Elite clubs value the home-grown star
As La Liga and the Bundesliga opened for business this weekend, there were two contrasting figures who enjoyed their starts to the season. In the Spanish capital on Monday night, Iker Casillas ruled the roost between the posts again for Real Madrid, and kept a clean sheet, as they beat Cordoba 2-0. Some 2,000 km to the north, Gianluca Gaudino shone in midfield as Bayern Munich opened their title defence in customary fashion on Friday night, beating Wolfsburg 2-1 in front of a full house.
The pair may appear to have little in common, being at opposite ends of their careers and on divergent trajectories, with Gaudino on the fast track up and Casillas with plenty of work to do to recover his exalted best, which many suggest is behind him. At 33, Casillas is just about old enough to be the 17-year-old Gaudino's dad.
Yet they unify an important philosophy that is worth reminding ourselves of as we head into the last week of the summer transfer window, with all the feverish blur of hastily boarded flights, impromptu medicals and temperamental fax machines that lies ahead. Real and Bayern are probably the two biggest clubs in the world at present, but both understand that the presence of at least a few home-grown players is key to their secure grounding.
Casillas and Gaudino, to different degrees, embody their famous old clubs' senses of self, and help them to maintain their identities as they tiptoe towards the sky, reaching for ever-higher stars.
Bayern's philosophy of stability is a high watermark in European football, with current chief executive officer Karl-Heinz Rummenigge leading the way from the boardroom as he did on the pitch, from the dawn of his professional career in the mid-1970s. This continuity has helped them to ride out various crises, as was apparent when Uli Hoeness was forced to step down as president. The relatively low-profile figure of Karl Hopfner, who succeeded him, was as symbolic of Bayern's philosophy as Hoeness, having worked at the club for over 30 years.
If the football side of the business always seems a little more combustible (it is worth remembering that Louis van Gaal lasted less than two years at the Allianz, despite his considerable achievements there), the feeling of having an on-pitch nucleus has always been important: Philipp Lahm joined the club's academy at 11, and Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived shortly before his 14th birthday. They represent Bayern's durability, winning mentality and their ability to recover from setbacks, as well as their brilliance.
The belief in home values at the Bernabeu is perhaps a little less apparent, especially when one looks at the number of quality products from the club's academy, La Fabrica, who have been forced to fly the nest in order to fully spread their wings; Juan Mata and Javi Garcia immediately spring to mind.
Yet that sense of self has always been considered key in the corridors of the club, even if the blinding light of various galacticos has sometimes obscured the vision. Ten years ago, then-sporting director Emilio Butragueno told me in a meeting room overlooking the Bernabeu's pitch that the blend of local boys and world stars was key to Real Madrid being Real Madrid.
Back then, in 2004, it was known as "Zidanes y Pavones," combining the cream of the global game with the less heralded likes of defender Francisco Pavon (who lent his name to the second part of the epithet.) Due to the drop-off in quality between Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and the more modestly talented youth products of the time, that recipe didn't quite hit the spot, but the idea of preserving and diffusing the club's "traditional values," as Butragueno put it, never went away.
That's exactly why the restoration of Casillas is so important, beyond Carlo Ancelotti's desire to silence wagging tongues after the saga of the club's goalkeeping hierarchy dragged on throughout the last campaign. His is a largely popular return with the Bernabeu's public.
It shouldn't be sugarcoated too much. Casillas staying at the club is as much to do with a lack of takers to match his wages as it is do with a mutual loyalty and a shared philosophy, just as the promotion of youngsters in the "Zidanes y Pavones" era was about finding a way to finance the huge salaries of Figo, David Beckham and company back then.
Despite keeping a clean sheet, San Iker was more the nervy presence of recent years as opposed to the hero of Hampden Park (a reference to his performance in the 2002 Champions League final win over Leverkusen) against Cordoba. He still looks vulnerable on crosses -- as he had done before being dropped by Jose Mourinho in early 2012 -- but he will be given the opportunity to play himself back into form.
Gaudino's implication in first-team matters is a little more dizzying, and even a little reminiscent of Casillas' own initial emergence into the senior side all those years ago. With Schweinsteiger injured, Toni Kroos departed to the Bernabeu and necessity seeing Lahm pushed out to right-back against Wolfsburg, Pep Guardiola needed a leader in the middle of the park, and goodness, did he get one in the shape of Gaudino.
The absence of Kroos was barely felt as Gaudino bossed possession in the middle of the park, giving Guardiola the control he needed in the engine room. Having looked callow in the Super Cup defeat to Dortmund, it looked as if the young midfielder was channelling all the experience around him to lift himself, and the team, that little bit higher.
Both Gaudino, and Casillas will have their highs and lows in the coming months. Yet the feeling of security, of the club having a past, present and future beyond the form of its most high-profile superstars, and a unity with its supporters, is something that enables clubs like Real and Bayern to complete the mundane tasks that allow them to take aim at bigger targets. They know that home is where the heart is.
Andy Brassell is a freelance European football writer and broadcaster for the BBC, The Independent, ESPN, The Blizzard, Four Four Two, Talksport and others.