“They made it impossible for me,” Borja Valero told El Pais this week. “I moved up through the ranks from the age of 11, but just when you almost make it to the top level they tell you can’t keep moving up.”
Like many products of the Real Madrid youth system, Valero moved on - to Real Mallorca, on loan with West Bromwich Albion, back to Mallorca, down to Villarreal, and now he is with Fiorentina. Just in the past few days, Valero will have seen a number of his former teammates on television highlights packages: Juan Mata’s brace for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur, Alvaro Negredo’s two for Sevilla against Mallorca, and Roberto Soldado’s hat-trick for Valencia in the Champions League.
Since that Real Madrid Castilla generation, dozens of others players have left the club without making their mark in the first team. “If I had felt they had confidence in me I would have stayed,” right back Dani Carvajal told Onda Cero. Carvajal is now playing in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.
The debate over the youth team players – the canteranos – at Real Madrid was sparked over the weekend not by a former player’s comments, but rather from the Coach’s actions. With Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo all injured after the round of international matches, Jose Mourinho opted for a right-footed central midfielder to fill in on the left side of defence, rather than hand the chance to a naturally left-sided defender from the youth team.
The media were furious. So too were fans. Nacho watched on from the bench as Michael Essien performed well in defence against an unambitious Celta. Casado, another youth team option to fill the position, watched the game at home.
It is not all that long since the club famously announced the philosophy of Pavons and Zidanes. We are now told that model – of youth team players mixed in with top class talent – doesn’t work. Broadly speaking the policy hasn’t exactly served Barcelona poorly in recent years, though it should be said the Catalans have essentially merged the two into one by producing the best talent in the world at home.
The quality of players coming through at Real Madrid is one issue. Pavon, who perhaps unfairly was heralded as the poster boy for the policy, was a good top- flight professional, but not world class. At the age of 32 he is a free agent, and recently made the news after choosing not to sign on for unemployment benefit as there were many people who needed it more than him.
Of the current squad, only Iker Casillas and Alvaro Arbeloa are youth team players considered first choices, and Arbeloa was exiled when the club brought in Fabio Capello to bring an end to a four-year title drought. While former Real Madrid youth team players may excel with other teams, few get the chance at the club they grew up at.
And while Mourinho may well point to the 26 youth team players he has handed debuts to, ultimately the cantera simply is not amongst his priorities. The priority for the Coach, just as it has been at Real Madrid since May 2002, is winning the club’s 10th European Cup. Mourinho will not be remembered for promoting a left- back to the first team, but rather for winning the decima.