Real Madrid’s young signings hit and miss beyond Marco Asensio

La Liga ambassador Patrick Kluivert discusses the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo following his departure from Real Madrid to join Juventus.

Last Sunday marked exactly four years since Real Madrid last presented a big galactico signing — the arrival of James Rodriguez for €80 million after the 2014 World Cup — with the La Liga giants’ transfer policy having since changed dramatically.

After long-term targets Neymar and Kylian Mbappe recently committed their futures to Paris Saint-Germain, friendly local media reports have been talking again about Madrid’s intelligent focus on snapping up the best international young talent given the craziness at the top level of the market.

Blancos president Florentino Perez acknowledged this himself when talking last week of adding “magnificent players” to his squad, only to clarify that this summer’s new young stars, Alvaro Odriozola and Vinicius Junior, fit in that category.

So the timing is good to look at an XI of young talent signed over the last four years, for over €200m in transfer fees alone, and assess how this new strategy is succeeding.

GK Andriy Lunin: €8.5m, June 2018 (age 19)

Few in Spain had heard much about Andriy Lunin before Madrid agreed to pay Zorya Luhansk a reported initial fee of €8.5m to sign him last month. The teenage goalkeeper already has two senior caps for Ukraine but is not expected to immediately challenge Keylor Navas (or perhaps Thibaut Courtois) for a starting spot at the Bernabeu any time soon.

On Monday at the Bernabeu, Lunin gave nothing away about his short-term plans, as the futures of current back-up goalkeepers Kiko Casilla and Luca Zidane also need to be decided.

DF Alvaro Odriozola: €40m, July 2018 (age 22)

During his presentation at the Bernabeu last week, former Real Sociedad right-back Alvaro Odriozola compared joining Madrid to a visit to Disneyland. That was not hugely surprising given 18 months ago, Odriozola had yet to make his senior debut for La Real.

Nine assists in his first 50 La Liga games since saw Odriozola linked with many of Europe’s top clubs and promoted to Spain’s squad for this summer’s World Cup; his trip ended up being an educational one as he saw no playing time in Russia, with Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez preferred at right-back.

The coming season may bring a similar problem for the 22-year-old, although having his former Spain manager Julen Lopetegui as his new club boss should be a positive development.

DF Jesus Vallejo: €5m, July 2015 (age 21)

Long tipped as a future star in Spain’s underage international ranks, centre-back Vallejo was snapped from hometown club Real Zaragoza at the age of 18 with his pace, strength and reading of the game having already been apparent. An impressive 2015-16 season on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt further confirmed his potential, and although injury curtailed his progression last season, he did get Champions League experience against Juventus. Lopetegui also brought him in for Spain’s pre-World Cup training camp this summer.

Assuming he stays clear of muscle issues from now on, Vallejo should be the first-choice back-up to Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane next season.

DF Theo Hernandez: €24m, July 2017 (age 20)

A superb series of swashbuckling performances on loan at Alaves in 2016-17, as well as a Copa del Rey final goal against Barcelona, persuaded the Bernabeu hierarchy to annoy neighbours Atletico Madrid and trigger Theo’s release clause last summer. But 12 months later the situation looks very different, with Theo having rarely impressed when given a chance at Madrid while his brother Lucas took over the left-back spot at Atletico and just won the World Cup with France.

Theo’s career has so stalled that Madrid are already reportedly looking to offload him, either on loan or in a sale with buy-back clause, though his hefty €5m annual salary complicates that wish.

Martin Odegaard was signed as a teenager but is still waiting for his chance at Real Madrid.
Martin Odegaard was signed as a teenager but is still waiting for his chance at Real Madrid.

MF/FW Martin Odegaard: €2.8m, January 2015 (age 19)

Odegaard joined Madrid amid a blaze of publicity aged just 16, in a deal worth a potential €8m having been linked with top clubs all over Europe. But then he played mostly for the club’s Castilla youth side during 18 months in the Spanish capital, making just one substitute Primera Division appearance and getting a sole Copa del Rey start.

Last term saw the 19-year-old play more regularly on loan at Eredivisie side Heerenveen, contributing three goals and five assists in 37 starts and moving to 12 senior caps with Norway. Although last week saw him begin preseason under Lopetegui with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema & Co., another loan move looks likely, perhaps elsewhere in Spain this time.

MF Fede Valverde: €5m, July 2016 (age 20)

Not quite as hyped as Odegaard, Valverde was still very much a starlet when he joined Madrid from Uruguayan club Penarol for €5 million just after his 18th birthday. Since then the tall, rangy midfielder has made his senior Uruguay international debut, just missing out on a squad place for the summer’s World Cup, but he’s not yet played for Madrid’s senior side.

After impressing with his quality and character while on loan at a struggling Deportivo La Coruna team, the now 20-year-old will probably again be sent out to gain more experience elsewhere in La Liga in 2018-19.

MF Dani Ceballos: €16.5m, July 2017 (age 21)

Ceballos was supposedly much closer to the finished article when he joined Madrid 12 months ago, having already featured 105 times for hometown club Real Betis and being named player of the tournament at last summer’s U21 European Championships. However, the Andalusian central midfielder endured a very frustrating 2017-18 season, rarely even making the bench under Zinedine Zidane. That led to persistent rumours of a return to Betis or a move to Premier League suitors including Arsenal and Liverpool.

The 21-year-old has so far maintained that he plans to stay and prove he can be a success at the Bernabeu; therefore he’ll be hoping that Lopetegui’s reputation as somebody who gives youth a chance is proved accurate.

MF Marco Asensio: €3.9m, January 2015 (age 22)

With Asensio the one real out-and-out success on this list, the paltry sum paid to sign him from Real Mallorca in early 2015 looks like one of the bargains of the 21st century so far.

After gaining experience in 2015-16 on loan at Espanyol, Asensio has emerged as one of Spain’s leading young talents over the last two seasons, memorably scoring on his debut in five different competitions. He has also notched big goals against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus while generally looking completely at ease on the biggest stages.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit this summer should open up even more possibilities for Asensio; he could now be one of the first names on Lopetegui’s team sheet.

FW Sergio Diaz: €5m, July 2016 (age 20)

Diaz was already a big deal in his native Paraguay when he joined Madrid aged just 18, with some outlets dubbing him the “new Sergio Aguero.” His first two seasons in Spain have not gone exactly to plan, with just five goals in 36 games during his first season for Castilla in the third tier, and then injury wrecking a 2017-18 loan spell at Segunda side Lugo.

Reports in South America say Argentine side Huracan want to take him on loan next season, with Madrid yet to decide what to do with a player under contract until 2022.

Real Madrid paid a lot for Vinicius Jr. but he seems eager and ready to take advantage of his opportunity.
Real Madrid paid a lot for Vinicius Jr. but he seems eager and ready to take advantage of his opportunity.

FW Vinicius Junior: €45m, in May 2017 (age 18)

Paying that much for Vinicius Jr., 16 years old at the time, early last summer seemed at the time like a bid to ensure no repeat of the slackness that saw Barcelona snatch Neymar from Madrid’s hands back in 2013.

Ten goals in his first 49 games across all competitions for Flamengo over the last 12 months suggest Vinicius is developing fast. And the Bernabeu hierarchy rejected Brazilian hopes he could remain for another six months in Rio, bringing the kid to Europe as soon as allowed by FIFA.

Still just 18, Vinicius Jr. looked quite mature last Friday as he sat confidently alongside former galactico Ronaldo Nazario at the Bernabeu, and spoke impressively of his hopes of proving himself soon in Madrid’s senior side. He has not yet been given a senior squad number, though, so it remains to be seen how his next steps will be managed.

FW Rodrygo: €54m, June 2018 (age 17)

Madrid doubled down even further on their emerging talent policy this summer by spending even more on another Brazilian starlet, this time seeing off reported competition from Barcelona, PSG and Liverpool to get Santos forward Rodrygo.

That deal will not go through until next summer and so Rodrygo will have another year at least at home. The kid showed his character last week by taking on Neymar’s global critics, and he clearly expects to be a huge star in his own right before too long.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan