A State of Youth at Real Madrid:
Over the years, Real Madrid fans have thrown their hands up and down calling for a better integration of the clubs youth products into the first team. For some, the reason why they support Real Madrid is because they are synonymous with the biggest names in football. Real Madrid buy stars. Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane, Beckham, Cristiano, Benzema and Graveson are some names that come into mind. And there is nothing wrong with that. We all have to find a reason to support a club. That reason might be a player or a goal or a trophy the club won. But after that, their support of players moves on to become the support of the club. As always, players come and go, club stays there forever.
A lot of people also glamour about the fact that in the clubs history, the team was consisted of 1/3 best players in the world, 1/3 best players in Spain and 1/3 the best players in the Cantera. As true as that might be, it is not a philosophy i think the club should abide by. In my opinion, the club should be consistent of the best players out there, regardless of where the players come from. The club has a duty to be competitive, as that is engraved in it’s philosophy. Sometimes though, fans mistake that to just buying players at all cost. The clubs duty is to buy or promote players that will provide continuity and sustained success.
To elaborate more on this issue, the club has to exercise judgement on who from the youth system, or from the youth of other teams, is worth promoting/poaching and grooming into the first team. After all, youth players that are groomed at the club have an extra reason to fight for a club, whether some think it is true or not. But some will say: What about players like Sarabia, that was touted to be the next big thing, but is now rotting on the bench at Getafe. Well, Sarabia’s case is a special one, as he is playing in a Getafe team that doesn’t suit his game and with a coach that values experience over youth. That is why him and Alcacer, a Valencia youth product on loan there and one of Spain’s brightest talents, are sitting on the bench. But let’s say Sarabia is a flop. Is that an indictment that the whole youth system is a flop? I don’t think so. As we see players like Negredo, Soldado, Mata, Borja Valero, Diego Lopez and Javi Garcia having graduated from our youth system and are one of the top players in their position, all of which (except Diego Lopez) are under 26 years old.
But all that was an introduction to the issue of the day. Mourinho threw some controversial words around before the game in the Copa Del Rey a couple of weeks ago. Some flew to Mourinho’s defense, disregarding facts at all. Some used the fickle claim that many like to use: Mou has won so much while Toril has won nothing. This is wrong for several reasons. The first reason is, Toril is a youth coach, who has only been coaching for a year and a half. The second reason is that Toril didn’t come across against Mou. On the contrary. Toril said after the Castilla game on the Saturday before the incident that “His duties is to help these youngsters and to aid the first team in any way Mourinho needs, as long as they are within their capabilities”. But Mourinho threw in some statements that were a tad controversial. Here is some of what Mourinho said, as translated by the awesome Helen (make sure to go see her blog):
He (Toril) has his autonomy and I think it’s good that he has it.
That’s not particularly true. Toril has autonomy to play the players he chooses. But full autonomy means that Toril is in control of everything he wants. Toril does not have full autonomy on players like Morata, who he has not had available this year. And that includes 4 or 5 games that Morata got sent to the stands in by Mourinho. On the issue of autonomy, Toril also requested the management to invest in a central defender and a forward to replace Joselu and Carvajal, who both left Castilla for huge sums of money. Toril also requested that the club invest in a winger or attacking midfielder, so it fills the gap that Sarabia and Juan Carlos left last year (also went un-replaced). So in complete technical terms, Toril does not have complete autonomy.
We play in a system and model of game that is different from his, and there are players that play with Castilla in positions that don’t exist in the first team, such as the “9 and a half”, that is where Jesé plays. Our wing players play up and his down. There are very few points where the two ways of playing make contact.
Mourinho is right, as Castilla’s wingers do play a little less forward than they do in the first team. That is only applicable though for the left wing, that is patrolled by Denis. On the other hand, the right wing that is patrolled by Juanfran plays in a similar role to Di Maria. The difference there is that Di Maria plays as an inverted winger while Juanfran plays as a pure winger. With that said, Di Maria and Juanfran have very similar roles. The reason why Castilla’s wingers play lower down the field is because they are not as effective in attack as Jese and Oscar/Morata have. This is the same reason why Di Maria and Ozil play lower down the field than Ronaldo and Benzema/Higuain.
On the point of the nine and a half role. Mourinho does have a point, that a nine and a half role does not exist in Real Madrid’s system in a central form. Instead, a 9 and a half exists on the wing, which Ronaldo plays in. Not to mention, Jese doesn’t always play in this role. When Morata is playing in front of him, Jese plays a role close to that of Ozil, albeit in a more attacking sense. Not to mention, the Castilla squad has no attacking midfielders in it’s ranks right now. The players coming through are 16 years in age and are too young to be thrown in at that point. The only way Toril can play a 4-2-3-1 is by having Jese as an attacking midfielder. In essence though, the system and style of play are the same between the two teams. Castilla and the first team both play a very direct, physical and set up to counter attack with speed. This is, by the way, different from how the team used to play before Toril joined. And also different from the way it used to play before Mourinho said that the two teams have to play similarly (ie. Adjustments were made to play a similar system/style).
He knows that with me, Nacho will never be a center back, but he has his autonomy. He has to know whether it is more important to help the progression of a player, or to finish 4th, 5th, 6th, or 9th.
Nacho probably has no future at the club at center back, unless he is going to be a fourth choice behind Varane, Ramos and Pepe. Mourinho insinuates that Toril needs to play Nacho at right back, as that is where he will get the most chances and that is where the need of the 1st team lies. But what is Toril supposed to do with Fabinho, the 18 year old right back that super agent Mendes brought in on loan this season, with the club paying a hefty 1m signing on fee? That, when Toril clearly identified that the B team is suffering for center back, both currently on the roster or coming through the ranks (Mateos was never gonna be the solution). With only a right back being acquired, and not one that is good enough anyways, Toril has to do with what he’s got. He doesn’t really have much of a choice but to play Nacho at CB. Not to mention, Nacho is a versatile player. He can switch between those two positions easily, as he did for Castilla last season. Morata is a center forward, yet Mourinho has used him out of position several time. Is that harmful for the player too? It’s a double edged sword. To add to that, if the right back situation was such a vital one, wouldn’t Carvajal, who bossed the right flank against Bayern Munchen of all teams a couple of weeks ago, have been better to experiment with when he was needed?
Speaking of Carvajal, who despite the deep need for cover on the right, was let go for 6m without a proper replacement. Since joining Leverkusen, Carvajal has played 11 games for them, providing 4 assists and making the BundesLiga team of the week 4 times (2 of which were on weeks that he didn’t assist in). In my opinion, if a youth product was to be counted on and needed, then the biggest club in the world should have managed to tempt Carvajal to stay at the team. In that case, the club would not have had to deal with the issue of Nacho playing as a center back and not a right back. Not to mention, in the limited role our right back operates in, Nacho playing at center back works well as he gets to deal with the discipline and defensive responsibility that is expected of a player like Arbeloa.
On the issue of finishing 4th, 5th, 6th and 9th. Castilla currently stand in 13th spot, with 17 points, only 3 points away from 19th spot. On the other hand, he is 15 points away from top spot in the league and 9 away from 4th. Toril isn’t fighting to get this team to 4th spot, but rather fighting to get as many points as possible to assure that this team stays in Segunda. After all, Mourinho was the one who deemed the spot in Segunda the most vital one. Claiming that the coach is being harmful to the player is not an easy thing to throw around. A player like Jese will turn against his coach after hearing Mourinho blame him for possible non future call ups. When in fact, Jese played most of last season on the wing in the “Ronaldo” role and plays in a similar manner right now.
If at 23 or 24 they are not at the level to play with the first team squad, they won’t make it to the first team at 27 or 28. When there are players, 18 or 19 year-olds, there is the expectation of progress in their formation for some of them to reach the first team.
Mourinho makes a very good point here. The B team has to have more players aged 18 and 19 rather than 22/23 since very few players progress a lot after the age of 22/23. Issue is though, the Castilla team has to have a good mixture of youth and experience, because these kids are going against 30 something year olds, that try and counter act the teams direct quick football with fouls. Not only that, but the main reason why the team is filled with 22 year olds is because the club has been selling it’s best young talents each year. Sarabia (19), Carvajal (19), Juan Carlos (20), Joselu (21) and Rodrigo (18) all left and all but Sarabia are starting for their respective clubs. The up and coming generation that includes Raul De Tomas and Jose Rodriguez are just too young to throw into the mix at the moment, as players that are aged 17 can be eaten up in Segunda if they are starting each and every game. In fact, Toril has managed to give Jose Rodriguez a lot of chances this season, having had him start in several games and being the first sub that comes off the bench every game.
To add to the mix, Jose Rodriguez is a ball playing midfielder. The spot he will be taking in the Castilla squad is probably Alex’s spot. Alex is 19 years old and last year was voted the MVP of the U19 Euros. If there is anyone that is closer to the first team, it is Alex. Not to mention, to keep the system as close to the 1st team as possible, Toril plays Alex (a ball playing midfielder) next to Mosquera (a ball winning midfielder). This combo is very symmetric to the Khedira/Alonso combo, albeit Alex playing less deep than Alonso.
At the end of the day, specific positions of the field is not what decides whether or not the youth team is playing similarly or not to the first team. As much as I hate making this comparison, I will go ahead and make it. Those with Barca-phobia, please skip down to the end of the paragraph. Barca are perhaps, along with Ajax, are probably one the best models for youth system in our modern day. A lot of people say that the reason why the transition from the youth system to the 1st team is easy at Barca because the 1st team and B team play very similarly. But here are some facts. For the past 5 seasons, in which Barca experienced this “baby boom”, Barca B has been playing a system that is very different position wise than the first team. For example, the Barca B team does not use a false nine. False nine is perhaps the most vital position in Barca’s first team, yet rarely found in the B team. Instead Barca B uses a classic 9. Moral of the story: It’s not about the positions that the players are in, but rather the style of play they play in.
At the end, this is not an article calling for more youth team integration. Lately we have seen Morata take the first team by storm, rescuing the team against Levante and doing really well in his come-on against Athletic Bilbao (I’m writing an article on him that should be out next week). I won’t lie, it was sad that Morata wasn’t introduced until the final 8 minutes of a game in which we lost our main 2 strikers and our back up striker and tied in a must win game. But alas, I will look at the cup half full rather than half empty. So props to Mou for taking a risk on Morata in the final 10 minutes, and props to Morata for showing what kind of talent there is in the youth ranks.
In fact, this is not a call for youth integration at all. That is another topic for another day. This is not an attack on Mou, but rather an analysis on his comments made about Toril and the youth system. While some of the stuff Mou said was spot on, some of the stuff he said seemed a tad misguided and not accurate. Some of the issues Mou mentions (like having Nacho at RB) are perhaps better addressed to the management rather than the coach that doesn’t have as much control as Mou believes or portrays he does. Let us not forget, before Toril arrived, the youth system was going right down hill with no positive in sight. Under his guidance, not only did RM castilla go up to Segunda again, but the players he groomed (Joselu, Sarabia, Juan Carlos, Carvajal and Juan Carlos all groomed over 20m in sales). Having followed the Castilla side regularly (especially this season, as I’ve watched all their games), the transition from 4 years ago to now is astonishing.
Just as a reminder, this is an opinion piece. And I understand that this is not a popular opinion. I respect everyone’s opinion, as long as they respect mine. You think I’m wrong? I love hearing why, but please, lets use facts, not hypothetical.