Dani Carvajal recently declared the Real Madrid youth academy to be "the best in the world". The 22-year-old joined Madrid at the tender age of ten, so is well placed to comment, and the recent call-up to the Spanish World Cup squad believes the footballing education he received in La Fábrica can't be surpassed in world football.
Carvajal opens an intriguing debate. Football purists will point to the footballing ideologies taught in La Masia at Barcelona, or the Lezama at Athletic Bilbao, and it is difficult to construct a representation of what it means to be a youngster at Real Madrid. Nonetheless, La Fábrica's alumni stands up against the very best in world football.
Europe's top leagues are currently littered with La Fábrica alumni. Manchester City's title winning side contained midfielder Javi García, who spent his whole youth career in Madrid. Álvaro Negredo was part of the Real Madrid Castilla, but as he only joined Madrid at the age of nineteen, he can't be considered an academy graduate. Juan Mata, Samuel Eto'o, Roberto Soldado and Esteban Granero, all whom featured in the Premier League over the past two seasons, spent their youth at the Real Madrid academy.
In Italy, Esteban Cambiasso, Borja Valero and José Callejón spent their formative years in La Fábrica, whilst Rodrigo's goals helped Benfica scoop their 33rd Portuguese title.
Going further back, the likes of Vincente Del Bosque, Manolo Sanchís, Emilio Buragueño and Raúl became Real Madrid legends after passing through La Fábrica.
However a recurrent theme appears when examining Madrid's academies credentials as the best in the world. Despite producing countless world-class footballers, the reality is the majority of them only shine after they have left Real Madrid for pastures new. Iker Casillas, Guti and Raúl were special exceptions, but on the whole, the likes of Mata, Eto'o and Santiago Cañizares only became exceptional footballers after moving to play regular first-team football.
The framework of Florentino Pérez's Galacticos was the Zidanes y Pavones ideology, designed to accompany every blockbuster signing with an academy graduate. In theory the idea would ensure the progression of talented youngsters into the first-team, however the likes of Francisco Pávon and Álvaro Mejía were simply not good enough to deliver the success Pérez craved.
More recently, Sergio Canales and Dani Parejo have been denied the chance to shine at critical points in their respective careers. Both are reestablishing themselves with Valencia, but for Canales in particular it is a case of what could have been had he decided against a move to Madrid from Racing Santander. In short, Madrid is a very difficult environment for youngsters to thrive in.
In spite of this, under Carlo Ancelotti, there has never been a better time to progress from La Fábrica into the first-team. Jesé and Álvaro Morata have both contributed at crucial times this season, with eighteen and twenty-two appearances respectively.
If Jesé had been allowed to continue his form, before a knee injury cut his season short, Vincente Del Bosque would have had an interesting decision to make, regarding giving him a chance at international level. Diego Llorente and Nacho have both appeared in the first-team this season under Ancelotti, whilst José Rodríguez, a highly regarded attacking midfielder, was called up to the Champions League squad against Dortmund.
Whether these Castilla graduates can make the permanent leap to the Ream Madrid first-team squad is debatable. Álvaro Morata could well be on the move in the summer, no longer willing to sit on the bench and wait for his sparse opportunities to arise. Likewise, now that Gareth Bale is fully fit, and with Di Maria waiting in the wings if Isco is given a regular first-team birth next season, it is difficult to fathom Jesé gaining a regular spot in the side.
La Fábrica is unquestionably a fantastic place for young footballers to carve out a career at the top-level, but it is not the best academy in the world.
Too often gifted footballers stagnate amongst the superstar cast at the Bernabeu. It is the nature and culture at Real that winning is expected, and under those conditions it is difficult for academy members to prosper.
In contrast, at Barcelona, young footballers are groomed with the expectation that they will play in the Barcelona first team. Everything is replicated to represent the structure of the first-team, hence when La Masia graduates step-up to the first-team they look natural and comfortable.
Indisputably a fine assembly of young talent, but La Fábrica represents a better production line for other teams around the world, rather than the next generation of Real Madrid superstars.
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