The focus of this review will be on something that is an integral part of Real Madrid’s philosophy and in recent years has acquired an added important because of Barcelona’s success built on the foundation laid by their youth products.
Fabled La Masia or merely an overrated myth?
Barcelona plays beautiful football – Correct
They are the best and have youth players in first team – Correct
They promote youth players from within – Not so correct
Surprised? Don’t be!
When an outsider talks about La Masia, one can detect a sense of awe and respect in his tone. However, scratch the shiny surface of Barcelona’s youth academy, a not so shiny side emerges. In the current Barcelona squad, apart from Pedro and Busquets not a single youth player has been able to become a permanent fixture under Pep Guardiola. And none of those who made it were under 20, except Messi.
Pique spent 5 years in wilderness before finally he came back. Maybe it was by choice or maybe it was lack of thereof. Barcelona clearly didn’t have the financial might of Real Madrid and with a string of bad or aging signings in 2007 (Milito, Thuram, Marquez, Oleguer) they clearly didn’t have much of a choice.
Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and others had been promoted long before Pep came in. The same holds true of all ‘La Masia products.’
Even Cesc, who may come in the near term, has actually been groomed by Arsenal.
However, this is a review of Real Madrid’s season and not that of Barcelona’s policies. But it needs to be seen in a wider context before one chooses to condemn Real Madrid’s youth policies and by and large other “big” clubs.
512 Minutes of La Fabrica
|Juan Carlos||Real Madrid 6-1 Deportivo||3/10/2010|
|M Mateos||Ajax 0-4 Real Madrid||23-11-2010|
|Adan||Real Madrid 4-0 Auxerre||08-12-2010|
|Sarabia||Real Madrid 4-0 Auxerre||8/12/2010|
|Morata||Zaragoza 1-3 Real Madrid||12-12-2010|
|Alex Fernandez||Racing 1-3 Real Madrid||7/3/2011|
|Nacho Fernandez||Valencia 3-6 Real Madrid||23-04-2011|
|Tomas Mejias||Real Madrid 4-0 Getafe||10-05-2011|
|Jesus||Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria||21-05-2011|
|Joselu||Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria||21-05-2011|
- Juan Carlos: 12 mins +1 game(s)
- Mateos: 8 mins +1 game(s)
- Adan: 45+90+90+ 80 mins +4 game(s)
- Sarabia: 18 mins+1 game(s)
- Morata: 1 min +1 game(s)
- Alex: 1 min +1 game(s)
- Nacho: 90+ 53 mins +2 game(s)
- Tomas: 6 mins +1 game(s)
- Jesus: 13 mins+1 game(s)
- Joselu: 5 mins +1 game(s)
Grand Total: 512 mins +14 games
The above table tells the whole story about the current youth polices in Real Madrid and the football world in general. Specifically, of the top tier clubs anywhere irrespective of any league.
For all the hype and hoopla about 10 cantaneros making their debut under Jose, they played a grand total of 512 minutes combined in the entire season.
To get a true idea, read this amazing article by a not so average football fan in Jamie. It is an eye-opener and a must read before proceeding further. It gives a wonderful perspective.
A widespread malaise – A reflection of corporate culture of quarterly results
This is the era of instant success and one is only as good as his results or the lack of it. Ask Carlo Ancelotti. He was sacked after winning Chelsea a double in his first season in-charge.
Ask Bojan Krkic. This lad was supposed to be the most promising youngster out of La Masia. However he has remained just that – a promise.
Pedro, Higuain, Pique and Marcelo survived only because of one reason – They produced results instantly, despite their inexperience. A couple of mistakes would have seen an early sunset on their fledgling careers.
Higuain came on as substitute eight consecutive games in a row to score for Real Madrid and get a record which even Ole Gunnar Solkjaer would have been proud of. Not everyone can do that. Certainly not all 20 year olds!
Punishment of ‘failure’ is swift and brutal. Patience is unheard of and longevity is a mirage.
Now the managers and players are judged like quarterly results.
- Are you in the UCL in March? No? You are sacked!
- Have you won a trophy/qualified for Europe this year? No? You are sacked.
- Hell, have you scored more than XYZ in ABC league? No? You are replaced.
- Can you score a goal, defend, sell shirts, twiddle your ears and do a robo-dance? No? You are replaced.
‘It’s about money, honey!’
Why and how has this culture crept in? It started off with the branding of the English Premier League and ‘Los Galaticos’. Soon these clubs flush with greenbacks, became the envy of the ‘have-nots’. The competiveness and unpredictability prevalent in football became buzzwords of a bygone era. Mega bucks, megalomaniac presidents and sheikhs, with an endless stream of money started to rule the roost.
A player was not just a human being, who could play well. He was a commodity – meant to be flogged in the market to the highest bidder. He would then be pimped out to pay for his exorbitant price and salary.
A youth player cannot sell as many shirts as a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Messi can. That’s why ‘grand’ measures became necessary. Barcelona sold their legacy by having a shirt sponsor for the first time in their existence of 111 years. Real signed ‘Galacticos’. Premier League became ‘the most exciting, competitive and best’ league in the world according to everyone in England and Skysports.
Anyone and everyone just had to grab the eyeballs by any means in order to survive.
Benzema and Villa vs Bojan and Mata
Benzema had a decent first season in Casa Blanca. For a 20-year old, dealing with such difficulties off the pitch it was entirely expected. But if one considers that he was a 35 million Euro signing, he was a massive failure. Yet, he was not offloaded or loaned out. Backed by Zidane, he was played again and again. It is only after 1.5 years he finally showed his worth and a glimpse of his true abilities.
Villa has scored 23 goals this season in 50 matches. A fair return one would say. But not for a striker who was bought for 35 million Euros. He had a massive dry run of 12 matches where he failed to score. Yet his starting position was never under any threat, despite Bojan on the bench.
Bojan has been a graduate of La Masia and has featured in over 150 matches for Barcelona. Yet in last 4 years he has started only 40 matches for Blaugranas. A very, very modest figure for any player.
Juan Mata, a Real Madrid academy product, chose a wiser path. He chose to leave Real Madrid and play for Valencia despite all the overtures from the capital side. He knew that he would not be given the chances to flourish and the rare chances that he will get will demand too much from him.
‘Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn’
The bottom-line is that despite the love and affection of the fans for their own youth products, it does not sit well with the marketing managers of the big clubs. After all how many shirts can a bumbling, gawky 20 year old kid can sell?
Compare this with a marquee signings. If the signing works out well, it is a masterstroke and a much needed boost. Sales shoot up. If he flops, no matter what, he is going to be dissected from every angle, bombarded with pointed questions and again the club manages to hog the limelight. Sad, but true!
Plus when a player is signed for a hefty amount, he cannot be made to sit on the bench for a prolonged period. Otherwise it will reflect poorly both on the management and the coach. So both the sides try to play the player into form rather than discarding him on the scrap heap.
On the other hand, a Cantera can be easily discarded on the sideline since he never cost anything. Now never say anything about a celebrity life being tough.
Football is an art and not a theory!
One of the most interesting things about football is that it is an art which needs to be practiced to perfection. It is not a theory that can be learnt by heart and then utilized on the pitch. It takes ages to learn to play at the levels of the Messis, Ronaldos, Kakas or the Xavis. It cannot be just ‘taught’. So even if a Cantera learns with the likes of the above mentioned legends, after a certain time it becomes counter productive. Too much time on the sidelines can destroy confidence and either the progress is stunted or worse the player actually regresses. Just ask Bojan, Saviola and Co.
But we have already seen, some what counter productively to intuition that a Cantera is afforded less time than a superstar from other club.
Why the youth policy in general is under threat?
Realizing the above constraints, Real Madrid made a very wise decision – find clubs, who need talented players at a bargain price than a regular signing. Then sell them at a nominal price with a buy-back clause. This way, if the player shows promise, then take him back else he stays where he is. The players get plenty of time, the other club gets a hugely talented player at a discount and the parent club gets cash. Everyone is happy!
But this acts like a double edged sword. The player does not get to play with the greats; he goes to a club where survival rather than winning is the mentality and the players are not talented enough to make use of his talent. So he might not develop in the way he could have.
Compare this with La Masia. And it does not fare better in recent times. In fact none of the ‘big’ clubs of EPL in recent years have produced talented youngsters. That is left to mid-table strugglers.
Why 6+5 should be implemented without loopholes?
However, this is not a fault of the manager, club or anyone in general. It is fault of the entire football world. So before we condemn Real Madrid for their buying tendencies and think of these factors , football clubs sadly are no longer an expression of the public at large. They are a brand which needs to be sold.
One word can adequately describe the entire situation – greed.
And greed cannot be self controlled or regulated. It has to be forced out. And that’s why we must pray for Mr. Platini to succeed with his plan of implementing the 6 + 5 rule.
Otherwise very soon the last of these 2 academies – La Fabrica and La Masia – will be reduced to nothing more than window dressing.