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Inside Real Madrid's academy
The scores were locked at 2-2 when Marco Asensio hit a 25-yard rocket that dipped and whipped in front of Manuel Neuer’s face before landing in the bottom corner. Ecstasy and an eight-man pile-on ensue as the other player screams expletives at the German goalkeeper and claims his controller is faulty. With less than four hours to go until kick-off, the Cadete B players are supposed to be relaxing before a testing league encounter under the lights. Playing a Fifa tournament isn’t exactly doing the trick.
Competitiveness is encouraged by staff around the Real Madrid complex, says academy coach Javier Morán. “These are boys who are representing Real Madrid. Real Madrid, fucking hell. They need to be a certain kind of individual to succeed here. You can’t coach desire but you can surround the boys with drive and belief. Our club ethos is ‘nunca se rinde’ (‘never give up’) and they need that competitive edge to achieve their targets.”
As players retire to their rooms to rest before the game, which will be broadcast on national television, I look around at the murals of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Zinedine Zidane and Raúl on the corridor walls. Only one of them played his youth football in La Fábrica (the Factory) and the club has not exactly shied away from major signings in recent years. Real Madrid
have broken the world transfer record five times since Florentino Pérez took over as president in 2000 and began the Galácticos era. The boys know they are up against it.
When Spain lifted the World Cup in 2010, Juan Mata, Álvaro Arbeloa and Iker Casillas were the only players to have been moulded in Real Madrid’s academy In contrast, nine of the 23-man squad came through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy. Real Madrid are trying to redress that balance.
“Real Madrid want to be the club known for breeding the players that play for the national team,” says Morán. “When scouting, we know we need the boys to be extremely gifted technically and to be able to adapt to differing tactical and strategic systems. Where we’re different to Barça and others is how we strive to create complete players who can play in any system.”
“You never know what’s going to change at the top with first-team managers coming and going, so we attempt to focus more on individuals than create a certain profile for each player. Adaptation is a huge part of life and we have to make sure these boys can think on their feet and react should everything change in the blink of an eye, as it so often does in football.” The players are well aware how few will make it to the top so they are expected to swallow their pride and innovate to progress; whether that’s here, at the most decorated club in Europe, or elsewhere.
Real Madrid City, “the greatest sports facility ever built by a football club”, was opened in 2005. The complex is 40 times bigger than the Santiago Bernabéu stadium and and contains enough dressing rooms to host every La
Liga club on the same day, with
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multiple gyms, classrooms, conference rooms and
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offices as well as a hydrotherapy pool, medical centre and press area. The pitches are laid with the same grass imported from the Netherlands that is used in the Santiago Bernabéu.
The club provide schooling and transport for youngsters from far and wide as well as housing 40 players. On average they will stay for three years and when the boys, who are often as young as 10, arrive on their first day they are told: “You are are no longer a son of your parents; you are now a Real Madrid player.” It is a ruthless welcome into the unforgiving world of elite football.
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