FEATURE | The Secrets to La Fábrica’s Success – Inside Real Madrid’s Youth Development Process

When you walk around Real Madrid’s world-class sporting facility, Ciudad Deportiva del Real Madrid, you’ll see pictures of Zinedine Zidane scoring his famous Champions League final goal at Hampden Park. A tour of the facility provides an insight into what life is like at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Nunca se rinde (never give up) is the club motto that players are constantly reminded of. The best talent from all across the country flock to Madrid’s facility, which was launched in 2005 and is situated in the north of the Spanish capital.

The club invested €100m in the complex that houses youth team and first-team players. This is where academy players come to learn all about the Real Madrid way and get a crack at making it to the very top of world football. It’s not only about football though. Education is paramount, together with learning about winning on the field. Corridors around the facility boast pictures of club legends like current Real Madrid Castilla boss, Raúl. Many of Spain’s hottest prospects will join the setup at the age of seven and play right through until they’re 18.

Recognisable names including Achraf Hakimi, currently on loan at Borussia Dortmund and Nacho Fernández, currently a vital member of Zinedine Zidane’s squad, have come through the system; a system that is crafted to produce players to wear the famous white shirt. Nacho joined at the age of 11, playing for the Alevin A team. Now aged 30, he has spent 19 years at the club. Other big names to have come through the ranks include Iker Casillas, Álvaro Arbeloa, Juan Mata, and current Valencia captain Dani Parejo.

The pressure to win can become too much for some, not every player will make it. Several players make careers elsewhere. Borja Valero, who currently plies his trade in Serie A with Inter, was a member of Madrid’s youth teams for nine years. Not everyone will make it, but when dreams do come true, after passing dozens of trials with thousands of kids, players can expect a hotel like facility. Multiple gyms, classrooms, conference rooms, games rooms and swimming pools keep players entertained during recovery or rest periods. 

The youngsters are often coached by former Madrid players, who already possess the club’s DNA and can pass on the best advice and guidance. Xabi Alonso, Raúl, and Guti have all coached underage teams. Raúl took charge of the U15 side initially and then went on to coach Castilla. Both Alonso and Raúl completed their UEFA coaching courses in the Spanish FA’s Ciudad del Futbol and had to spend a year coaching an academy side before they could acquire official coaching status.

Sergio Reguilón, currently on loan at Sevilla, is another example of homegrown talent. He entered the club in the U7 category and has passed through all the teams at La Fábrica (The factory). Two loan spells with third division side Logroñés enabled him to develop and return to Castilla as captain, completing his last stretch of training before making the jump to Julen Lopetegui’s first team.

Lucas Vázquez signed for Madrid aged 16. He then made the move to Castilla and became an essential part of the team. From there, he moved to Espanyol to debut in the Primera Division, before Madrid decided he was ready. Now aged 28, the Galician winger is still part of Zidane’s squad and has three Champions League medals to his name. In 2011, Pablo Sarabia left Madrid to join south Madrid club Getafe for €3m, at the age of 19. The Spain international didn’t make it to the Santiago Bernabéu but has since moved to Sevilla, becoming their main man, before joining PSG.

Alberto Toril led Madrid’s U19 side to success in 2010, with a side featuring a whole host of players who went on to make a name for themselves. Some of the players from that side include Fernando Pacheco (Alavés), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain), Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid), Fran Sol (Dynamo Kyiv), Ruben Sobrino (Valencia), Rodrigo Moreno (Valencia), Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid) and Oscar Plano (Real Valladolid).

That generation, which has been described as the best in La Fábrica’s history, missed out on the treble after losing in the cup final against Athletic Club. Nowadays, the team’s market value is approximately €200m.

Madrid continue to produce. Miguel Gutiérrez signed from Getafe aged 10 and was brought all the way through to the U19s. Gutiérrez was in the Spain side that won the European Under-19 Championship last summer and on his return from Armenia was called up to the Real Madrid first-team squad, after Ferland Mendy picked up an injury. On July 31, 2019, he became the first player born in the 21st century from the club’s academy to make his debut in the first team when he came on against Fenerbahce in a pre-season friendly. 

The Spain U19 international left-back has been described as a player “who brings the ball forward from the back. He stands out technically, and in defence he is solid,” said a Real Madrid youth team coach. Manchester United were keen on the defender three summers ago. Coached by Jose Mourinho at the time, they enquired, however Gutiérrez opted to remain in the Spanish capital as he did not want to break up his family nucleus as one of his parents would have had to move to Manchester with him.

Madrid club president Florentino Pérez has tweaked his transfer strategy in recent years. With the help of head of international recruitment and top scout Juni Calafat – Los Blancos continue to beat top European clubs to the signature of the next big star. In January, Brazilian midfielder Reinier joined the club from Flamengo for €30m.

The 18-year-old wonderkid signed until June 2026. He has featured for Madrid’s B-team, Castilla, and has been linked with a loan move to Real Sociedad, where he’ll be given the chance to develop, similarly to Martin Ødegaard. Madrid beat competition from Manchester City and Barcelona for the attacking midfielder, who has been compared to former Real Madrid star Kaká. Brazil-based scout Calafat helped identify the player from the Brazilian club. Calafat had been speaking with his family for three years, a process that began when he was working on the Vinicius deal. The Spaniard speaks fluent Portuguese and spent over a year holding meetings with Vinicius and his family before Madrid reached an agreement with Flamengo in 2017.

Calafat, once an analyst on the Spanish TV show Fiebre Maldini, is the man behind Madrid’s transfer success in South America, particularly in Brazil, and has been credited with spotting Casemiro. Calafat operates across all of South America. Box-to-box midfielder Valverde was signed from Uruguayan giants Peñarol for €5m. Valverde is now worth €54m, according to Transfermarkt.com. Ødegaard was signed for €2.8m, he is now worth €45. The shift in transfer strategy enables Madrid to identify the best talent at cheaper prices. Marco Asensio arrived for €3.9m, in October 2018 the winger was valued at €90m. Long-term injuries have seen his price drop to €32m.

La Fábrica together with a strong international scouting network has set Real Madrid up for more success over the next decade.

Kieran Quaile

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