In a summer which has seen surprisingly few big names arrive for a Real Madrid side which collected zero major trophies last season, perhaps it is the signing of 18-year-old centerback Jesus Vallejo for approximately €6 million which could end up to be one of the most major signings in years.
Vallejo's playing style
Vallejo can be summed up quite easily as being very, very good. Not just for his age, very good period. Much has been made about him captaining the Real Zaragoza senior side and rightly so, Vallejo is the rare breed of player who displays the maturity and leadership characteristics of athletes twice his age. This has translated into him serving as the captain of the U19 European Championship-winning Spain side which also contained Real Madrid wonderkids Marco Asensio and Borja Mayoral. Vallejo's steady presence in the back, for both club and country, has led many to call him the next Carles Puyol. Some may find this to be a bit presumptuous, but watching him for 10 minutes confirms why his manager at Real Zaragoza had no hesitation in naming him captain.
As far as playing style and where he is developmentally for his age, he's as close to the finished product as an 18-year-old will get considering that he has no glaring weaknesses to his game. While this may seem like hyperbole viewed through a Real Madrid favorable lens, it's easy enough to search out neutrals' opinions of him making the same claims. Able to hang with even the most hardened Segunda veterans, Vallejo cuts an impressive physical figure for someone who can still grow given his size of six feet tall and 163 pounds. While he can certainly more than hold his own in physical battles, it's his ability to pick and choose them that makes him stand out. An excellent reader of the game, Vallejo is more likely to use his anticipation to cut off developing attacking plays instead of having to make a reactionary tackle. Unlike a Pepe or Sergio Ramos, Vallejo is more proactive rather than reactive. There's no hesitation his game either, he knows what he wants to do and he goes after it. In a position where a split-second can make all the difference, Vallejo doesn't offer opposing attackers that window to get past him. Vallejo isn't simply a whiz at the ground game, his aerial prowess is just as strong to boot and he's adept at both the man-to-man style defense or a more zonal display.
His passing is another skill which many use to set him apart from the rest. He posses a poise on the ball well beyond his years and is quite comfortable carrying it out from the back and building up the attack thanks to the use of his vision. Some even claim that he could be turned into a makeshift DM a la Javier Mascherano given his calm under pressure. However, he thrives as a ball-playing centerback and that is where his future likely lies.
Vallejo is also quite sturdy with no notable injuries to his record. He took part in 34 matches last season, with 30 of them being starts, while accumulating 2,678 minutes at the heart of the Real Zaragoza defense so fans shouldn't have to worry about and injury concerns.
It's difficult to point out any major areas in need of improvement. Like many players of his age group, he could stand to further develop physically and, despite his calm and control, could always improve his on-ball skills like most centerbacks. His mental attributes are incredible for his age so it's mainly physical competency and the consistency which comes with maturity that one can hope to see increase.
What the future holds for Vallejo
For now, Vallejo will spend at least one more season with his beloved Real Zaragoza in their quest for promotion but quite frankly, his ability could've allowed him to start for a number of midtable and lower sides. After that, it's anyone's guess but given Pepe's age and contract status perhaps Real Madrid fans might not have to wait too long to see the young starlet in action for their favorite club. Of course, this is a club prone to spending on a whim so one can never know if a new centerback will come in and block his progress, but given his price, the length of his contract and his generational prodigious talent it could be safe to assume that he'll play a prominent role at this club for years to come. Sergio Ramos is approaching 30, so a year on loan and a year or two as the third CB should coincide perfectly with Ramos transitioning into a reserve role a couple seasons from now.
It's always dangerous to heap such praise and expectations on a teenage star as more often than not they don't live up to it, but if ever there was one with all indications pointing to a world class career at the top level then Jesus Vallejo is it. Coupled with Raphael Varane, who is only 22 years old himself, this club could have the centerback position on lockdown for the next decade with two incredibly intelligent, poised, elegant players. Real Madrid often makes inexplicable and, quite frankly, idiotic roster decisions but this could turn out to be a coup for Florentino Perez.