead goal against Athletic Bilbao. He is mainly used as a substitute but his playing time will gradually increase. Nono joined Betis at the age of 15; now 19, he was a member of Spain’s championship side in the 2012 UEFA U-19 Championship.

Betis also has a few prized wingers in their collection of young talent. Salvador Agra and Ezequiel Calvente (currently on loan to Freiburg of Germany) are 21-year old wide men who have logged hundreds of minutes for their clubs so far this year and will contribute to Betis’ future in due time. The crown jewel of Betis’ youth system, along with Pozuelo, is 18-year old Alvaro Vadillo. After knee surgery in 2011, the native of Puerto Real made his first league appearance for the senior squad in December and will be probably be used as a substitute for the duration of the season. He is a pacey dribbler and will crack Spain’s underage international squads within the year.

These guys all offer foresight into the future of Betis. With Andalusian rival Malaga also investing in youth players of its own, the region is becoming an exciting source for young Spanish talent. Keep an eye on the club as they fight to hold onto their Champions League spot and showcase some of their brilliant canteranos.

Athletic Bilbao’s Cantera: Changing With The Times

January 9th, 2013
Jonas Ramalho is among the brightest of Bilbao's canteranos.

Jonas Ramalho is among the brightest of Bilbao’s canteranos.

The infamous policy is enduring but the cantera shows a new light

Whether you support it or dislike it, I’m sure you’re aware of Athletic Club’s “Basque-only” policy. The cantera was founded in 1912 and has held onto the limitations of the policy as a way to maintain the cultural identity of the Basque Country. The supporters of the club love it; an infamous poll from the 1990s revealed that over 75% of Athletic’s supporters would rather see the club finally get relegated than abandon the player policy.

Without getting too close to engaging into a political discussion, it’s safe to say that the strict guidelines for choosing players has caused divisive opinions throughout the football world. Whether the club would ever scrap the policy is yet to be seen, but given the tradition involved with football in the Basque Country, I simply can’t see it disappearing.

However, in recent years the policy has loosened up a bit. As a region of just about three million people, the Basque Country has a considerably small population to choose youth prospects from. Center back Fernando Amorebieta was born in Venezuela but is eligible to play for Athletic because he grew up in the Basque Country and his parents were from the area as well.

Enric Saborit, now 20 years old, was signed by Athletic in 2008. The unusual thing was that Saborit was born in Barcelona, in a completely different autonomous community. However, his mother is Basque, and that seemingly gave Athletic the right to pursue the player. Ander Herrera, who grew up in Zaragoza and played in Real Zaragoza’s youth system before playing for the senior squad, was able to be signed by Athletic because he was simply born in Bilbao.

Two defenders and cantera graduates currently playing for Athletic have already made history. Jonas Ramalho became the first black player in the history of the club when he made his league debut as an 18-year old in November of 2011. He has already accumulated several appearances for the club this season as well. The 2012/13 campaign has seen the debut of Aymeric Laporte, at center back and the second player from France to play for Athletic. Laporte, 18, was born in a town outside of the French Basque Country called Agen. However, he is considered eligible to become a member of Athletic because his youth career was with Aviron Bayonnais, a club residing in the French Basque Country.

Athletic currently has a few teenagers in their youth ranks that were not born in the Basque Country. Yanis Rahmani, 17, was born in Champigny Sur Marne, France and came to Athletic’s cantera in 2005 because he had grown up in the Basque Country. He currently plies his trade for CD Baskonia, a feeder club for Athletic. A teammate of his, Victor Monteiro (now 18), was born in Portugal but was able to come to Lezama at age 12 because his parent immigrated to the Basque Country when he was very young. Finally, 17-year old Maecky Lubrano of Castres, France was born outside the French Basque Country but ended up growing up in the region; he now plays for Athletic’s Juvenil A squad.

With guys like these progressing through the youth system, this slowly but surely demonstrates that Athletic is willing to explore all avenues to find young talent. Who knows how diverse Lezama will be in 5 to 10 years?

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.