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Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

FC Barcelona’s Roger Riera Bound for England

July 13th, 2014

roger riera

This is the time of the season where youth players of varying talent are unceremoniously dumped from their respective clubs, diamonds from canteras who do not make the cut and have to look for another team before the upcoming season. Some departures are harder to take then others, and one of those is the departure of Roger Riera from Barcelona’s Juvenil A side.

Barcelona announced that they would not be extending Riera’s contract, a mind boggling thing when you look at the youngster’s pedigree. The nineteen year old has been raised at La Masia, learning the Barcelona way for the last nine years. Known for his charisma and leadership qualities, Riera helped win a league title each of those years and lead his team to two other prestigious trophies in the span, the Nike Premier Cup 2010 at Old Trafford and the first UEFA Youth Champions League this past April in Nyon.

He has captained every team he has played for and his winning league record is unprecedented in the hallowed halls of La Masia. It is fitting that his last silverware in the Blaugrana be the most prestigious, with the historic 3-0 victory over Benfica in the inaugural UEFA Youth Champions League.

So where next for young Riera? Reports this morning hint that a move to Nottingham Forest could happen as soon as Monday. The Football League Championship team could be a great step for Riera who follows a steady stream of youngsters who leave Barcelona for English shores. Could he be the next Gerard Pique who spent key years of his young career in England before returning to Barcelona to become a highly rated defender? Or will he follow Ignasi Miquel’s career path who seems to be stuck at the reserves in the Arsenal camp after joining in 2008?

And what kind of player will Nottingham Forest, or some other club be getting? Riera is a consummate professional with the aforementioned winning pedigree, two intangibles which make him worth a try. On top of that, Riera is great with the ball at his feet, not a surprise after nine years at La Masia, he is good in the air and at 6ft 1in will be able to compete physically in the English game.

I cannot guess the politics and other reasons for his departure from Barcelona but I will follow Riera’s career closely. He has the potential to become a leader for a first division team in years to come, whether that be England, back in Spain or abroad.

Suso’s Future: Anfield or Abroad?

April 26th, 2014

suso-almeria

Suso is one of Spain’s brightest young talents. He’s wonderfully intelligent, is versatile, being able to play in the center of midfield or anywhere in a front three, he hits a mean dead ball, possesses great vision and pinpoint passing and at 20 years old, has an entire career ahead of him to hone his craft and become a great. Unfortunately that might not be at Anfield. If any player has something to lose from Liverpool’s extreme and unexpected success it’s the Spaniard.

Suso was loaned to La Liga side Almeria at the beginning of the season to gain experience. He is seeking to build on the solid foundations he put in place last season when Brendan Rodgers gave him his first tastes of first-team football. Last season was not the Cinderella story that we have come to expect from Spain’s best youngsters, a la Gerard Deulofeu and Jese Rodriguez this season, fitness was often an issue for Suso and a lack of chances in his favored position in the middle of the park from Rodgers combined for a mediocre rookie campaign.

He put that behind him and has taken his loan opportunity as a fresh start to continue his development. He has started almost 30 matches for Almeria and leads the team in assists with seven on the season, he has also contributed with two goals of his own being one of the bright lights of what has been a dire season for Almeria.

With Liverpool’s success this season, there might not be room for the talented Spaniard next year. With Sterling’s development and Steven Gerrard’s return to his best, there are less attacking roles available for Suso to fill. Add this to the fact that with Champions League football coming back to Anfield, the great club will be able to once again attract some of Europe’s best, Suso is likely to remain on loan or be sold over the summer. Suso’s intention and ambition is to return to Liverpool this summer but that might not be realistic.

He told talkSPORT: “I wanted to play every game this year and get a lot of minutes. Playing in the First Division in Spain is a good experience for me. Next season I’ll be a new player. I’m enjoying it a lot.

“At the beginning of the season, before pre-season, I was talking with Brendan and we were thinking that the best option for me was to go to a team on loan for a year, improve and learn from other players.

“It’s a dream to play at Anfield every weekend – it’s the best option that can happen. I would like to sign a new contract with Liverpool and stay there for many years.

“Brendan is a really good manager; he always treats the players really well. He tries to get the players on the ball all the time. To play football, you have to have control of the ball – Brendan wants that all the time.”

His style of football still fits perfectly with what Brendan Rodgers wants to have at the club and it might be that he returns to Anfield one day. But it would be best for all parties involved if he stayed on loan next season. Rodgers might consider loaning him to one of his Premier League rivals with Everton being a very possible destination for the youngster to supercharge his development under Spanish manager Roberto Martinez.

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.

Has Brendan Rodgers Failed Suso and Sterling this Season?

May 7th, 2013

Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers and Suso

Football Cantera favorite Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre, also known as Suso has had a character building season. Suso started the season as a regular feature in Brendan Rodgers’ side in the first six matches of the season. He rarely played more than sixty minutes as stamina seemed to be an issue for the youngster. While he did not have much of an impact on the scoreboard (contributing only one assist to the first team this season) when he played he was reliable, worked hard on the wing, and was not afraid to run at defenders and take shots at goal. Since the New Year and the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho however, Suso has suffered. He has only started one game in 2013, in the FA Cup against Mansfield and has played with Liverpool’s U21 side for the most part.

This is not helping his development.

It was obvious at the beginning of the season that he could compete with men and even contribute, so why has he been sent down to play with other youngsters? Suso is the crème of the crop at his level and he is regularly on the score sheet, having scored a number of highlight reel goals this year already. Many, including myself, expected a loan for the Spaniard in January but it never came. Rodgers spoke to this in March.

“It’s very simple, neither of them are available for loan,” Rodgers told reporters regarding Suso and Sterling.

“I’m not sure where the stories have come from, to be honest. They’re both young players that have played a lot this year – they have been very much a part of our group. We’ve got a very small squad and those two boys are an integral part of the group. That [loan deals] won’t happen.”

There is an issue when an “integral” part of Liverpool and certainly the club’s future has only received seventy-one minutes of play in the English Premier League in 2013. It is frankly a poor use of one of your club’s top prospects. Even Raheem Sterling, arguably Liverpool’s top young player, has only started four matches in 2013, in all competitions. These players need to play at a top level in order to develop, sitting them on the bench or down in the U21 league are the two worst things for these players at this point in their careers. Rodgers has to decide this summer if his two young stars are really part of his plans or if he should sign some players in transfer market to allow him to loan them out. He has two of the top young prospects in the Premier League and has to prove that he has the managerial acumen to give them what they need to succeed.

Spanish starlet set to sign for Arsenal

April 25th, 2013

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Arsenal look set to sign Barcelona youngster Julio Pleguezuelo Selva, according to reports in the UK media.

The 15-year-old, who hails from Mallorca, has reportedly turned down the chance to stay with the Catalan giants in favour of a move to North London.

The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror both reported Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were also chasing the central defender, who has been likened to Carlos Puyol. He is also said to be able to operate as a right back.

If the move does go through, Selva would join compatriots Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral at the Emirates – both of whom made the same switch in the summer of 2011.

Selva would become fifth player to sign for Arsenal from Barcelona’s youth team. The most famous was, of course, Cesc Fabregas, who captained the Gunners for two years before switching back to the Nou Camp.

Former Barcelona youngster Fran Merida also had a spell at Arsenal but failed to break into the first team and went on to sign for Atletico Madrid.

Under Spanish employment law, Barcelona cannot offer Selva a contract until next year, meaning the Gunners would be able to snap him up for a nominal fee.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old striker Airan Rodriguez is set to be invited back to Arsenal for further trials. The C.D. Vallinamar impressed coaches at the club with his technical ability in a recent two week spell at the Gunners.

Jesé Rodríguez Part of Record Breaking Real Madrid Castilla Season

April 22nd, 2013

Jese

After Real Madrid Castilla’s six-one thrashing of Mirandes, it meant that this current generation of Madrid youngsters have scored more goals than in the club’s last fourteen seasons in Spain’s second division.

And Castilla still have eight games to play this season.

Alberto Toril’s side have scored a staggering sixty goals so far in thirty-two matches this season. They have eight matches to better the scoring record set by the Castilla side back in 1983/84, the Castilla side won the second division while scoring sixty-nine goals (twenty-one of which were scored by the great Butragueno).

Almost thirty years later it is the Spaniard Jesé Rodríguez stealing headlines. Jesé is one of the top scorers in the Liga Adelante with twenty goals in thirty-two matches. His sparkling form has earned him admirers around the world and he is the player who has scored against the most teams in the Liga Adelante.

Get used to talking about this kid with the spiky hair. Jesé scored again and turned provider for Borja’s goal on Sunday in Castilla’s six-one hammering of Mirandes. He is still being ignored by Jose Mourinho but summer is coming and his list of suitors will not be a short one when the transfer window opens.

THE ISCO SWEEPSTAKES – Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea?

April 18th, 2013

Isco

This summer’s transfer window is fast approaching and by all indications it should be a busy one. The Premier League is full of teams who will want to put the memory of this season behind them, and what better way than to sign one of the best young talents out of Spain, to assuage the public’s ravenous desire for new signings and the massive money behind the clubs. Even Manchester United, who look like winning the Premier League this season, cannot be thrilled with how their club performed in Europe and at times in a strange domestic campaign. In Spain FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are always on the prowl for top young talent, and with the changes on the way in the Spanish capital, who knows what Los Merengues will do this summer. Even Italy and Germany will be in on the action, with Guardiola joining Bayern Munich; the German club will almost certainly take on a more Spanish flair, while AC Milan and Juventus have both voiced an interest in a number of Spanish prospects.

Over the coming weeks we will highlight a few of the Spanish youngsters that could be moving this summer. We’ll give you the clubs we think they would fit best into, and then the teams that they are most likely to join (you would be surprised how often those do not align. We are not trying to spread rumours, just giving you our honest opinions on where we think each playing should end up and why. If you want to voice your own opinions or have a player you think is moving this summer please let us know in the comment section below or chat with us on Twitter @FootballCantera.

Name: Isco Alarcón
Age: 20 (turns 21 on April 21st)
Current Team: Malaga
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Buy-Out Clause: €35 million

Two things are certain about Malaga-born Isco Alarcón.

1. The lad has immense talent and the versatility to fit into any side and make them better.
2. He is not going anywhere on the cheap.

Isco has been one of the stars of this season, both domestically in Spain, and on club football’s biggest stage in the UEFA Champions League. The current Golden Boy award holder had his strongest season to date and dragged Malaga with him, helping his club to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and keeping them in the race for a Champions League spot for next season.

He leads his club in goals, with eleven in thirty-seven appearances; but it was in the Champions League that he really shone, scoring three times and adding three assists in eight starts and earning two man of the match performances against FC Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg. He has shown his versatility in attack and has featured in the center and on the left this season. Playing centre midfield at times and sometimes centre forward, this flexibility make him an asset to any team, and his list of suitors will not be short.

Francisco-Alarcon-Isco-Malaga-Zenit-St-Peters_2830466

Where should he end up?
Isco needs to go to a club where he can lead the attack and have a similar impact that his compatriots Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and David Silva had after their moves from Spain (Isco has already scored more goals this season then his three compatriots had before moving to England). We do not think that he will remain in Spain, although there is always a possibility of Real Madrid or FC Barcelona making a move to sign him.

Bayern Munich
If rumours are to be believed, Pep Guardiola will have a large sum of money to invest in his new club this summer. I doubt very much that the personalities on Munich like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben will gel with Pep and Isco might be the perfect fit to anchor the German club’s new attack and give Guardiola’s team a bigger Spanish flair. There might not be a better manager to develop Isco then the man who helped the likes of Messi, Pedro, and Iniesta blossom at similar ages.

Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers has some work to do on his Liverpool project this summer. The club has shown positive signs, but a lack of depth and consistency has hurt the Reds this season. They already have a brilliant young Spaniard in the system in Suso, but Isco provides some more attacking options right away and a front three of Isco, Sturridge and Suarez would be one of the best in the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers’ proclivity towards young players makes this another good fit but whether Liverpool will make a big splash like this remains to be seen.

Arsenal
Isco would provide the left-sided creative force that Arsenal need. Reuniting Isco and Cazorla would be a good move by Wenger as the two had fantastic chemistry last season in Malaga. He is the type of world class signing that Arsenal need to make this summer to follow up on the great signings of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski. The fans will expect it after another trophy-less season and surely now something must be done?

Where is he likely to end up?

Chelsea
Honestly, with Chelsea’s recent signings, it would not surprise me if Isco ended up here. We know Abramovich will spend the money and with Hazard, Mata and Oscar already there, Isco would be another feather in the owner’s cap.

Manchester City
Another club with cash to burn, City’s European performances in the last two seasons have been lacking, and Isco’s performance this season can only increase the Sky Blue’s interest in him. They may have a new manager too which will shake things up. To have him under the tutelage of David Silva is an exciting prospect and he certainly would feel at home with a number of Spanish speakers in the club.

De Gea Continues to Shine Despite Unfair Treament

February 19th, 2013

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David de Gea is quickly becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the world. There, I said it, you may laugh, you may be shouting at the screen at this moment but it’s time that the twenty-two year old Spaniard got his due.

He has been mistreated within the British media, Britain is still a country obsessed with the archetypical “English player” and De Gea’s physicality and play on crosses are two things that English expect of goalkeepers. In the modern game, goalkeepers are expected to be able to play with the ball at their feet and De Gea’s distribution and composure with the ball has been a great advantage for United. The British media’s scrutiny of foreign players and parochialism has been well documented in the last few seasons and it was never more evident last weekend when English goalkeeper Joe Hart had an absolute howler against Southampton, a mistake that was as bad as I’ve seen in the last few years and yet the media remained relatively tight-lipped about the high-profile gaff.

De Gea received a tremendous amount of critisim after Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham earlier this season. The twenty-two year old was blamed for failing to deal with a cross that allowed Clint Dempsey to equalize in the last minute of the match; a match in which De Gea made seven saves many of which were spectacular. But one perceived poor decision resulted in the Spaniard being made the scapegoat for a defense which has been poor at best for much of this season, conceding a sixth best thirty-one goals so far.

It has not just been the media making De Gea’s first two seasons difficult, some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decisions regarding his young goalkeeper has left much to be desired. I have previously questioned his rotation of De Gea and Anders Lindegaard which has led to a crisis of confidence for both goalkeepers, with the young Spaniard just recovering now. This mismanagement of a young star’s fragile ego has led to rumours of unrest in the De Gea camp with the Spanish keeper potentially looking for a move back to Spain. His suitors would line up outside of Old Trafford for a chance at his signature and it is believed that Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are interested in his signature.

De Gea seems to have cemented his place as Manchester United’s starter for now and his manager has come to his defense recently, hitting out at the media.

“David has shown his character because he has taken a lot of criticism, sometimes unfairly,” said Ferguson.

“What we are good at is developing people.

“He came to us as a very young man, not used to the English game and unable to speak the language.

“Also he was still to mature physically.

“But it’s like a young kid taking his first steps forward, he wobbles, then gets up, wobbles, then gets up again and eventually he walks.

“The boy is walking now.”

It may be a bit over-dramatic but I would go so far to say that the boy is a man now. The lad’s shot stopping ability is among the very best in the Premier League, if not Europe. He manages to make extraordinary saves look easy and has saved United’s blushes on a number of occasions this season, including a number of great stops against Madrid last week. I will leave you with the words of the best keeper in United’s history, Peter Schmeichel.

“I cannot remember anyone coming into Manchester United and being criticised the way he was criticised. He was ridiculed every day. He was the subject of every debate in the media.

“Every programme possible was talking about him and debating the situation. Yet he still went out there with a smile on his face.”

Peter also was ready to defend De Gea after the aforementioned Tottenham match:

“It is very easy to claim De Gea is to blame,” he told Sky Sports.

“I disagree. I think if De Gea had not played the way he did we would have lost 4-1.

“We played in a way that required the goalkeeper to make saves. He did that. He did his job. Nobody is highlighting that.

“My point is that if you are not that deep, we are not conceding those chances. That is the thing I would work on. In general, the way to win championships is not by defending as deeply as we did for the final hour on Sunday.”

“For the goal, David does all the right things. He got a fist to it under pressure but, unfortunately, the ball ends up with a Spurs player.

“We should be further up the pitch. If that starts with the goalkeeper, he needs to work on that, but we need them to be brave enough to take them out.”

Suso rejects Wigan loan move

February 4th, 2013

“I’m making clear that I’m not going on loan to Wigan. I’m really happy in Liverpool,” BBC Sport quoted Suso as saying.

Liverpool and Spanish U-19 maestro Suso reportedly turned down a loan move to Wigan during the January transfer window. I cannot help but think that this was a mistake, both by Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers not to convince the lad to further his development in a club and atmosphere very suited to the youngster’s talents, and by the lad himself who for whatever reason decided that being a bench warmer at Liverpool was better than first team opportunities at Wigan.

Suso made it very clear that he was happy at Liverpool when the exit and loan rumours began swirling around him at the end of the January transfer window. The young playmaker has been given lots of chances by manager Brendan Rodgers, and has shown that he can compete with the pace and physicality of the premier league against players much older than him. He has featured for the first team nineteen times but is still searching for his first goal. His composure and efficient use of the ball while in possession is a perfect fit for the style Rodgers wants his team to play but he is still probably a season or two away from being able to shoulder such responsibility on a weekly basis. Suso’s versatility hasn’t been utilized by Rodgers yet. Suso has featured for the Reds on both wings and was forming a solid partnership with compatriot Jose Enrique before the fullback’s injury but he still hasn’t been given a chance in a central role in behind the attack.

Suso

Playing in a central attacking midfield role against Estonia last summer in the U19 European Championships saw Suso put up Xavi-esque numbers with a 94% passing accuracy with over 53 passes attempted. He would bring a look to Liverpool’s midfield that they haven’t had since Xabi Alonso. While confident in possession, neither Lucas nor Joe Allen are very creatively minded and both are more defensive players. Gerrard is an attacker but much more direct and not in keeping with the style of play that Brendan Rodgers is aspiring to.

The nineteen year old hasn’t played with the first team since the beginning of January in the FA Cup and considering the transfers that Liverpool made, he is unlikely to feature very much for the rest of the season. There is a log-jam of attackers to fill a limited number of positions for Rodgers during the business end of the season. Not only is Fabio Borini healthy again but Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have both joined the club to try and complement Luis Suarez in attack. That leaves youngsters Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso to fight it out for a place on the bench on a weekly basis.

Wigan would have been the perfect destination for Suso for the next few months. Not only would he be under the tutelage of Spanish manager Roberto Martinez, a manager obsessed with playing a style very complement to Suso’s, but he would be surrounded by Spaniards and other youngsters with a much better chance of regular football. I think this decision was a mistake but I hope that Rodgers can give Suso more opportunities this season and that it doesn’t stall his rapid development as one of the top young Spaniards in Europe.

Cuenca Joins AFC Ajax

February 1st, 2013

cuenca

Transfer deadline day left much to be desired Thursday. Rumours surrounding Iker Muniain and Isco Alcaron did not come to anything. One young Spaniard who did move made Dutch football a little more interesting for those of us obsessed with the next generation of La Roja. Barcelona’s Isaac Cuenca was convinced by the coaching staff, including a phone call from Tito Vilanova who is in New York undergoing chemotherapy, to join Dutch giants AFC Ajax.

The Spanish winger burst onto the scene under Pep Guardiola in 2011. He made sixteen appearances for the first team, scoring twice and impressing the football world, another gem unearthed by the football lab at La Masia. The twenty-one year old suffered a bad injury over last summer which put a stop to his development for over six months, he is back now and a spell with Ajax has been identified as the best opportunity for Cuenca who is still committed to FC Barcelona in the long term.

This is a great move for both clubs and the player. Ajax get a top prospect who has been raised in a system very similar to the Dutch club’s. Ajax are one of the best clubs in the world at developing young talent and Cuenca will be playing beside a plethora of youngsters, under a progressive and innovative manager in Frank de Boer. Ajax do not have the option to buy Isaac, but Barcelona conceded to paying part of his salary while in the Netherlands. Tito Vilanova will not have to worry about giving Cuenca time to try to further his development, allowing him to focus on the three competitions his club is still a part of.

For the player, Cuenca will get more first team opportunities with Ajax without the pressure of playing in front of the Camp Nou faithful. He has the very real potential to become a bonafide star in Amsterdam and Cules have to watch him very closely in the coming months. His transfer also allows for the potential of more first team football for Barcelona’s other young wingers, Cristian Tello and Gerard Deulofeu.

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.