Examining the two eternal rivals, initially at least, the contrast is quite stark: Home grown players in the FC Barcelona squad - 11 (out of 22). Home grown players in Real Madrid's first team - 5 (from 26). However, when you go deeper into the numbers, it becomes far more evident. Iker Casillas is extraordinary, having featured at least 40 times in all competitions for the Bernabeu side every season since he was 18 years old. As a result, he skews the overall stats a bit; but when you take Casillas out of the equation, Real Madrid's home grown first teamers have played an average of 28 league games for the club, compared to 150 games for Barcelona's products.
La Masía is clearly one of the world's top talent factories and, with Barcelona's domination, is rightfully beginning to get the world-wide recognition its incredible production record deserves; and due to its obvious success, Real Madrid's 'Fabrica' (factory) is often dismissed as an afterthought. After all, in the past decade, Casillas is really the sole long term first team starter that it has given the club, despite millions of Euros worth of investment. During this period, Madrid have been forced to look on as FC Barcelona's emphasis on youth brought them a plethora of superstars - Xavi, Iniesta and Messi to name but a few.
However, while it may not be immediately obvious, in terms of the quality Real's cantera has produced, La Fabrica is well up there with Europe's best. In contrast to Barca's famous farmhouse, though, much more often than not, Real's graduates have been let go once they reach the cusp of the senior squad and go on to find fame elsewhere.
Samuel Eto'o; Borja Valero; Juan Mata; Esteban Cambiasso; Alvaro Negredo; Roberto Soldado. The eye-opening list goes on and on. These are world class players, most of whom would contribute extensively to the modern Merengues under Jose Mourinho's stewardship. Letting go one or two top class players might be unlucky, but with so many it is clear there have been fundamental problems with Real's production line.
If one was to trace such flaws, it would probably be impossible not to keep coming back to one name - Florentino Pérez. Pérez is currently in his second reign as club president, but it was in his first that the damage to the youth setup was probably done, with the 'galacticos' policy, or as it came to be referred to initially in Spain, 'Zidanes y Pavones'.
Pérez won his first presidency on a flurry of promises. Former president Lorenzo Sanz may have brought the first 2 European Cups the Bernabeu had seen in 30 years; but he also brought with him debt and financial trouble. Pérez defeated him at the polls by a single vote; and no sooner had the dust settled on the controversial procedure than Pérez stumped up the €60m buyout clause of Luis Figo from hated rivals FC Barcelona. The fans were won over already, and it soon transpired that Pérez had a plan.
Francisco Pavón was a very promising young centre back from Madrid's cantera. So promising in fact, that his first contract as part of the senior set up was a 7 year deal; such was the faith placed in him. Pérez' plan was simple - sign one world-class superstar per season and mix them with a squad of canterenos. The galacticos would have fans clamouring over each other for season tickets and shirts; so they had to be big name attackers such as Zinedine Zidane. Defenders? Any unknown Pavon would suffice. On paper, it might have seemed a profitable and efficient system; and the success could be felt quickly in the trophy cabinet - two leagues, an Intercontinental Cup, and another European Cup triumph. That should keep those pesky Catalans down right? After all, during the 3 most successful seasons of Pérez' policy, Barca had managed just 2 fourth placed finishes and an embarrassing sixth in 2003.
However, the cracks below the surface of the Madrid squad became more and more glaringly obvious as time went on; and it's a wonder that Pérez or no one at the top anticipated what would prove the downfall of the whole project and a 6 year spell in which the club didn't surpass the second round of the Champions League.
Barcelona were busy planning a new era, scouting talents the world over and, most importantly of all, allowing them to learn in a manner that bought into one philosophy. Madrid, in contrast, had a squad split between Cantera graduates and galacticos who earned ten times what their teammates did, yet all were expected to exert themselves towards a common goal. A 'més que un club' type team spirit was always going to prove impossible to construct and schisms in the dressing room were also inevitable.
Political divisions between coach Vicente Del Bosque and Pérez were also partly to blame, with Pérez infamously going over Del Bosque's head to sell key defensive midfielder Claude Makélélé. The president remarked "Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélelé to be forgotten". This may have seemed the perfect opportunity to bring in new blood from the Castilla second team, but instead, more unnecessary galacticos-like David Beckham, Robinho and Michael Owen were brought and this Madrid never overcame the loss of the French workhorse.
After a three year trophy drought, Pérez resigned in 2006, but the damage had been done. Players who had joined the club as children had seen the culture Pérez had implemented and generally left the club at the earliest opportunity. There is no better evidence for Los Blancos' shortcomings than the Castilla (Real Madrid B) team of 2006. That side probably would have held its own in La Liga, featuring the likes of Ruben de la Red, Juan Mata, both Callejon brothers, Javi Garcia, Esteban Granero and Alvaro Negredo. Yet of these players, strikingly, a grand total of none stayed at the club; with Jose Callejon and Esteban Granero returning after spells at Espanyol and Getafe, respectively.
Pérez has since returned to the presidential seat, and more galacticos have followed with very few Castilla players stepping up, and none (apart from backup keeper Adan) holding down a place in the first team. Jose Mourinho has always placed an onus on youth and academy investment, but whether Real Madrid will learn from their mistakes this time around and give promising starlets like Alvaro Morata, Joselu and Nacho the chance to make the jump up from the B team remains to be seen. The early signs have been promising, with many youngsters being handed their first team debuts by the Portuguese coach; however Los Merengues have a long way to go to emulate the blueprint their blaugrana rivals have laid down - one that every major side in Europe would do very well to emulate.
With new recruits like Fontás and Thiago joining a perfectly balanced side, La Masía has proved as fruitful as ever for Pep Guardiola's team, and it is hoped the new home for the youth sides at the Gamper complex will maintain the remarkable production record. Both clubs may be among the richest and most talented in the world, but all you have to do is look at Negredo's brace for Sevilla this weekend or Roberto Soldado's fantastic hat trick for Valencia to see that Barcelona have reaped the dividends of something that Madrid; through their multitude of managers, revolving door of an academy, and galactico spending, have found it impossible to display in recent years. Patience.
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