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Back to Basics

Or how a high school match can reconcile you with top level football, or why ManagingMadrid is so unique

The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019 - Green Carpet Arrivals
The most promosing youngster in Real Madrid’s youth teams, Enzo
Photo by Simon Hofmann - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

We – wife, 9-month-old kid and myself – recently moved houses and we now live next to one of the most traditional high schools in Madrid. In fact, this school is one of the oldest factories of Real Madrid supporters in the city, a huge positive of our new neighbourhood.

This was, as you know, a weekend without football for the Madridistas. Trying to cover this vaccum, this morning I took the kid for a walk and decided to sneak into the school, as the classic noises of a football match could be heard from the outside. There it was: a seven-a-side game between the hosts and a school I had never heard of before. This was in fact my boy’s first live match, while for me it was an unplanned comeback to something I always loved but hadn’t done in a long while: watching kids play.

In this case, it was 10-11 year-olds representing their schools, which is as pure as motivation gets. I immediately took an interest for the visitors, as their seven players on the concrete pitch looked like the clear underdog: their goalie was half of the size of the smaller players on the pitch; the right winger played with glasses and one of those awkward, uncomfortable bands to keep them attached to his head; the striker was the heaviest player of both teams and by no means the taller, moving around a couple of steps slower than the intimidating host’s centreback. The remaining starters looked clearly undersized, so it was hard not to root for them.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Real Madrid v Barcelona
Guardiola was one of these at the Camp Nou
Photo by John Walton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Based on such poor, misleading information I thought that the match would be a thrashing, but boy was I wrong. The flow of the game was packed with intensity – Zidane would have loved these kids –, alternatives, twists and turns… After a few minutes, it was evident that the visitors’ game plan was indeed better than the sum of their players. Without losing a single iota of desire, they knew how to cover for each other, how to recover after a poor pass, how to find their classier players time and again.

Quick tangent: I’ll confess that I rooted for the visitors’ fullback because I had to play with glasses at his age and I know how much of an annoyance it is – and how many glasses I broke much to the chagrin of my mother. The kid was as brave as they come, probably the hardest player on the pitch without being especially strong. He ended up having to be replaced after he went for a loose ball and got hurt with some crack on the ground. By then he’d done his job, leaving the hosts’ best player, an extremely classy left winger, frustrated with his defence.

But the most surprising player was indeed the visitors’ striker, and this is why football is such an entertaining game when it’s not played at the top level, where fitness is a must. The unassuming kid became a mixture between Benzema and Hazard whenever he got the ball. Far away from goal he played with poise, almost slow motion, getting his team mates involved and moving around the final third with ease. He was impossible to track down, and due to the bigger tactical freedom at this level you could see him helping out in defence, mastering a quick throw in that led his team to score or tackling – on concrete! – to win a ball back in midfield.

However, he shined the most with the ball at his feet. It’s shocking to say this about a kid of his age, but he was never in a rush to make a decision. He saw the options unfold but never chose too quickly. His best partner, a central midfielder who played right behind him, kept finding himself in scoring positions every couple of minutes as this gem of a player kept getting his defender out of position and feeding the ball in space. And then, for a two consecutive plays, he became Hazard: took on a couple of players from left to right, scored once and hit the post another time.

I left the school with the distinct feeling of having recovered a hobby I should have never lost, but also reminded of a few things that I wanted to share with you, ManagingMadrid readers.

The first one is the level of motivation that we need to demand from our players. It’s obvious that once you get to a professional level, the hobby becomes a job, and even your favourite hobby can lose some of its appeal when performed as an obligation. I don’t mind. Our players have to play like these kids. That is why the Bernabeu rooted so intensely for Reguilon or Vinicius last season: in a year plagued with disappointments, they proved that they understood what was a stake every time they wore the shirt. It may be naïve from my part to believe that every player will do this, but they should know that it is what the fans expect.

Real Madrid B v Pontevedra - Segunda Division B
Raúl, the coach
Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

And secondly, cherish this site. ManagingMadrid not only brings you all the info about the first team – and whatever Achraf is doing at the moment – but also the most in-depth analysis about Castilla, Raúl González in is coaching role, the female side and any other youngster with potentially a white jersey future waiting to happen. I see Kristofer, Matt and Kiyan going to watch Castilla to the outskirts of Madrid, something I haven’t done in years…

There is nothing like this site in Real Madrid terms. Get connected to the team of the next few years through the stuff patiently built in this site, you’ll always be a step further than anyone else.

Real Madrid v Celta de Vigo - La Liga
You know Kiyan wants him back
Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

And finally, if you can, go see a match in your neighbourhood. Having watched probably too much top level football, this stuff reconciles you with the sport and makes you remember how fun it was when it was just that, a sport.

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