Having spent 71.7 million euros on 4 players, it appears to be business as usual at Real Madrid. Spend big money on players who will eventually crash and burn under the “slight” pressure of playing for them. Look closer and its nothing short of surprising for most fans who are used to blockbuster signings of foreign players by Florentino Perez.
Three 21 year old players and one 23 year old form the quartet. Isco and Illarremendi were winners and in the team of the tournament at the recently concluded U-21 EUROS. Carvajal was voted as the third best right back in the Bundesliga behind Philip Lahm and Atsuto Uchida and Casemiro was an integral part of the 2011 U-20 World Cup winning Brazil team. Apart from Isco who lit up the UCL last year with everyone’s favourite (or second favourite) under-dog Malaga CF, most of you have probably not even heard of the other 3 players. All of them are young, talented, have played and been reasonably successful at the highest level. The most shocking thing being that THREE of them are young Spanish players! Everyone knows that Real Madrid don’t encourage youth, don’t use their Cantera(academy) and generally don’t buy Spanish players (which is apparently the sole domain of Barcelona). This is a shrewd piece of business by Carlo Ancelotti and Florentino Perez. Rather than going for blockbuster signings which will get them a lot of publicity and press but might be dodgy bets to fit within the team, they have gone for upcoming players who won’t mind being rotation players for 1-2 seasons with the aim to become regular starters down the line.
Personally speaking, Carvajal can immediately replace Arbeloa and start but I am not the coach so ignore me. While a lot of people have come to expect such big signings from Real Madrid (Gareth Bale, Suarez, Rooney, etc.) Madrid don’t really need another attack-minded player who will have to be fitted in and started on a regular basis. Madrid won the league in 2012, have made three consecutive semi-final appearances in the UCL and have drastically improved their record against Barcelona to such an extent that Madrid start the El Clasico as slight favourites. They have a really,really strong squad. By squad I mean the 23 players collectively (unlike a certain Catalan team which has somehow managed to drag itself along for over 2 years while having just 2 quality central defenders!).
Jokes apart, only Bayern Munich have the strength in depth and quality of players that Madrid have. On a normal match day you generally saw Pepe, Kaka, Higuain/ Benzema, Kaka, Coentrao/ Marcelo and Iker Casillas (not even going to touch that situation) on the bench. Isco has shown in his two years at Malaga CF that he is an exceptional talent, with an eye for a pass and also the ability to beat a defender one on one with his dribbling. If there is one criticism I have had for Mou-drid, it is that the team was brilliant on the counter but rather clueless when facing teams who put men behind the ball. Often it boiled down to a single moment of individual brilliance to get through such defenses. Against such teams a player like Isco will be extremely useful. Running at defenses, looking for a pass, etc. is something he has shown he is extremely comfortable doing.
Daniel Carvajal has the potential to form an incredibly lethal partnership with Angel Di Maria. Being an inverted winger, Di Maria needs an overlapping full back to open up space for him to be dangerous. Arbeloa may be defensively solid, but he offers little to nothing while going forward. Carvajal, on the other hand, was nothing short of immense at Bayer Leverkeusen offering a persistent threat down the right. I won’t be surprised if Di Maria becomes a bigger threat out wide if he has Carvajal supporting him. However the romantic in me is more excited because Carvajal is a Madridista through and through having come through the ranks and playing for all the age groups for Real Madrid before moving to Bayer Leverkeusen. Adding the buy back clause was the smartest thing Madrid have done in a while. For all intents and purposes Carvajal went out on loan and came back as a much improved player than he was last year.
The most expensive of the lot, Asier Illarremendi is a defensive midfielder who is comfortable on the ball as well as when breaking up play. He was an integral part of the Real Sociedad team which finished 4th in the league this season. A proud product of the youth academy there, Illarremendi is similar to Xabi Alonso in many ways. Spraying long balls out to launch the attack for his team and having an extensive passing range with a brilliant success rate are his strengths. Illarremendi has also shown he is no slouch when it comes to the defensive part of the game. Averaging 4 tackles per game he is the 9th most successful tackler in the Spanish league. He also has a good work rate, covers ground and tracks back regularly to ensure he rarely, if ever, leaves his defense exposed. Alonso had 3 tackles per game along with 2 interceptions as well playing 2 key passes a game. Together, the two players have the potential to form an exceptional partnership.
Casemiro is the most low key of the quartet having had a successful loan with Real Madrid Castilla. A hard tackling midfielder who is extremely adept at breaking up play, Casemiro provides a physical presence, often using his large size to good effect. His biggest strength is that he also is an excellent reader of the game, intercepting play at the right places, rather just being a brute who destroys the opposition. The best thing for Casemiro and Illarremendi is that apart from Modric, the Real Madrid midfield is on the older side. If they have patience and stay around for one or two seasons, they have potential to become true world beaters with the Merengues. Under Carlo Ancelotti, the players have a true chance of succeeding. Ancelotti’s track record for promoting youth is well known. McEachran while at Chelsea, Kaka at AC Milan, as well as throwing a predominantly young PSG team against Barcelona and being undefeated over 2 legs are examples of Ancelotti trusting young players if they have the talent. Of course neither Ancelotti nor the players have ever truly faced the unique pressure that is Real Madrid so only time will tell whether the players can cope with the pressure and showcase their obvious talents or crumble.
(On a side note, Carvajal, Illarremendi, Isco along with Morata are the future of the Spainish national side and unless something goes dramatically wrong will ensure that La Furia Roja won’t have much issues coping with the impending retirement of the majority of their playing squad).