Real Madrid's decision to send Vinicius Junior to Castilla a puzzling one for his development
Florentino Perez was told about a promising young player from Brazil who would be worth €60 million one day. He was told that this player had rare talent and the kind of skill that would see his value skyrocket at some point in the future. "We've got an amazing player here who costs €12 million right now and in four years' time he'll cost €60m,' Jorge Valdano, the sporting director at the time, recalls telling Perez. At the time, Real Madrid's policy was to buy the best when they were the best. "Don't worry, Jorge, we'll sign him when he's worth €60 million," came Perez' response.
He stayed true to his word too as they ultimately signed Kaka for €67m in 2009 when his talent was fully realised.
They have diversified in recent years, however, with transfer market spending growing out of control. The Real Madrid president can't see his side winning in the spending stakes and Perez doesn't play unless he is going to win. So, instead, they are have turned to buying young players and developing them. The only problem is that Real Madrid, while they have an advantage with their pull on young talent, haven't yet figured out how to turn that potential into world-class ability.
Real Madrid might feel a little bit sore after the signing of Martin Odegaard, for example. He was dined at the Santiago Bernabeu while clubs like Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Roma, Liverpool and Ajax also pushed for his signature. At 16, he was the world's next shining star. He has only played two games for Real Madrid, however, and was recently sent to the Netherlands on loan: his second loan move in as many years.
To be fair, he turns 20 in December and while he still has plenty of time to get this right and become a world-class footballer. When you consider Kylian Mbappe, who is being considered as a Ballon d'Or candidate at 19, and was a youth team player at a struggling Monaco side at the time of Odegaard's multi-million euro move to Spain.
Real Madrid have a similar situation with Vinicius Junior, who they recently signed from Flamengo for a reported €45m. They club have decided he will play with Real Madrid's reserves this year when he is not in the first team and that might be the first indicator that they aren't sure what to do with him.
The worst decision they can make is not to make one. The logic behind their choice to keep him close and to help him out as best they can is sound. But in practice, it could stunt his development beyond repair. He will likely train with the senior team, play the bulk of his games with Castilla and feel part of neither team. When he does play with Julen Lopetegui's side, the fluctuation between the two levels will likely be too much to take. And this isn't protecting the player, it's opening him up to cricticism.
The best option might have been to send him to a club on loan in Madrid, where there were options. They could have sent him to Alcorcon or Rayo Majadahonda in the Segunda or Getafe, Leganes or Rayo Vallecano in the Primera. There were reportedly eight teams who enquirered about the young attacker. Take a look, for example, at Atletico Madrid, who sent Diego Costa and Saul Niguez to Rayo Vallecano to develop at different points in their careers. Both are now considered amongst the best in the world at their positions.
Hundreds of things can go wrong during the development of a player and to criticise Real Madrid of their inability to bring young players through would be to miss a point. But with €45m already spent, they have to avoid the pitfalls of youth development and they need to buck a growing trend.
There was Sergio Canales, who was signed as a 19-year-old and couldn't cut it. Royston Drenthe was signed too from Feyenoord in 2007 and failed spectacularly. Lucas Silva is another player who failed to live up to his billing and was loaned out of the club after six months and has played with Marseille in France and returned to Cruzeiro in his native Brazil in recent years on loan. These are different players with different mentalities but Real Madrid know how big a club they are and need to find a way to help young players assimilate.
Young players will rarely turn down the chance to sign with one of the biggest clubs in the world but their potion might also be their poison as the size of such a demanding club, the reason players wants to join, becomes problematic.
It is a trial and error situation and you will never win 100 percent of the bets you make. Vinicius Junior will spend time under Santiago Solari at Castilla, who says "the goal is for them to make the first team and if not, then the second team."
"These are young promises, and some of them are realities," he continued. The reality for a lot of these young players that sign for Real Madrid is a lot bleaker than both player and club might have envisioned.