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January Mailbag: Football academies, injuries, Eriksen, Javi Sanchez, and more

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Kiyan’s monthly mailbag — the first of 2019.

Real Madrid v Leganes - Copa del Rey Round of 16 Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts -- are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.


Welcome to this month’s mailbag. Thanks for all your questions. I couldn’t get to all of them, but if you couldn’t find an answer to your question, it’s probably because I’ve already answered it in a previous mailbag or column. If you want a guaranteed response to your question, hit us up on Patreon.

Let’s go.

For context, Matt Wiltse and I discussed this on the podcast before the Villarreal game here, and this is a follow-up to that.

It’s interesting that Real Madrid hasn’t really ventured into India (or other heavily populated countries) the way PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal, or Barcelona have. But what we alluded to on the podcast, and it still holds true, is that it may not be entirely beneficial for them to do so.

The James and Keylor examples don’t really paint the entire story. James was one of the best players in a World Cup, leading an entire nation to a memorable run; and Keylor Navas was the best player on a World Cup team who was already in La Liga, and fit a positional need. With all due respect, while it would be a feel-good story to have an academy in India for everyone involved, Real Madrid probably haven’t prioritized schools there (or elsewhere) because they can simply just buy a young player from that country when he breaks out, without the hassle of setting up an entire academy with hopes that one player might turn into a James or Keylor.

Who is the best player in Indian history? I don’t know, but some quick research tells me it’s one of these guys: Sunil Chhetri, Sailendra Nath Manna, IM Vijayan, PK Banerjee, or Bhaichung Bhutia. The furthest any of those guys made it was Kanas City (Chhetri, zero appearances). If, one day, someone makes it from India on a level Real Madrid just can’t pass up on, they can simple sign him — even at an early age.

But India’s situation isn’t unique. There are plenty of countries (albeit not as populated) that Real Madrid could potentially set up an academy in. If push comes to shove, and they wanted to tap into another market, it would probably have to be Brazil, wouldn’t it? That might be your best bang for buck. And here’s the thing: the Brazilian market is wild. They go crazy over Vinicius almost the same way any country does for a star player — and Vinicius isn’t even that big yet. Have you seen Twitter reactions to Vinicius’s Castilla goals? Any time I tweet one out, Brazilian Twitter comes out in the masses. Given how much Real Madrid spend in Brazil, the market, and the talent that gets churned out, it’s probably the most logical country to open up an academy in.

Over the years, here are the players Real Madrid have signed directly from Brazil: Didi (1959), Canario (1959), Ricardo Rocha (1991), Claudemir Vítor (1993), Zé Roberto (1997), Savio (1998, and a personal favourite), Rodrigo Fabri (1998), Robinho (2005), Cicinho (2006), Marcelo (2007), Casemiro (2013), Abner (2014), Lucas Silva (2015), Vinicius Jr (2018), Rodrigo Rodrigues (2018), Augusto Galvan (2018), and Rodrygo Goes (2019, on the books).

If you put this on a scatter plot, you’ll see all the density post-2013 (in other words, after Barcelona signed Neymar). Maybe this slows down if Vinicius and Rodrygo pan out, and maybe it doesn’t. I don’t think Real Madrid will start opening academies around the world anytime soon. They’ll just continue to sign promising young players and: A) Either put them in Castilla the way they did with Casemiro, Abner, Rodrigo Rodrigues, and Augusto Galvan; or B) bring them directly into the first team. If they do open up academies, it might make sense to go to Brazil first — or a country with a known track record of producing great players.

Signing an elite goal-scorer who can also connect with others, a reliable central defender to come off the bench, negotiating a return for James, renegotiating Achraf’s loan deal to bring him home this summer, bringing back Kovacic, and ending 2019 first place in La Liga.

It’s mostly bad luck. Sometimes we think it’s especially worse for Real Madrid because we follow the team so closely, but it’s not an entirely unique situation. Real play against wounded teams all the time in both La Liga and the Champions League. This season, Barcelona have all missed, for extended periods, these players: Malcom, Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Luis Suarez, Vermaelen, Messi, and Coutinho. Atletico have had their entire backline injured and still have one of the best defensive teams in Europe. Apart from missing Gimenez, Godin, Savic, and Lucas Hernandez for large chunks of time, they’ve also lost: Diego Costa, Lemar, Koke, Correa, Juanfran, Kalinic, Vitolo, and Arias.

In 2016, Ronaldo complained that the injuries had to do with a lack of preparation in the pre-season. But since Pintus’s arrival, that’s far from the truth.

It’s Zinedine Zidane by Vaudeville Smash because it’s somehow even catchier than anything the Queen of Catchy, Carly Rae Jepsen, has ever put out:

It’s incredible work. I’m jealous I wasn’t part of it. Other hits that stick out to me, that aren’t all entirely football songs (but have some connection), include: ‘Angel’ - Massive Attack (World Cup 98 commercial with Del Piero, Beckham, Kluivert, and Zidane), ‘Rockafella Skank’ - Fat Boy Slim (FIFA 99 soundtrack), ‘Song 2’ - Blur (FIFA 98 Soundtrack), ‘Forca’ - Nelly Furtado (Euro 2004 theme song), and ‘Campione’ - E Type (Euro 2000 theme song). The list pretty much ends there. After 2004, it’s no longer nostalgic for me.

I’ve had Javi Sanchez stock for almost two years now. I bought it at a low price, and I’d encourage if anyone wants to invest to do it now, before the stock rises. He was a huge part of Castilla’s good defensive record this season before getting promoted, and played well last season too. I think his ceiling is Nacho — an important squad player at Real Madrid, or a starter for a team like Sevilla. His upside is higher than Hermoso’s, if you ask me.

It’s more costly to miss out on him. The cost to release him from his contract (and it will be expensive, and we know Levy won’t be desperate to negotiate) would be forgotten quickly if he comes in and does well. Admittedly, the cost also gets magnified if Poch comes in and drives the club into the ground. It’s just hard to see that latter scenario, given how well he’s done with the resources he has at Tottenham — with virtually no signings this summer, and going up against two powerhouses with astronomical budgets. I think if you give him a signing (if he brings Kane with him, in my regular day-dreaming scenario, you’d overpay for that combo easily) and a whole summer to implement his ideas it’s hard to see him not take this team forward from its current state.

If the Club cared about costs associated with a coach, they wouldn’t have made Jose Mourinho the highest-paid manager in the world, fired Lopetegui, or given Solari a long-term contract he almost surely doesn’t see out.

I don’t hate an Eriksen signing, but he’d be north of 220 million if reports are true that Tottenham have zero desire in selling him — any would they? That might even be more expensive than Hazard. But Levy might be forced to sell eventually if Eriksen continues to be in limbo about his future when his contract expires in 2020.

So if Real Madrid want to sign him, it means one, or possibly two things: 1) Kovacic isn’t coming back, and to be sure, he hasn’t indicated anything that says he particularly wants to return; and / or 2) This season is Modric’s farewell tour — which isn’t inconceivable given Florentino very rarely keeps legends past a certain age. Eriksen fills a hole in that situation, obviously, and you’d recoup his purchase through the Kovacic and Modric deals.

Yes, they do have a culture problem defensively, Caleb! We made a video about this exact subject over at School of Real Madrid, after your question came in:

I have struggles daily. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t. But, for me, it’s about finding exciting things to do every day, and keeping a diverse portfolio. Example: writing this mailbag makes me happy. If you stack enough of those things in your day-to-day, it will help. Tim Ferris talks about this. He says people should have six things they do — not just one 9-5 job. That can be six different business, or just six things that you do that makes you happy. One of those things can be working out. The idea is that the more things you have going for you, the less likely an adverse situation will throw you off course. For example: Your business loses money that day, BUT, you added 20 pounds to your deadlift. Keep stacking those victories.

Also, I think you have to understand that adversity makes you stronger. Once you get to that state, you start becoming thankful for difficulties, knowing your coming out of it as a more polished human being, and you can spread that good energy to others and lift them up too.

Also, not for everyone, but I’m a pretty spiritual person. Ten minutes a day of meditation or prayer really flips me into a better state.

Of all the moments I can remember growing up, of all the timeless memories and emotional moments, nothing elevated my soul like this:

Watching that live was something else. It was an inexplicable feeling. For my more hipster choices, I wrote an entire list of my favourite Real Madrid moments since 1999 here.