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International Break Mailbag: What’s Martin Odegaard’s Best Position?

Kiyan Sobhani answers readers questions in this international break mailbag

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Real Madrid CF v Granada CF - La Liga Photo by TF-Images/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.


Every time I do these written mailbags, I remember how fun they are. This one checks out at 26 questions, with plenty left over to take on the upcoming podcast. These questions came in through Patreon, Twitter, and Facebook.

Here’s the best part of your international break:

Let’s roll out the ‘undroppables’, and tackle the rest from there: Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Dani Carvajal. That’s seven. Thibaut Courtois, who’s back in training will likely start over Alphonse Areola. Marcelo vs Mendy will be a big question mark. The Brazilian is due back 10 days before Clasico, with Mendy cutting it a little closer. If both are on the same level of fitness, my guess is Mendy as a safety net defensively is a better bet (although, Mendy’s lack of ball-carrying ability will let Sergi Roberto / Semedo breathe a little bit defensively). Two more spots are left for: Gareth Bale, Isco, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, Fede Valverde. Fede, even hitting his stride, is likely not ahead of Modric for big games — but he’ll provide good rest for the Croatian this season regardless. Modric is just a better player offensively, and his defensive positioning is better too — even with his legs a little slower now. That last spot will probably go to Bale, who historically plays well at the Camp Nou, and is due for a couple disallowed goals there.

I was lucky enough to grow up with half-Sri Lankan cousins, which means I have a Sri Lankan aunt, which means I grew up with Sri Lankan food (because I spent an absurd amount of time with those cousins playing video games from sunset to sunrise, eventually going to bed the following day with bloodshot eyes), all while my aunt (who I’m 99% certain is completely nocturnal), would cook beef curry and other Sri Lankan dishes throughout the night because she loved cooking more than she loved sleeping.

My answer is Sri Lankan cuisine. But maybe I’m biased towards it — the smell of those spices cooking through the air with fresh coconut infusing the house while we played FIFA and 2K until our thumbs nearly fell off, taking breaks in between to eat gratuitously. We had a system: Winner stays on, loser eats. It was our best life.

My favourite Sri Lankan dishes: Dahl curry, pol sambol (shredded fresh coconut mixed with diced tomatoes, chillies, onions, and lime), eggplant curry.

I’m going to throw my two other favourite cuisines in here:

  1. Mexican food. As one of my favourite writers Shea Serrano puts it, “Mexicans are perfect.” Mexican food is basically perfect for me because: guacamole, beans, corn, and tons of jalapeños because I can’t eat any food that’s not lathered in something that lights my stomach on fire.
  2. Persian food. Persians make some of the most underrated and unknown dishes in the world. If you don’t know about rice and tahdig, you should. Also, my grandmother makes one of my favourite dishes on earth: Fesenjoon — a curry made with pomegranate and walnuts.

I cook most of these things I just listed. One day I’m going to open a YT channel like Mafuzzy, and just cook for different journalists, probably serve Om Arvind some cow dung.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Ceballos fourth among that shortlist. James is 28, so I’m not sure where he fits in the team’s ‘future’. Odegaard and Fede look like the more prominent players heading into the next generation.

I’m not huge on signing more attacking midfielders. There are some amazing resources at this club that provide something fresh in attack already. James, Isco, and Odegaard can all play the Van de Beek role. I’m pretty high on Van de Beek in general, but I’m high on a lot of players that the team doesn’t have room for.

Replacing Benzema is an interesting though exercise. There are not many players in his mould apart from Roberto Firmino, Kylian Mbappe and Sergio Aguero (who is capable of dropping deeper and connecting the dots in attack). If you really wanted to you could add Lionel Messi and Antoinne Griezmann to that list — or a younger Thomas Muller. In year’s past we were spoiled. There was an entire era where that was the most fun position in football, with Rivaldo, Thierry Henry, Raul, and Francesco Totti. Moving forward, you’re probably not going to replace Benzema like-for-like — but rather just adding an attacking midfielder who can combine with the main goalscorer. Real already has those players in the roster, but Mbappe is an obvious choice eventually.

There are, unfortunately, not many exciting players at Castilla right now. In year’s past, I could pinpoint: Javi Sanchez, Sergio Reguilon, Marcos Llorente, Aleix Febas, Martin Odegaard, Mariano, Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi, etc (some of those guys have panned out better than others), but it’s more difficult this time around. Having said that, players who leave Castilla often become much better footballers than they were in the youth team. Recent examples: Reguilon, Diego Llorente (who, I’m not a huge fan of, but is a starting defender for a good La Liga team, which is better than what I initially expected of him), and Oscar Rodriguez.

Right now, I’d keep an eye out on Fran Garcia (a really good two-way left back), Sergio Lopez (a mirrored Fran, on the right side), and Javi Hernandez (a solid central defender who can bully people in the air, intercept passes, and even join the attack for the odd long-range goal). Franchu has a good ceiling too — I could see him as a starting winger for a La Liga team in the near future. Belman and Altube are both really good goalkeepers. Manu Hernando is a promising center-back.

Still difficult to asses Raul properly. He likes to play a high line and use overloads on the flanks. He’s very animated, almost Simeone-esque. Watching him on the sidelines gives you a glimpse of his charisma. He seems to connect well with the players. I’m intrigued to see his coaching identity develop over the next few years. He’s eventually going to be a Real Madrid coach, one way or another, even if not for a few years. It’s naive to think otherwise, so we might as well get a sense for his managerial ability and track him wherever he is.

We can’t let Hakimi go. He’s like a Moroccan Carvajal, only more versatile and a legitimate goalscorer who will probably contribute three-to-five goals / season. He even gets bullied defensively at the far post the way Dani does.

There is no real rush with Odegaard. Had he stayed, we wouldn’t have seen this version of him — arguably the best player in the entire league until now — sporadically playing minutes here and there. If that’s the case next season too, then let him continue his development at La Real. I’d only bring him back from his loan spell early if it meant he’d soak up all of Lucas Vazquez’s minutes (and more), or if we sold one of James or Isco — but we have no guarantee of that, and Asensio will be back in a few months too. (And Rodrygo can play on the right wing, and Vinicius is going to be around, etc).

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Office. It’s the only show where I can throw on any random episode, at any time, and enjoy every second of it. There’s something new I find funny every time. Pure genius.

Lunin can’t start for Real Madrid if he’s not playing. Two years is ambitious.

Hey.

In the right scheme, yes. His pressing has always been a defensive strength of his, and his tracking on the flanks to cover for full-backs has improved this season as he’s helped Zaldua out on several occassions. Your best bet is to put him in a midfield that’s designed to control, press, and conquer — similar to the way Pep Guardiola uses Bernado Silva and David Silva — with at least two other hard working and more defensively-minded midfielders behind him. Some want Odegaard to be a Modric — but Modric was a unicorn defensively, and often plays as the deepest midfielder for Croatia, even with Brozovic ahead of him at times. There were long stretches with Real Madrid two seasons ago where the Croatian was basically a deep-lying right winger, covering for Achraf or Carvajal long enough that you’d question who the right-back actually was.

I’d want Odegaard pulling strings at the tip of the midfield and serving as an outlet on the counter-attack — almost like a poor-man’s Messi (that’s not a knock on him, because someone is bound to run away with that statement one way or another).

By the way, if you want this Odegaard hoodie, order it here.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sometimes maybe good sometimes maybe shit. My life has a high ceiling and low floor. Over the years I’ve made peace with this rollercoaster that is life. I’m thankful for struggles and tests, and enjoy the little victories. I love my job, I love my son. All of that keeps me going. One of my favourite quotes, from the Baha’i writings:

Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.

Reminder, my e-mail is always open if any of you ever need someone to talk to: kiyan@kiyansobhani.com.

Manchester United would be crazy to sell him in the winter. If they didn’t want to let him go in the summer, they’ll be doubling-down now rather than selling him for even less before the season is over. As bad as they are, they’re going to be even worse without him. They can’t risk spiralling even further. Next summer, we’ll re-open the discussion.

Not yet, but the last time I had a meal with Ed, he took me to a traditional Spanish restaurant near the Bernabeu, where Socios have been meeting for decades. The food was good. At 2pm, the entire restaurant sings the Spanish national anthem. It’s typically an all-day experience. People go before lunch, and after lunch, they break out playing cards and play all afternoon. The waiter brings out food throughout the entire process, and the customers go home at night. I asked Ed, “do these people, um, work?”.

“I guess not,” he says.

I don’t recommend many tapas bars, because, I uh — don’t really enjoy tapas. I don’t eat meat or dairy, so the only things I can really have are patatas bravas and pimientos del padron (both excellent, to be fair). So, jamon, queso, tortilla — all off-limits. Having said that, the place I take people to for tapas in Madrid (and it hasn’t disappointed so far), is Taberna Malaspina on Calle de Cadiz.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

People enjoy those? It’s like real-life Twitter. Who wants real-life Twitter? Anyway, I’m pretty sure El Chiringuito does a version of this for Real Madrid in Spanish. I’ll stick to podcasts and tactical analysis.

The Galatasary and Barcelona games are four days apart — just enough in-between for rest to field your strongest XI in both, while using the Mallorca and Leganes games on either side for the fringe players. Keep in mind: James, Isco, Marcelo, Mendy, and Benzema will not be on international break. For the game in Turkey, you could probably get away with resting some starters without a huge drop-off. What is Zidane’s XI anyway? We really don’t know. I’m sure he’ll field strong line-ups in both, even if they’re not identical.

It’s a low-risk story. ‘Let’s go out on a limb and guess Bale wants to leave next summer when all he did was fight to stay this summer. If he stays, it just means that the club couldn’t move him, and if he leaves, well, then we’re geniuses.’ I’ll leave the rest up to you.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Since 1995. Foreign XI wipes the floor.

Spanish (post-peak Chendo, Butragueño, and Sanchis miss the cut);

Foreign XI (with many notable exclusions):

It’s a combination of things, none of which really add up nor justify the logic behind sending him to Leganes and Valladolid respectively. Ivan Cuellar was one of the better goalkeepers in La Liga over the past two years at Leganes. Jordi Masip was great last season at Valladolid. That’s two starting goalkeepers that Real Madrid are asking Lunin to leap frog in back-to-back seasons. There’s no way they don’t know this. They have people whose entire jobs are to find players good situations to loan them to in order for them to develop into better players so that the club can either A) integrate them into the team rather than spend on other players; or B) flip them for a profit. The only teams that have benefited from the Lunin transactions over the past two seasons have been Leganes and Valladolid, who get a solid back-up without worrying about developing him.

The loan spells have been more good than bad over the past few years. For every Mayoral at Wolfsburg or Vallejo at Wolves situation, there’s been three-or-four successful spells. But the Lunin one is bizarrely mismanaged.

Lunin seems really promising, but we have to be cautious on jumping on this ‘he’s a future starter’ bandwagon. Barely any of us have a sample size of how good he can actually be. He needs to play more. I would’ve looked at a team like Real Sociedad, who’ve had a shaky Miguel Moya or Geronimo Rulli in nets for a while. If that’s too ambitious, why not look at Segunda? The quality of shots he’ll face might not be the same level — but he’ll get shot volume and tons of practice, and for us to get a chance to measure his in-game reflexes and distribution more regularly. Luca Zidane is quietly having a good season at Racing Santander — I’d rather a situation like his than one that sees Lunin only play Copa games (which, let’s be honest, is pretty well against Segunda teams or worse anyway).

There’s no real rush. He’s 16 — the same age Odegaard was when he came over to Castilla. (And Odegaard had already played at a professional level at that point, which Salazar hasn’t). Salazar is like a grown man amongst boys at the U-17 level though. But unless he’s Raul, he’s not coming over to the first team anytime soon. Castilla would be a good spot for him next season, and it would be fun to see him get called up for pre-season next year, or the odd call-up for a Copa del Rey blowout.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

  1. Thai: Pai
  2. Mexican: Seven Lives
  3. Banh Mi: Banh Mi Boys
  4. Persian: Pomegranate
  5. Coffee: Dineen

(I have not found a Sri Lankan place I’ve enjoyed as much as my aunt’s cooking.)

He was only going to get a real shot if Zidane deployed Benzema and Jovic together regularly, which hasn’t happened yet. It’s almost a shame, even if admirable, that he wants to fight for his place no matter the steepness of the hill that awaits him. He’s a 15-20 goal striker waiting to explode.

Exactly how I like everything: informal, no one telling us what to say or do. There would be a couch, a coffee table which contains: a coffee grinder and french press, hot churros, and a phone to contact the nearest Uber Eats driver. Guests would come and go, and a siren would go off that would notify us of any major tweet so that we can have an immediate reaction to any breaking news regarding football. There would be a TV that loops all of the greatest games from 1950-present day, so we could casually discuss the legacy of past legends that deserve to live on in our football coverage.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Go out. Meet as many people as possible. Go out on your own if you have to. Talk to everyone: your barista, the person sitting next you at the coffee shop. Expand you social circle. The power of connecting with others and finding like-minded people is life-changing. Above all — find something you love and do it. If it doesn’t exist, create it. Work out. Clean your diet. Get out of the house and make your life so epic that no single person occupies your mind anymore. It’s your movie. I’m in your corner.

I don’t think a complete overhaul is viable, you’re right. There are still older players who are playing at a high level that the team clearly needs — not all of them need to be moved on from. The contract thing is pretty simple: Cutting losses is always a better idea than doubling-down on a bad contract because you feel you’re invested in the cause. Generally, Florentino has been really good at not handing out contracts for players over the hill, so this hasn’t been a huge problem. But my overarching point was this: We can’t emotionally attach ourselves to the idea that ‘these guys have won us three-to-four European titles, therefore we must stick with them’. You ignore too much nuance and performance evaluation by only looking at the end result of past trophies. There is a time for everything and everyone, and some of the most exciting performances over the past two years have come from younger players, whose reward has been to play less and take a backseat. At some point we have to re-evaulate our merit-system.

It’s nearly impossible to separate my fandom from my Real Madrid coverage, but there’s really nothing I love more than writing and podcasting. So, I’m going to cop out and say this is a false dichotomy — I’m both at any given time. You should see the evolution of my fist-pump press row anytime Real Madrid score a goal. It would make for a good flip book.

International break -- going to do a written mailbag. Ask me any questions you want about Real Madrid / loanees / Castilla / Spanish football / European football / food / life / universe

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Whatever his intentions, he is a murderer. We evolve and deal with overpopulation by continually improving our science and actions. Wiping out half the people means you cut your chances of advancement in half. Those that perish may be the ones to pioneer the move to a new planet, to come up with technologies for further advancement as a species, or lead a revolution against climate change. I for one, am thankful Greta is still here.

On that note, we’re done here. If you need journalism mentorship, I have a mentorship program. Just e-mail me.

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