Real Madrid – talent farm or footballers’ red carpet?

Posted on June 20, 2011 by


According to the Spanish newspaper Marca, Real Madrid have spent over €1,000,000,000 on players in the last decade. That’s one thousand million Euros. The outlay has led them to four La Liga titles, two Champions leagues, one Copa Del Ray, one Uefa Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. Their great rivals Barcelona have won one more title and one more Champions league in the same decade, whilst managing to spend €713m. They’ve also managed to dazzle the domestic and European stage with some stunning technical football over the past few years, fuelling the ‘best team ever’ debate. Whether or not they are the greatest team of all time is irrelevant to Real Madrid. They’re beating them on all fronts, and they’re doing it in style. The most stunning aspect of Barcelona’s success, though, is the number of players who are prospering after learning their trade at La Masia, their ‘farm’ of youth. Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Bojan, Valdes and even their manager Pep Guardiola are all involved day in day out at FC Barcelona having studied for their academic qualifications and footballing nous at the same place. They have formed an unquestionable bond that is simply unique in contemporary football.

It’s easy to let Real Madrid’s spending over the past decade pass you by, to ignore it and think it normal. It wasn’t until last summer’s spending spree that I started to wonder why they can’t form a cohesive unit. It wasn’t until they were recently and strongly linked with a €25m-plus-player deal for Benfica left back Fabio Coentrao that I started wondering about their youth team. Can they not use a youth team player as back up for the excellent Marcelo? They seem to be similar left backs; both of them liking to bomb forward and weigh in on the attack. Nuri Sahin agreed to sign for a similar fee soon after he’d helped the fantastically supported Dortmund to their fourth Bundesliga title. Could they not employ a promising youth team player as backup to Lassana Diarra, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Gago? It’s seems they can’t, as they’ve purchased Hamit Altıntop and Nuri Sahin from the German League to take their defensive midfield regiment to six. Total central midfielders in first team squad: eight.

Nuri Sahin attempts an overhead kick.

 Have Real Madrid stopped producing great players or has the hunger and pressure for success stunted their first team opportunities?

 The 2000/1 Galácticos team was the beginning of the ‘Zidanes y Pavones’ theory. Mix proven world-beaters with youth team graduates for success. That was the idea and it was reasonably successful, resulting in a title and a Champions league soon after. After time though, and it’s slightly surprising the top bods didn’t see this coming, fractures occurred within the squad. This was undoubtedly due to a mixture of egos, disproportionate wages, and reputations coming together in the dangerous environment that is one of the most culturally integral football teams in Europe. Since then, success has been infrequent and hasn’t represented the €1,000,000,000 they spent on procuring it.

Arsene Wenger regularly talks about not spoiling the chances of his young players by buying proven footballers in their positions. With that logic he would probably replace Cesc Fabregas with young Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey, if the protracted transfer to Barcelona materializes. Is this where Real Madrid went wrong? Did the singings of Zidane, Beckham, Figo and Ronaldo hamper the careers of players like Javier Portillo, David Aganzo, Manuel Sanchis and Fernando Morientes? The transfer of Ronaldo to Real was controversial for a number of reasons. His wife, a professional footballer, did not want to leave Milan but more pertinently, they had the talented Morientes in the wings and the young Portillo warming the bench, waiting for his big chance.

There could well be a handful of Real Madrid youngsters from that era that are relatively unknown in the world of football because of the arrivals of such superstars. Would Jack Wilshere be the talent he is today if Arsenal had signed Gareth Barry and Felipe Melo?

Esteban Granero defends the very youth system that palmed him off to Getafe only to realise his potential and trigger a buy back clause in his contract.

“We have nothing to envy Barcelona. Madrid’s youth system has little to envy the juniors of Barcelona. They are getting good results now, but Madrid has always produced good players. Footballers like Raul and Casillas also earned Ballon d’Or nominations when Barca did not. If you notice, the Primera Division is full of youth players from Real Madrid” he told in 2010. Of course players like Xavi and Messi have earned Ballon d’Or nominations.

Does that constitute a successful youth development program though, with players from their youth system playing all over La Liga? The club have enough power and money to correct their mistakes and buy any player they want, apart from the current crop of Catalan maestros. But, there is a lingering sense that F.C Barcelona is the superior club both off and on the pitch due to their fantastic success with a largely home grown set of players.

Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi contesting a fierce Classico.

Too many cooks?

 Twelve managers have attempted the Real Madrid job in the past decade, with six changes to the presidency. Comparatively, F.C Barcelona have endured half the number of managerial casualties and they have had one fewer presidency switch. The hugely successful Manchester Utd team of 1999 with the ‘class of 1992’ forming the nucleus of the side also had a consistent management team and ownership base. The long serving Scotsman, Sir Alex Ferguson, was at the helm and there was only one change to the ownership of the club. The youth players at Barcelona and Manchester Utd seem to have profited from a semi solid structure at their respective clubs, which begs a question of Real Madrid: did their youth system ever stand a chance whilst standards were so high, and in obtaining those impossible standards have they compromised their youth?

Present day Galácticos

The current Real Madrid squad is outstanding will undoubtably be strengthened further this summer. The cohesion that they’ve been striving for seems to be slowly coming together, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2003. They also amassed 92 points in last season’s la liga, but this achievement pales in significance when compared with Barcelona’s 96 point league total (and 21st league title).

It’s difficult to label Real Madrid’s youth system as bad. It’s difficult because it’s simply not true. Part of the €1,000,000,000 they have spent on new talent has emerged, or been recouped, from selling players that have prospered in the youth academy. Real Madrid is a club that re-invests in their first team wear by Barcelona invests in their youth to produce a first team.

Real Madrid will come good soon. Jose Mourinho’s teams always seem to come good. Barcelona, though, seem to have their Catalan flag planted firmly on top of the moral high ground, and even if Real can clamber up that peak, they may not be able to wrench it out until they’ve harvested their own crop of maestros; maestros that not only stun the domestic opposition, but also hold the biggest trophy of them all.



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