FEATURE | The man behind Real Madrid’s successful transfer strategy

Real Madrid’s transfer strategy in recent years has paid off. The La Liga club, for many reasons, including financial, decided to strengthen their scouting across the world.

The aim was to find emerging stars to be developed with the help of the veteran players in the squad. To carry out this work, the club had the most suitable man: Juni Calafat.

Born in Spain but raised in São Paulo, he arrived at Valdebebas in 2014 to be head of recruitment in South America. Today, at 50, he holds the position of Chief Scout and Director of International Football at Madrid.

People close to him describe him as a “football madman”. To widen his network and make sure that no future talent escapes him, he has a team of international scouts who help him make reports and keep him up to date on the situation of every player who might be of interest. He also has an endless archive of videos that he uses for initial scouting.

Targeting South America

Calafat’s main area of influence is South America, where he discovered gems like Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo and Fede Valverde. He had also monitored centre-back Éder Militão. Closer to home, he brought in Martin Ødegaard and Eduardo Camavinga. And he is not only involved in the recruitment of promising players, but he played a role in signing Germany international Antonio Rüdiger.

His links with Brazil mean that he controls that particular market very well, but his attention has since turned to a global reach. Calafat was instrumental in getting the Aurélien Tchouaméni deal over the line, travelling to Monaco to ensure the process was smooth and help strengthen Madrid’s position in the negotiations.

He hasn’t gotten everything right, though. Brazilian player Lucas Silva and Sergio Díaz of Paraguay never reached the level they had initially promised. He also recommended Reinier, who is currently on loan at Spanish side Girona. The attacking midfielder from Brazil hasn’t performed as expected in Europe but is still quite young. That is all part of the risk taken scouting the next big thing.

Some of these Calafat signings are not only performing on the pitch. Financially, they are paying off too. Some arrived with expensive price tags, though their value has increased due to the onfield success.

Vinícius arrived from Flamengo and Rodrygo was bought from Santos; both players cost €45m each. There was criticism from some in Madrid for the signings, considering the price involved and their age at the time. Vinícius, who arrived in 2018, is now worth an estimated €120m, almost triple the fee, according to Transfermarkt. Rodrygo, who joined in 2019, has seen his worth shoot to €80m with fine displays for Los Blancos.

Valverde joins Madrid

An example of Calafat’s work is the signing of Fede Valverde, who was brought in from Uruguayan giants Peñarol. Madrid paid €5m for him in 2016, when he was worth €450,000. Seven years later, he is a key player in midfield and is worth €100m.

Former Peñarol vice president Rodolfo Catino is someone who knows Valverde more than most because he was with him in the early stages of his career. He remembers the interest that was generated in the midfielder in Uruguay.

Catino believes that Madrid took a chance on a young Valverde without breaking the bank.

“Madrid put their faith in Fede because Juni Calafat had seen something special. They paid the €5m, plus there were other variables,” he said.

“It has been shown that they were right in their decision.”

Militão, who cost €50m, is now worth €70m. Madrid paid €31m to Ligue 1 club Rennes for Camavinga and the Frenchman is now worth €60m. Ødegaard, who Madrid sold last season to Arsenal for €35m, cost just €2.8m in 2015.

South America is still home to many of the players Calafat and Madrid want to target in the future. One for the near future is Endrick (16), who has already agreed to sign for Madrid from Brazilian outfit Palmeiras. 

Calafat’s role at the club can’t be understated, being one of Florentino Pérez’s and José Ángel Sánchez’s most important men. The talent spotter has been a key figure in Madrid’s success of late, helping recruit talented players who were a pivotal part of last season’s La Liga and Champions League double. He has been the architect behind the club’s dominance in the transfer market.

Kieran Quaile

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