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.

Koke To Star In the 2014 FIFA World Cup

May 9th, 2014
Could Villa and Koke bring success to Spain this summer?

Could Villa and Koke bring success to Spain this summer?

Spain is still the team to beat when the world converges on Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. They have experience, depth and the best starting 11 of any country in the world. With three out of four clubs in the European finals this month being Spanish, there is bound to be some new blood in this year’s squad.

Vicente del Bosque has been hesitant to introduce new names to his squad over the last few years but this might be the tournament where he starts to introduce some of the next generation of La Roja. The only player that – at least on the surface – seems to be a no-brainer for del Bosque to include, is Jorge Resurrección Merodio, or Koke as he is more commonly known.

Koke was born in Madrid, Spain, on January 8, 1992, and has been a part of the Atlético Madrid football system since the tender age of 8. He made his first team debut with Los Colchoneros in 2009 at the age of 18 and has been a mainstay under manager Diego Simeone since his appointment in 2011.

Despite having just entered his 22nd year, Koke has extensive experience with over 100 appearances for his club and over 60 appearances representing his nation at the various youth levels including 7 appearances under del Bosque this year. He was part of the U-21 side that won yet another UEFA European U-21 Championship for Spain last summer, and he has a Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and UEFA Europa League with Atleti in the last two seasons.

KokeHe is a versatile midfielder, able to play in the center or on either wing. He has experience playing in the pivot role for Spain and he is a box-to-box midfielder, providing spectacular creativity and vision. He combines that with a commitment to defence and a pugnacious appetite for the ball. His addition to La Roja’s starting 11 would not change Spain’s style but could provide fresh legs and a new look after what has been a long year for nearly all of Spain’s players. Xavi has already tipped Koke as his natural heir on the Spanish national team, a mantle he doesn’t give lightly after having a similar comparison made of himself and Pep Guardiola early in his career. In many ways the twenty-two year old has surpassed the aging Xavi – with an imminent changing of the guard.

Koke has been one of the most prolific playmakers in La Liga this season. He has scored 6 times in La Liga and has set up his teammates for goals on 13 occasions, putting him second in the league in the category along with Barcelona and Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas. He has added another goal and 2 assists in the UEFA Champions League this season.

Koke’s escapades in the UEFA Champions League have drawn the envious gaze of football’s giants, and Atleti are preparing for a host of bids for the youngster this summer. Manchester United are keen to sign his services and had multiple scouts at Stamford Bridge last week as Koke and his teammates put on a clinic against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Atletico Madrid have slapped a hefty 60 million euro price tag on their prized midfielder, an indication of how much they value Koke.

His experience with del Bosque this year is proof that he is on his radar screen, and there seems little chance of Koke not being on the plane to Brazil.I If he doesn’t start, look for him to be quick off the bench for Xavi or Xabi Alonso. It will not be surprising if Koke finishes the tournament in the starting line-up, starting a new era for the Spanish midfield.

Munir El Haddadi

April 20th, 2014

Full Name: Munir El Haddadi
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Forward
Age: 18
Birth Date: September 1, 1995
Birth Place: San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain
Height: 5 ft 9 in

FC Barcelona have done it again, the Catalan club have the next big thing in football. Munir El Haddadi is a Spanish-Moroccan footballer and he has been with the club since 2011 when he joined from CF Rayo Majadahonda, a small club in the Tercera Division. Munir was one of the most sought after players in Europe in 2011 after scoring 32 goals in 29 matches with Majadahonda, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City sought after his signature.


Atletico Madrid noticed his extreme talent and signed him, immediately loaning him to Rayo Majadahonda where his prolific scoring record drew the gaze of FC Barcelona. Barcelona ended up dedicating one of its academy managers to scouting the youngster who scored a hat-trick in his first match in front of the scout. That sealed the deal and the Catalan giants signed Munir who started with the Juvenil B team, finishing as the side’s top goal scorer.

Haddadi was promoted to Barca’s Juvenil A side this season and has made his Barca B debut as well. He truly announced himself to world football in the inaugural UEFA Youth League. Haddadi’s debut in the competition against the vaunted AFC Ajax academy saw him score twice, setting the tone for the tournament he would have. Haddadi was key to his side winning the prestigious award, scoring 11 goals and adding 5 assists in only 10 appearances in the tournament. He scored 5 more goals than anyone else in the competition, including two goals in the final, one of which was a stunning lob from behind the half-way line.

Like any burgeoning talent he is constantly linked away from La Masia with a host of clubs watching his progress closely. Arsenal were reportedly considering a bid for his talents in January with Wenger likening the youngster to Cesc Fabregas, but any deal fell through the cracks. His current contract keeps him at the club until June 2017 with a release clause of €12 million which will increase to €35 million if he joins the first team. He debuted for the B side in March and scored his first professional goal in Liga Adelante against Girona on April 19, 2014 winning the game for his side 2-1.


Munir El Haddadi has single-handedly slowed the panic around the club which has gone through one of the toughest weeks and winters in over a decade. There is a log-jam of talent coming through La Masia at the moment with Barcelona B teammates Sandro Ramirez and Adama Traore knocking down the door to the first team. Add that to the fact that Gerard Deulofeu and Rafinha are coming back from loan spells at the end of the season and the club’s attacking future is in good hands.

He has yet to play international football and even though he is a native of Morocco he has stated his desire to play for the Spanish national team. Look for him to star in New Zealand next summer at FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Haddadi is that rare kind of player that makes what is difficult look so easy. He was born with a talent that you cannot teach, and with him now honing is craft in the hallowed calls of La Masia, the sky is the limit for the young 18 year old.

Canteranos Set to Breakout in 2013/2014 season

August 27th, 2013

With the new football season just started, here is a look at some of the potential breakout stars for the new campaign.

Last season saw the breakout of the likes of Asier Illarramendi, Alberto Moreno, Dani Carvajal, Ruben Garcia, Jese Rodriguez and so on as they took their game to the next level and began to deliver on the promise they showed as youth on the grand stage.

Here are some of the players likely to emerge this season:


Alejandro Pozuelo (Swansea City)
Pozuelo is the latest Spaniard to join Michael Laudrup’s Spanish revolution at Swansea City or ‘Ciudad Swansea’ as I love to call it. Signed from Real Betis for €500,000, he is a potential for bargain of the season. His Swans career is off to a flyer already as he netted in his first competitive game in the Europa League 3rd qualifying round game against Malmo FF.

Pozuelo is an attacking midfielder who sits behind the forward, providing the armoury. He is blessed with a delightful touch, quick feet and thought and complete with an eye for the pass.

Pozuelo has for long been tipped for stardom and not so long ago was linked with a move to Manchester United. There is inevitably, a feeling of what could have been amongst Beticos.

His move to Swansea could not have come at a better time as he is at the stage of his career where he needs to be playing regularly at a high level and the move to Swansea will afford him just that.

Ismael ‘Isma’ Lopez (Sporting Gijon on loan from Athletic Bilbao)
Isma is one of the most talented players to come out of Athletic’s Lezama in recent times.

The talented winger returned to Athletic last season after a brief spell at Lugo where he helped them gain promotion to the Segunda Division.

He broke into the team earlier in the season but injuries and inconsistent displays saw him on the fringes.

On loan at Sporting Gijon for the season. The move to the rocky climes of the Asturias, under the guidance of Jose Ramon Sandoval could see his career hit new heights.


Jose Campaña (Crystal Palace)
Campaña recently signed for Crystal Palace for €2million after failing to agree to a new contract. London may be just what he needs to kick-start a career that has promised so much yet delivered precious little.

For long he was touted as the next big thing to come out of the Sevilla youth system. He obliterated records at youth level and often played with kids above age – such was his talent – and he went on to make his first team debut against Hannover 96 in a Europa League qualifier aged 18.

Playing in central midfield, Campaña reads the game cleverly and has a very impressive range of passing and can also dictate the tempo of a game. What he lacks in pace and power, he more than makes up for in intelligence and technique. He is in every way the archetypal Spanish midfielder. He sights ball retention and distribution as his best qualities.

“What I like to think are my best qualities are keeping the ball and having good distribution”

His ability is not in question but why things did not quite work out well with Sevilla remains a mystery. Crystal Palace represents a chance to begin afresh.

Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)
A product of Real Madrid’s famed La Fabrica academy, Sarabia took the all too familiar route of joining city neighbours, Getafe from Real Madrid in 2011. He has however been unable to break into the team, making 15 starts in both league and cup in two seasons. Not even a long term injury lay off to Pedro Leon in 2012 could aid his cause. Luis Garcia is the kind of coach that likes to stick his tried and trusted team.

He recently voiced his dissatisfaction at the lack of opportunities and may look to move away from the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

A European champion at U19 and U21 level with Spain, he was part of the Spain team that beat all comers at the just held Euro U21 championships in Israel, putting in a brilliant performance against Holland in the group stage where he assisted two goals as Spain ran out 3-0 winners.

An attacking midfielder who often plays from the right despite being left footed, he can also play across all the attacking positions. Sarabia is good on the dribble and has a very good cross. He often looks to drift inwards from wide positions and have a pop at goal. He is also very dangerous when one against one. What stands him out the most is his eye for the final pass.

As I mentioned earlier, he may look to move away from Getafe with Elche mentioned as a likely destination for a loan move or he may yet stay with Getafe and with Abdel Barrada having departed, he may play a major role for the Azulones this season.

Ruben Pardo(Real Sociedad):
The 20 year old midfielder has the uneviable task of filling the void left by Illarramendi in La Real’s midfield. Not an easy task by any means but it shows how much belief the La Real management have in the youngster.

Manager, Jagoba Arrasate recently said he is not looking forward to bringing in any more players and stated his satisfaction with his current squad – a huge endorsement for Ruben.

La Real’s mangement have taken a slow and steady approach as regards drafting him in the first team, preferring to carefully blood him in rather than throw him in at the deep end – a decision that has not often gone down well with the Txuri-Urdin faithful who demand to see the pearl of the Zubieta in regular action.

Pardo is a central midfielder who likes to drop deep and collect the ball, spreading it beautifully across the pitch; orchestrating play. He always wants the ball, moving brilliantly across the pitch and always making himself an option to recieve the pass.

Of course, there have been comparisons with Xabi Alonso – the inevitable cross it seems that every midfielder coming out of the Zubieta these days have to bear…Ask Illara – and a bid from Real Madrid earlier in the year was reportedly turned down.

With Real Sociedad set to play in the Champions League this season, Pardo has a big season ahead of him.


Francisco ‘Paco’ Alcacer:
Paco did not have a successful loan spell at Getafe last season. He made a total of four starts in both league and cup, scoring four goals. He played a combined total of 867 minutes and he only twice completed 90 minutes. A disappointing season, no doubt but the experience of playing in the top flight will be invaluable.

Paco will hope to force his way into Valencia’s team this season. Manager, Miroslav Djukic , recently said the 19 year old striker is on his agenda.

Good pace, intelligent movement and composure all combine to make Paco a lethal finisher.

With Soldado and Valdes having departed Valencia, he should feature prominently for Los Che this season.

Uyi Ogbebor can be found on twitter @goody2_boots

Alexander González Guanche

August 7th, 2013

Full Name: Alexander González Guanche
Team: U.D. Las Palmas
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 19
Birth Date: January 14, 1994
Birth Place: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Height: 180 cm

Lately, U.D. Las Palmas cantera is producing a good number of quality goalkeepers. If Alejandro Martín and Raul Lizoaín are alternating between the first and the second squad (where the Argentine, Pablo Varela, is also playing), then Alexander González Guanche is the undisputed goalkeeper in the youth categories of the club.


Guanche has great reflexes, he is very agile and confident in all of his actions. He was very good in the youth Copa de Campones played last spring, where he was named best goalkeeper of the competition. He was instrumental in a win against Barcelona in the Quarter-finals and he was a star against Sevilla in the Semifinals despite his team’s loss. Last season Guanche debuted with Las Palmas Atlético in the second squad and was also called by the first team more than once, when the first team’s goalkeepers were unable to play due to injury and disciplinary sanctions.

Alexander González Guanche is a fixture in all the youth categories of his club. Now, at 19 years old, his biggest challenge is before him as he attempts to break into the first team at U.D. Las Palmas where the competition for a goalkeeping spot is fierce.

This article has been written by Mario Cipriano. You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Keko Gontán

August 5th, 2013

Full Name: Sergio Gontán Gallardo
Team: Catania
Position: Right Winger
Age: 21
Birth Date: December 28, 1991
Birth Place: Brunete (Madrid)
Height: 177 cm

In football sometimes quality is not enough. It’s not enough to be good technically, to be a fast runner, and to have personality. You can have a brilliant career at the youth level, following all the right steps, representing your country but if something goes badly at the wrong moment, a player that seemed destined for stardom, becomes average.

This is the case with Sergio Gontán Gallardo, known as “Keko”. He was a star and leader in all of the youth categories at Atlético Madrid and in Spain, and until 2010, one of the most promising young talents of the Spanish football scene. Then something broke and now there are only a few options left to the youngster.


Keko was born in Brunete, a part of Madrid, in 1991. He soon began to ascend the ranks of the youth of the “Colchoneros”. There was something special about Keko, although perhaps he lacked some bravery in shooting on goal and he took too many touches in dribbling. Like any good winger, dribbling is his speciality. Keko’s speciality was executed with quickness, great technique and the ability to combine and collaborate with team-mates. He adapted to the collective needs of his team, using both his natural right foot and his left foot to shoot.

At 16 years and 307 days old, Keko became the youngest player to debut in an official competition with Atlético Madrid. He debuted in the Copa del Rey de España, a match that Atletico Madrid won 1-0 in Orihuela in October 2008. Keko was subbed in at the 89th minute. His Spanish League debut was a year later, on September 12, 2009, against Racing Santander in a 1-1 draw at home, his last appearance wearing the first team’s uniform. In July 2010, at the end of that season, he finished runner-up in the U-19 UEFA European Football Championship played in Caen (France), concluding a successful career with the youth of “La Roja”, having played for the U-15 through U-18 National teams. In the Caen tournament Keko was the captain and everyone expected an early call to play with the U-21’s but that never happened.

It was the beginning of his descent. In January 2010, Atlético Madrid loaned him to a Real Valladolid team that were marching down towards relegation to the Second Division. The following season (2010-11) he played on loan to Cartagena in the first half of the season and Girona in the second half, without ever convincing his coaches of his worth. For that reason and for the bad relationship he had with Atlético Madrid management, his home decided not to renew his contract. Keko then moved to Italy, signing with Catania. In two years in Sicily, he played 4 games (plus 10 appearances when he was loaned to Grosseto for 5 months in January 2012) and he scored only one goal (in his Serie A debut on 24 February 2013, contributing to a 2-1 away win over Parma).

Keko Gontán is still young at 21 years old and he can still become the great player who many observers believed he would be, but he needs to play on a team that believes unconditionally in his qualities.

This article has been written by Mario Cipriano. You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Enzo Fernández Zidane

July 26th, 2013

Full Name: Enzo Alan Fernández Zidane
Team: Real Madrid Castilla
Position: Midfielder
Age: 18
Birth Date: March 14, 1995
Birth Place: Bordeaux (France)
Height: 186 cm

His first name is Enzo, like Francescoli. His last name is Zidane, like Zinedine. It could be strange to play football with the name and surname of such an epic footballer. It would be a heavy burden to bear for an eighteen year old trying to establish a successful career.

Enzo Alan Fernández Zidane is the firstborn of Zinedine Zidane. His first name is a tribute to Enzo Francescoli (former Uruguayan footballer who played in the Eighties and Nineties), a teen idol of his father. He chose as a first surname his mother’s surname, “Fernández”, to avoid the stress of constant comparisons with his father, to try to go unnoticed. A strategy that has worked only until he has begun to play football, in the
same position as his father played, on the same team his father played with and with similar elegance.


He was born in Bordeaux, France, where Zinedine Zidane played between 1992 and 1996, before moving to Italy. In Torino he started playing football in the Juventus youth set-up. When the former 1998 Ballon d’Or winner signed for Real Madrid, the whole Zidane family followed Zinedine. Enzo obtained Spanish citizenship in 2006, so he is eligible to play for France, Spain (was called up to the Spain U15 team in 2009) and Algeria (as of his paternal grandparents). Currently he plays for Real Madrid Juvenil B team and sometimes this season, José Mourinho called him to train with the first squad. He doesn’t stand out physically but by his technique with the ball. He is able to play with both legs phenomenally and is dangerous in one on one situations.

Now Enzo is in a tricky situation, because his father will be the first assistant of Carlo Ancelotti, the new Real Madrid coach. Last Winter, Liverpool tried to signed him, but he preferred to continue growing in Real Madrid. This year may be the year of his launch among professionals, since he will probably play in the Real Madrid Castilla in Spanish Second Division.

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Ale Rodríguez “Pipo”

July 24th, 2013

Full Name: Alejandro Rodríguez Marrero “Pipo”
Team: U.D. Las Palmas
Position: Midfielder
Age: 18
Birth Date: August 19, 1994
Birth Place: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

In the recent youth tournament, the “Copa de Campeones” played in Vigo, U.D., Las Palmas announced the arrival of three young talents. One of them is Alejandro Rodríguez “Pipo”, a play maker of massive quality, not overly quick, his real quality is found with the ball at his feet, his dribbling and accuracy on passing.


A couple of years ago he was on trial at La Masía, but F.C. Barcelona’s trainers decided to not submit a contract to let the lad play in their youth squads. Someone in the club mentioned that there were problems of attitude more than a negative skills evaluation. So he returned home, waiting for the moment to demonstrate his value. He enacted some level of revenge last Spring in the tournament in Vigo, where U.D. Las Palmas eliminated F.C. Barcelona, winning with a penalty kick earned and scored by Alejandro Rodríguez.

As result of all these good performances, next season he will play with the first squad, coming directly from the Juvenil División de Honor, without passing through Las Palmas Atlético (the second squad, which will play in third division). There is a big expectation around him to be the new star of the team after the departure of Vitolo (23 years old winger and top scorer of U.D. Las Palmas in the last two seasons who was recently sold to Sevilla for 3 million Euros).

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Pauliño de la Fuente Gomez: The Canterano at Inter

July 16th, 2013

Name: Pauliño ‘Pau’ de la Fuente Gomez
Team: Inter Milan
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Age: 16
Birth Date: June 27, 1995
Int’l: Spain U16 (2 caps)

Pau came to light at the 2012/2013 Campeonat de Espana cadet. Playing for CF Basander at the time, a string of fine performances including a virtuoso display in Valencia in December where he scored the winner quickly made everyone sit up and take notice.

No prizes for guessing that the big wigs of La Liga – Real Madrid and Barcelona would come calling. Valencia, Levante and Racing Club were interested too. In the end, he signed for Inter Milan.

Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn with fellow Cantabrian and Valencia midfielder, Sergio Canales as Pau constantly drifted into space, head up. Orchestrating and exhibiting a game understanding that bellied his tender 15 years. The touch, slaloming runs, feints and vision are a pleasant reminder of why Real Madrid paid €6 million to sign him in 2010.


The Future:

Italian football is notorious for not handing opportunities to youngsters but the landscape is fast changing. The downturn experienced by the Italian economy and the recent successes of Italian teams in youth competitions has seen clubs turning to youth. El Shaarawy at Milan, Pogba at Juventus are examples of young players who have been handed major roles at big clubs in Italy. For Pau, the journey to the first team is still a very long one. He first hast to succeed with the U18s where he is now and then progress to the Primavera – the highest youth team.

He still has work to do. There is the tendency to overdo things – going for the spectacular when the simple would suffice but that should improve as he grows older. He only recently turned 16. He has the talent and if he develops as expected, Inter have on their hands a player that could become a world beater.

So friends, mark this day on your diaries. The day you first read about Pauliño de la Fuente Gomez.

Carlos Leto

July 9th, 2013

Full Name: Carlos Ramírez Gálvez “Leto”
Team: U. D. Las Palmas
Position: Right Back
Age: 17
Birth Date: December 12, 1995
Birth Place: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Height: 172 cm

Another young star is coming up from the U.D. Las Palmas prolific “cantera”: Carlos Ramírez Gálvez, known as “Leto” looks like the bright future of the canary team’s right back position.

carlose letoShort but strong and dynamic, his name is beginning to be thrown around by youth football experts, especially after his brilliant participation on the recent youth tournament “Copa de Campeones” played in Vigo last Spring: important newspapers like AS (who included him in the all-star team of the competition) and Marca (who dedicated a report on its TV channel) have underlined his qualities and it is known that Barcelona (eliminated from the competition in Quarter Final exactly by UD. Las Palmas) took note of his talents. Defensively reliable, he likes to go on the attack (he always says that his model is none other than Dani Alves) and he tends to impress in the more important matches.

Because of the retirement from active football of Pignol and because of the constant injuries of Aythami, this Summer Carlos Leto should train with U.D. Las Palmas first squad to permit coach Sergio Lobera evaluate if he is ready to compete with professionals.

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.