Let’s start with a blanket statement because those are fun from time to time. At worst, you will hunt me down and make me pay for my brash, blatant ignorance; and at best, we get to have some thoughtful discussion. Now don’t get your undies in a knot and read on, because I think I have a point.
Real Madrid is a team where talented young players, the cream of football’s future crop, come to die unceremonious deaths.
Let’s look at the facts! What do Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Morata, Sergio Canales, Pedro Leon, and Jose Callejon all have in common? They were all young Spaniards with tremendous talent whose careers’ development were slowed or halted completely thanks to the lure of the Bernabeu. Luckily Mata and Soldado chose to pursue greener pastures early on and their careers took off. The stories of Canales and Leon are Greek tragedies in soccer terms that might still end well but it will be in spite of the effect the Spanish club had on their careers.
Pedro León Sánchez Gil
Pedro Leon was developed by Real Murcia. In 2009/10 at the age of twenty-two his career was hitting impressive heights with Madrid side Getafe. He managed eight goals and nine assists in thirty-five starts, an impressive haul for a young midfielder and enough to earn his club a European berth.
Pedro was so impressive that cross-town giant, Real Madrid, took notice and got in touch. Like so many players, the lure and bright lights of Los Blancos drew Pedro like a moth to a flame. Within less than a calendar year he went from hero to zero, starting a grand total of two games (with none in La Liga). The club would not even send the youngster on loan midseason, even though it was painfully obvious he was not part of Mr. Mourinho’s plans. Then, just as crudely as he came, he was shipped back to Getafe on loan, expected to recapture his previous form and somehow forget his first nightmare season with the “Galacticos”.
At twenty-seven, he is now back with Getafe permanently and showing that he is still a “good” player. We still get glimpses into what could have been a very special career that could have been enjoyed around the world with the proper development but the potential of five years ago has been lost.
Sergio Canales Madrazo
This one really hurts and it is more complicated than Pedro Leon’s story. Sergio Canales was a superstar in the making; he was the real deal. Developed as a youngster by Racing Santander, he came through the ranks in the club all the way to the first team. At eighteen years of age, Canales showed what he could do; seven goals and four assists in twenty-three starts, helping his side narrowly avoid relegation. He was part of Spain’s brilliant present and exciting future, winning the U17 European Championships (2008), U19 European Championship (2010) and U21 European Championships (2013) with La Rojita.
Knock, knock… Who’s there?… It’s Real Madrid…
Not so funny in hindsight. The nineteen year old signed a six year contract with Real, which in reality only lasted five hundred and eighteen minutes. That was his total contribution to first team football in his one and only season with the club.
Since then his career has taken twists and turns and his development has been further hindered by injuries. For those who have lost track, he is currently with Real Sociedad. Only twenty-three years old, he still has a bright future if he can stay healthy, and here’s to hoping he can.
One thing I want to make clear is, this is not an indictment of Real Madrid’s academy system. Those who read the blog and know me, know that I am a big fan of La Fabrica. All the way through to Castilla, Madrid have it right, but somewhere in-between the second and first team there is a disconnect. The beautiful vertical integration of player development and talent production stops and hits a Galactico road block. That would take up pages in itself, so instead, let’s get to the crux of the matter.
Currently, Los Blancos have a stable of young Spanish talent that cannot afford to have their development stunted. Jese Rodrigues, Asier Illarramendi and Isco Alarcon, all have the potential to be the best in the world at their respective positions but that pesky Florentino Perez is at it again. Instead of trusting some of the world’s brightest talents, he has signed world-beaters in their own right in competing positions: Toni Kroos (Asier Illaramendi), James Rodriguez (Isco Alarcon) and Gareth Bale (Jese Rodriguez).
All three of these players need game time to further their development, whether that comes via a loan or a transfer. Look at the effect that a loan to English side Everton had on Gerard Deulofeu, a player of the same generation and similar talent to Jese. Deulofeu learnt some valuable disciplines at Everton and now he is back in Barcelona looking to fight for a first team spot under Luis Enrique. Sporadic game time leads to injuries which leads to further setbacks.
Isco Alarcon is one of my favorite young Spaniards. At twenty-two years old he is ready to command an attack at almost any club. In twenty-nine starts for Madrid last season between La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, he racked up eleven goals and seven assists. But perhaps it was the effect he had off the bench when he didn’t start that was the most impressive. Whenever Ancelotti chose to field a less imaginative side (which was often in the Champions League), it was Isco’s injection which had a palpable impact and changed Madrid’s fortunes. Looking at the effect his compatriots have had in England, I would say that a move to the Premier League would be the best for his long-term career. He would be a bona fide starter in any Premier League side and would be able to develop a different aspect of his game. He would bring creativity and goal scoring ability but also deceptive pace, something that the likes of Juan Mata or David Silva lack.
It is time for young players, and especially young Spaniards, to realize that Real Madrid is not a place to bring your career to the next level. They would be better off going abroad, proving themselves, and then deciding whether to return to the club of their youth. This current crop of youngsters is as special a group of players as I have seen, and they need to think about following Alvaro Morata (another diamond of the cantera) out of Madrid. As a fan of football and a believer in the proper development of young players, I hope for their own sake that these players move on.