Often accused of dominating the world of football due to their financial muscle, Real Madrid have earned a reputation of being ‘footballing-merchants’ due to the flamboyant manner in which they have conducted their transactions in the transfer market. The Galacticos era was marked with sensational transfers, an era that has come to define Real Madrid as a football club that ‘buys’ talent instead of nurturing it.
But a close look at Real Madrid’s youth academy, La Fabrica, reveals that though the club has used its financial clout to assemble a world-class team, it is often not given due credit for the players it has churned out over the recent years. Contrary to popular beliefs, Raul Gonzalez and Iker Casillas were not the only Real Madrid Castilla graduates who have left their mark on the international stage.
Voted as the FIFA Club of the Century, Real Madrid dominated European football during the 1950s under the guidance of Santiago Bernabeu. Embarking upon a strategy to invest heavily on foreign talents to build a strong side, Real Madrid dominated Spanish and European football during the 1950s. Managed by Santiago Bernabeu, Alfredo Di Stefano led Real Madrid won the European Championship (now the UEFA Champions League) five times in a row (1956-1960) in an era that has come to define Real Madrid as a football club. But while Real Madrid turned to foreign shores for reinforcement, Miguel Malbo, under the guidance of Santiago Bernabeu, laid the foundations for the youth academy which came to be known as La Fabrica or The Factory. Established and developed under the keen eye of Miguel Malbo, who served as its Director for more than fifty years, La Fabrica has been very crucial in Real Madrid’s progress as a football club. Several great players have climbed the ropes at La Fabrica and went on to make their presence felt on the international stage. While Real Madrid continued to make use of its heavy pockets, it is La Fabrica who has produced generations of players who have inspired fans all over the world.
So let’s take a look at Real Madrid’s youth academy, La Fabrica, and the generations of footballers it has produced over the years for Real Madrid.
Taking the reins in 1959, former Real Madrid captain Miguel Munoz put together an all-Spanish side that came to define another glorious era for the Spanish club. He went on to become Real Madrid’s most successful manager as he led his team to unparalled domestic dominance winning the La Liga for five consecutive years between 1961 and 1965.
Captained by Francisco Gento who joined Real Madrid at the age of 20, this group of young players grabbed the spotlight due to their combative style of play and their flamboyant style of fashion. With Alfredo Di Stefano still in the squad till 1964, Real Madrid concentrated on grooming young Spanish players instead of relying on foreign imports to win them trophies. So while players like Fernando Serena, Ramon Grasso, Manuel Velazquez graduated from the youth academy to help the senior side, Real Madrid purchased Spanish players like Piri, Pachin and Pedro de Felipe at a young age and developed them into world-class players.
This group of youngsters are remembered as the ‘Ye-Ye’ side after four of them posed for Spanish newspaper Marca wearing the Beatles wig. Derived from the “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” chorus in Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’, the ‘Ye-Ye’ side went on to win the La Liga nine times, establishing its complete dominance in Spain. They also went on to win the European Cup in 1966 overcoming Partizan Belgrade two goals to one. Unlike the previous generation, the Real Madrid of the 1960s were not characterized by foreign players as Real Madrid became the first all-Spanish side to win the European cup in 1966. Though it is true that they did buy players from other clubs, Miguel Munoz’s focus was always on developing young talent rather than depending on established ones.
The Batch of 1980-La Quinta del Buitre (“Vulture’s Cohort”)
Coined by Spanish sports journalist Julio Iglesias, the term was used to describe five La Fabrica graduates who comprised the core of the Real Madrid squad during the 1980s. Having lost its influence in Spain during the early 1980s, it was La Quinta del Buitre who brought Real Madrid to the fore again with their dazzling and inspirational performances.
During the early 1980s, Real Madrid had lost its prominence in the world of football. The fans were so disillusioned with the club that the attendance for the first team matches was poorer than that of the reserves. Having last won the La Liga in 1980, Real Madrid was in much need of reinforcement and unlike the previous years, it did not come from outside but in the form of five young La Fabrica graduates.
The group was led by Emilio Butragueno, nicknamed El Buitre (The Vulture), who made his first appearance for the club under Alfredo Di Stefano on the 5th of February 1984. He was assisted by Martin Vazquez, Michel, Manuel Sanchis and Miguel Pardeza who rejuvenated the side with young blood and adventurous football.
Sanchis and Vazquez were the first to make it to the first team. Under the keen eye of Alfredo Di Stefano, who understood the need to inject new blood into the team, the two made their debut in December 1983 and quickly established themselves in the first team. A couple of months later, Emilio Butragueno made his debut for Real Madrid. Scoring twice on his debut, he won the fans over with his brilliant performance and went on to establish himself as one of Real Madrid’s all time great strikers. He was later joined in the first team by Miguel Pardeza towards the close of the same season. With Michel making his debut last amongst the five, Real Madrid went on to reclaim its former glory towards the second half of that decade. Assisted by the La Quinta del Buitre, Real Madrid went on to win five successive La Liga titles from 1985 to 1990, two UEFA Cups and a Copa del Rey. The only trophy that eluded this generation was the one Madristas considered their own- The UEFA Champions League. Manuel Sanchis was the only one amongst the illustrious five to lift the Champions League. While the other four went on to play for other clubs, Sanchis stayed on till 2001, lifting the Champions League twice in 1998 and 2000.
With the passing years, ‘Quinta Del Buitre’ came to be associated with the style of football practiced by the Real Madrid during the 1980s. In stark contrast to the silken style of football practiced by the ‘foreign imports’ that led Real Madrid during the 1950s and later during the Galacticos era, ‘La Quinta Del Buitre’ followed an aggressive attitude towards the game. The played at a high tempo and were extremely physical in their approach to the game. Santiago Bernabue greatly appreciated this approach as fans increasingly found their way back to the stadium, supporting their team with a new-found passion and aggression. With Sanchis’ retirement in 2001, the curtains were finally drawn on one of Real Madrid’s most crucial and illustrious era.
The Galacticos Era
Following the end of the ‘Quinta del Buitre’ era and the arrival of Florentino Perez as the President of Real Madrid in 2000, Real Madrid embarked upon one of its most defining though not the most successful era in the world of football. Flamboyant transfers, unnecessary signings and an extravagant transfer policy brought superstars from all over the world to Madrid. But even though Madrid banked upon its ability to buy superstars to help win them trophies, La Fabrica continued to churn out quality youngsters at a steady pace.
One of the stars of the Galacticos era, the Captain of the pack, was surprisingly not the result of a profligate transfer but the product of La Fabrica-Raul Gonzalez. Joining Real Madrid’s youth academy at the age of 15, Raul went on to become one of the most endeared personalities at Santiago Bernabeu. Held as a role model for all youngsters in Madrid and Spain, Raul earned 550 caps for the Spanish club and has etched his name in the club’s glorious history. Iker Casillas was another player to come out from the academy who went on to captain the Spanish side. Making his debut in 1998 at the age of 17, Casillas became the first choice goalkeeper the very next season. Following Raul’s departure, it was Casillas to took up the responsibility of captaining a star-studded squad. Along with Raul, Casillas is considered as one of the greats of Real Madrid and is looked up as a role model for being a product of La Fabrica.
Guti too made the transition from La Fabrica to the first team squad and was a part of the Galacticos era. Making his debut in 1995, Guti stayed at Real Madrid till 2010 earning a total of 387 caps for the Spanish side.
Favouring to play foreign talent instead of home-grown ones, there were a lot of La Fabrica graduates who never got a chance to play for first team due to stiff competition in the team. Samuel Eto’o and Roberto Soldado are two such strikers. Though the two players proved their merit at Real Madrid’s youth academy, they never got the opportunity to earn a first team position due to the presence of Raul and Ronaldo and the subsequent arrival of Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Hence both the strikers were briefly loaned out and were eventually sold. While Soldado went on to earn his stripes in Spain and now in England, Eto’o returned to haunt Real Madrid. Joining Barcelona in 2004, he was crucial in their domestic success and went on to win 3 La Liga titles and 2 Champions League medals while Real Madrid suffered from a dry patch.
Joining La Fabrica at the age of 15, Juan Mata earned a good reputation for himself as he came up the ranks in Madrid. Due to a release clause in his contract, he went on to sign for Valencia in March 2007 and established himself as one of the most promising youngsters. He then went on to play for Valencia for four years, leaving in 2011 to join Chelsea for a five-year contract. Alvaro Negredo was another La Fabrica protégé who was later sold to Almeria as Real Madrid were not in the need of another striker. Moving his way to Sevilla from Almeria, Negredo now plays for Manchester City and is considered as one of the most lethal strikers in the Premier League.
The Recent Graduates
Jose Callejon made his way into the Real Madrid youth team at the age of 19. A product of the academy, he played for the reserves team before moving to Espanyol for three seasons. Earning a reputation for himself afer his performance for the Catalan club, he moved back to Real Madrid in 2011 after signing a five year contract. A favourite with Mourinho, Callejon was used extensively by the manager to fill the various different gaps in the squad. Used mostly as a subsitute, Callejon was deployed on various different attacking positions and played on almost every position in the midfield to help his team. But following the arrival of Gareth Bale, Illarramendi, Isco, Casemiro and Jese, Callejon signed a four year contract with Napoli in July 2013.
Not counting Casillas, there are currently 6 La Fabrica graduates in the current squad as Real Madrid look to bolster their squad with young Spanish talent.
Though not quite a young man at the age of 31, Alvaro Arbeloa was a member of the youth system in Real Madrid after joining the club at the age of 18 and is currently one of the most important defenders in the club. Making 84 appearances for the youth side, Arbeloa broke into the first team in 2004 though his stint for the first team was short lived. He left for Deportivo La Coruna in 2006 and then subsequently loved to Liverpool to ply his trade. It was in 2009 when Real Madrid recalled their youth product and signed him on a five year contract. A complete manager’s player, Arbeloa earned a reputation for himself for being able to play in different situations depending upon the team’s requirements.
Diego Lopez is another such La Fabrica graduate who found his way back to Real Madrid after spending time with other clubs. Serving as the second-choice goalkeeper behind Iker Casillas in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, Lopez moved to Villarreal for a sum of six million euros. Though he started as a second choice keeper, he earned his name on the first team after a string of brilliant performances. A quiet personality, Diego Lopez helped Villarreal finish fifth in the 2008-2009 season. In May 2012 he signed a five year contract with Sevilla but made only 8 appearances for the side after Real Madrid decided to bring back their youth product as a replacement for their injured captain, Iker Casillas. After performing spectacularly in the opening months of 2013, Diego Lopez established himself as the first-choice goal-keeper and was favoured ahead of Jose Mourinho despite Casillas’ return. Following a change of regime, Carlo Ancelotti too decided to put his money on Lopez, favouring him ahead of club captain Iker Casillas in the ongoing 2013-2014 season.
The current squad also boasts of another four young La Fabrica products who are challenging their seniors for a starting position. Alvaro Morata made his senior team debut in December 2010 and has since then found himself coming on as a replacement for Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. A crowd favourite at the Bernabeu, Morata is being looked at as the next Raul Gonzalez and is definitely someone to watch out for in the coming years. Daniel Carvajal is another such player who is challenging Alvaro Arbeloa’s presence on the right flank. Returning from a year long stint at Bayer Leverkusen, Carvajal has established himself as a strong contender for the starting spot after his brilliant performances this season. A genuine threat while moving forward, Carvajal provides Carlo Ancelotti with several attacking options and is sure to earn a permanent place in the team in the coming years.
Nacho joined the youth academy at the young age of 11 and has since then progressed through the ranks, making his debut for the senior team in 2011. A strong defender, he has been used to plug the various loopholes in the squad and has been deployed on almost all the defensive positions in the team. Though he made his debut in 2011, he continued to move in and out of the first team in the successive seasons. He finally earned a permanent position in the squad in 2013 under Carlo Ancelotti and has since then been used effectively at the back. A capable defender, Nacho has been praised for his calm and controlled behaviour and is often looked at as the replacement for Sergio Ramos and Pepe along with his team-mate Varane in the coming future.
And the last La Fabrica graduate to have earned his place in the first team in Jese. One of the best players for the Reserves side, Jese had been waiting to break into the first team for a couple of years. After threatening to leave in 2013 if not given the chance to prove his merit, he finally made his way into the senior side under the guidance of Ancelotti. He has since then come on as a substitute on various occasions. A gifted player, Jese can play on several different positions and has been used as an effective substitute by Ancelotti this season. It now remains to be seen how these young players conduct themselves and if they can develop to become Real Madrid’s star performers.