Real Madrid's poor player decisions raise Castilla questions
Real Madrid's signing of Lucas Silva in January 2015 was heralded as something of a coup. The defensive midfielder had recently been named the best in his position in the Brazilian top flight as Cruzeiro claimed the 2014 Brasileiro title and the 21-year-old apparently had the world at his feet.
Silva was drafted into the side quickly enough, playing 16 minutes against Deportivo before being handed a full 90 in the Champions League last-16 first leg against Schalke, a 2-0 away victory. The return fixture, for which Silva was absent, made the Brazilian look good in absentis as Real were beaten 4-3 at the Bernabeu with Sami Khedira labouring in midfield. Unfortunately for Silva, he did look better off the pitch than on it. His appearances gradually dried up as former manager Carlo Ancelotti realized just what he had been lumbered with. Silva played 54 minutes of Real's final 11 La Liga matches and never graced the Champions League again under the Italian.
A loan spell was inevitable and Marseille boss Michel fancied he could mould Silva into precious metal at the Velodrome. But all that glitters is not gold. The Brazilian's career has nosedived at Marseille to the extent that he has been omitted from the Europa League squad and was reportedly ordered off the team bus for the Ligue 1 trip to Montpellier last week after he refused to accept a move to Anderlecht in January.
It is the ultimate ignominy for a footballer: the loan move halfway through a loan move. But if Anderlecht are good enough for Old Trafford legend Alex Buttner, he of the "14 man of the match performances" fame, it should be considered good enough for Silva.
Brazilian football fans have even changed their tune. It wasn't too long ago that they were comparing Silva's pass completion rate favourably against the rest of the Real squad. Yet more recently, it was noted that Silva was booed from the pitch in a Ligue 1 match, deadpanning: "He has been disappointing at club level this season."
Even Real Madrid's social media account would be hard pushed to put a positive spin on the situation. As Michel stated this week: "There's still time to go to Brazil. There are negotiations going on."
But Silva's predicament is merely another feather in the cap of Real's transfer policy, the same one that led to Silva being drafted in when Casemiro was at Porto on loan: Two Brazilian defensive midfielders, one with experience in Europe at Real Madrid Castilla (Casemiro), and one without. If there was no early release clause in Casemiro's loan contract at the Dragao, it really makes Real's negotiations appear amateurish at best. It cost the Bernabeu €7.5 million to help Porto out for the season in the first place. Added to the €13m it cost to bring Silva to Madrid, you have roughly double the annual budget of Levante. Or four times that of Eibar. Which begs the broader question: what exactly is the point of Real Madrid Castilla?
Casemiro was scouted, snapped up on loan In January 2013 from Sao Paulo and drafted straight into the Castilla team under Alberto Toril. He immediately caught the eye of then-first team boss Jose Mourinho, who handed him a full debut in April. Casemiro was signed permanently two months later, for less than Real paid to ship him out to Porto that summer. It was madness, and there was little method in it.
Castilla's current squad features a few gems. Among the most interesting trajectories to watch will be that of Marcos Llorente. The 21-year-old is Real royalty and has far more claim to be Madrid through-and-through than most of the board. Legendary Real winger Paco Gento (428 league appearances) is his uncle, and his father, also called Paco, represented the club more than 100 times in La Liga. Llorente's grandfather, the late Ramon Grosso, won the 1966 European Cup with Real as well as seven la Liga titles. If Llorente cannot break into the first team, there is little hope for anybody else. And his lineage aside, he's a cracking midfielder.
Mourinho complained -- fairly for once -- that he had brought through a number of Castilla youngsters during his time at the Bernabeu; it was the Portuguese who handed a debut to Alvaro Morata a few months after taking over. That Morata is now at Juventus is not a stick to beat Mourinho with, but looking at Castilla's current squad, how many can reasonably expect to break through into the first team? Martin Odegaard probably has a clause in his contract to that effect -- Football Leaks take note, we'd all love to see that one -- while Mariano Diaz has been promoted to the first team for next season.
Castilla have Lucas Torro in defensive midfield. Aged 21, Torro is a tireless worker and comfortable with the ball at his feet going forward. Zinedine Zidane's son, Enzo, will probably have to wait for his turn in the first team for obvious reasons, but regular watchers of Castilla will be aware of the similarities. Enzo doesn't just look like his old man, he moves like him as well.
Of course there is no question of promoting underperforming players to a senior squad. The decline of Barcelona B has been nothing short of incredible, to the extent that manager Luis Enrique said on Tuesday that La Masia players were practically discarded as first team options at the moment: "To come up from the youth team to the first team a player has to stand out individually. If the team is at the wrong end of the table it's very difficult that a player is going to get that opportunity. Barca B are in Segunda B and the level of the first team is very high," Luis Enrique said ahead of his side's Copa match against Valencia.
Zidane did not rise to the first team himself because of his name. He took over a Castilla in freefall and this season guided them to the playoff places in Segunda B Group II, where the side remains second under Luis Miguel Ramis. The players have to be credited with a huge part of that success and the chance for a crack at the first team is justifiable reward. But under the current club structure it seems almost impossible to make that step up.
In the meantime, Real will continue to trawl the globe for squad players as they did with Lucas Silva. And it really worked out well for the new Pirlo."
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.