In the last month, Real Madrid have seemingly abandoned, at least for the time being, their usual transfer practices of paying absurd amounts for players riding the hype train (see: Bale, Gareth and Rodriguez, James). Carlo, the board and Flo have made aggressive moves to lock down two of Europe's most promising youngsters in Ajax's Mink Peeters and RCD Mallorca's Marco Asensio. With rumors swirling of Martin Odegaard being in the running to be the next signing, though I feel Liverpool will nab him, and other promising youngsters such as Levante's Ivan Lopez, River Plate's Eder Balanta and Liverpool's Pedro Chirivella being on their radar as well, it seems that the powers-that-be at Real Madrid have at last realized that not every signing has to be a pre-made star at massive prices.
So why are these transfers coming under fire?
To put it simply, they're not Madrid's players but rather players which have been poached from other academies. When Madrid buys incredibly promising player such as Peeters and Asensio for so cheap, it should be met with optimism and praise, but there is a certain part of the fanbase which views this as a blockade to players already in the youth academy. This kind of dilemma is a valid one, many of us enjoy stories of hard-working kids slogging their way up the academy ranks and making it into the first team, especially a first team which is notoriously difficult to make it into. It's a feel-good story of the underdog and everyone loves the underdog.
However, with a club of Madrid's ambitions should poaching players such as Asensio be viewed in such a negative light? I'm of the opinion that pure talent should win out, not the player's history or where he came from. If the players within the organization are good enough to make it all the way, like Jese and Alvaro Morata were, then there would be no need to look outside the club for players on the cusp of first team action or projected to make it there some day. Not buying highly-rated players, no matter their age or origins, for the sake of sticking to what you have and promoting what you have just for the sake of doing it is not a path which I'd want this club to follow.
Of course, one could say that Madrid are again making a move for a hyped up, flashy kid while at the same time trying to keep him away from their main rivals, but these moves look different to me. They were cheap and they're not being inserted into the first team, or anywhere near it, right away. These players don't look like placeholders such as Willian Jose, who spent a year with Madrid and did very little with it. If players such as Peeters and Asensio become available and especially at such low prices, shouldn't Madrid have an obligation to pursue them and plan for the future?
I'm no insider to the inner machinations of this club's youth program. I'm but a lowly keyboard warrior on the other side of the planet. However, despite these two pickups and the club seemingly willing to focus more on the youth as of late, there are still areas of improvement that I think the club needs to focus on. These type of players need to be scouted and identified at a younger age so that they may develop within the club and learn of the club's ways, history, system, coaching and be exposed to the club's first-team philosophy. Meeting homegrown requirements, developing mentorship programs, offering youth players on loans once they're ready for the challenge, all of these actions are ones I feel that this club could stand to improve on. The difference between acquiring a player when he's 10 versus 18 is significant, the older player could signal to existing players that their progress is blocked while the younger will have a chance to compete for starting spot alongside his peers in a more "fair" manner. That being said, if a player within the system has had years to prove himself and the club still wants to poach a player from elsewhere who plays the same role then we can't blame the club for doing so, they must've seen that the existing player simply doesn't have what it takes to make it.
These purchases, and potentially Odegaard and Chirivella's as well, likely don't indicate that wholesale systemic changes are right around the corner. After all, this is still an organization which wants to merge two youth teams to cut costs (as if they need to cut costs) and is one which installed a manager who didn't even have the proper qualifications to manage. They still haven't shown signs of a long-term vision of team building and regularly get beat out to fantastic talent at clearance-rate prices while blowing massive amounts on flashy players while youth team players leave for greener pastures. However, it could be a sign that perhaps the board is wisening up for once, that they're realizing that the age of FFP is forcing clubs to focus on the kids and the system instead of high-profile signings. While it's tough to see youngsters spend years with the club only to be cast off in their teenage years, we have to remember that this is a business and a business of winning. Talent breeds winning and needs to be the determining factor in who makes it, and Madrid just re-upped on their youth talent levels.