Florentino Perez's big gamble on youth replacing galacticos
Real Madrid have been a shadow of their former themselves this season. The Champions League holders currently sit fourth in La Liga, 10 points behind Barcelona with just 19 games played. The world's biggest club cannot even mount a title challenge in their domestic league, never mind win it. Sevilla and Atletico Madrid both stand between them and the league leaders.
Yes, they were in a similar position at this point last season, worse in fact. This time, however, they don't have Cristiano Ronaldo to bail them out after letting him go to Juventus without signing a suitable replacement. Instead, the club is focussing on a youth movement while beginning renovations on the ageing Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
While La Fabrica has always been a source for talent, relying on their academy is something the club hasn't done in decades. Club president Florentino Perez is embarking on a journey into unfamiliar territory. As Barcelona sign more and more foreign talent, Real Madrid adopt an academy system. If it once worked for the Blaugrana, there's every possibility it can for the Merengues but it's a tremendous risk.
For the plan to succeed, Perez must first decide new manager Santiago Solari's future. Despite his new two-year contract, it doesn’t look like the Argentine will survive beyond this summer. Unlike Ronaldo's departure, Perez must have a replacement in line before acting. If he intends to stick with his former Real Madrid Castilla B coach while jettisoning more veterans, he must be sure a solid plan is in place that will keep the club in the Champions League if not in line for the Liga title. Solari hasn't shown he can produce consistent results while rebuilding the squad.
One could argue Barcelona's problem was they ran out of coaches familiar with La Masia's system. Pep Guardiola left. Tito Vilanova tragically passed. After a season under Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique returned but moved away from the tiki-taka system. Now the more defensive-minded Ernesto Valverde is in charge. The constant change affected the squad which boasts fewer academy products than at any time in the past decade.
If Madrid intend to commit to a youth project, they need a coach who will remain in place for three or four seasons at the minimum.
It is also important the club spend carefully on young, unproven talent as the risk is greater. There are affordable players across the world who can develop in Madrid's system. They needn't shop at expensive academies like Lyon and Manchester City's for unfinished products. The club has the resources to spend on scouting even if they purchase a top-class player or two to tide them over through the lean years.
Signing a solid veteran or two doesn't contradict the youth plan. Balance is important. Any abrupt change is a shock to the system. Having players who can handle the stress and provide guidance only makes sense.
Real Madrid is choosing to tread a difficult path but one that leads to sustainable success. The question is are they prepared to stay on the road despite the heavy toll it will exact in the short term?