Real Madrid have a long list of talented young players on their books. There are five players, brought in from outside the Real Madrid academy structure, for whom the club have bet big on in hopes of landing a global super-star. Those players include Vinicius Junior (20), Rodrygo Goes (19), Takefusa Kubo (19), Brahim Diaz (recently turned 21), and Reinier Jesus (18). When evaluating a player like Vinicius Junior, who has had the opportunity to play for Real Madrid in the past two seasons, it is easy to forget how young he remains. The developmental path for every player is unique. For every “super talent” like Sergio Ramos or Toni Kroos, there are under-the-radar, late bloomers like Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez. Allow the different career paths for each of the established Real Madrid players to provide some perspective on the current crop of youngsters:
In the 2011-2012 season, Dani Carvjal was 19-20 years old, playing with Real Madrid Castilla. He formed part of what is largely considered one of Castilla’s “golden generations”. Alvaro Morata, Jese Rodriguez, Pablo Sarabia, Lucas Vazquez, Nacho Fernandez, Alex Fernandez, Omar Marscarell, and Joselu all were a part of the same team. It was a Castilla side that won promotion to Segunda.
Carvajal made his debut with the Spain U21 national team that same season and was expected to play a larger role with the first team, but Jose Mourinho failed to give he or Jese Rodriguez their fair shot.
The following season, Carvajal spent a year in Germany at Bayer Leverkusen. The right back played over 3,000 minutes had one goal and eight assists during his time in Germany. He was voted as one of the Bundesliga’s best right backs and earned a return to Real Madrid.
Much like Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes, Varane was brought to Real Madrid at the tender age of 18 after being scouted by Zidane and approved by Mourinho. At 19 years old, The Frenchman was taking part in his second season with Real Madrid. He famously scored two goals against Barcelona in the Camp Nou and beat Pepe to the starting center back position before succumbing to a season ending knee injury. In total, Varane played 2,500 minutes and gained valuable experience at the heart of Real Madrid’s defense. That same season, Varane made his debut with the senior French national team.
At 19 years-old, in the summer of 2005, Sergio Ramos became the most expensive Spanish transfer in the history of the club. Playing alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Iker Casillas, Raul, David Beckham, and Ronaldo Nazario — Ramos was immediately placed into the starting XI at center back. In his first season with the club, as a mere teenager, he played over 4,000 minutes and scored 6 goals. In the season prior, Ramos made his debut with the Spanish national team in a friendly vs China.
After joining the club as an 18-year-old in November of 2006, Marcelo only played 6 games or 165 minutes in their title winning campaign under Fabio Capello. Many within the club asked Marcelo to leave on loan in search of minutes, but the Brazilian refused. The following season, at the age of 19, under new manager Bernd Schuster, Marcelo started and played 32 games for Real Madrid at left back. The Brazilian amassed just about 2,800 minutes. Despite being heavily involved, there were still question marks over Marcelo’s ability. For the next three seasons, Marcelo mostly played as a deputy to Gabriel Heinze and Alvaro Arbeloa. It was not until the 2010-2011, aged 22 (four years after his arrival), that Marcelo began to thrive under then coach, Jose Mourinho.
The defensive midfielder who will long be heralded as a key component to the three-peat Champions League triumph was struggling to get time for Sao Paolo at the age of 19. In the 2011-2012 season, Casemiro played 23 games for Sao Paolo in Brazil’s top flight. Though, of those 23 games, only 10 were as a starter— Casemiro amassed about 1,000 minutes in total. Despite not seeing as much of the field as he would have liked, Casemiro had already been identified as a top prospect. As such, he and Oscar were awarded their debuts in a friendly match vs Argentina in 2011.
Having been long heralded as the “golden boy” in Bayern Munich’s youth academy, Kroos left on loan in search of more minutes. As an 18-year-old, he had already formed as part of Bayern Munich’s first team, playing over 1000 minutes, but Kroos wanted more. On Loan at Bayer Leverkusen in the 2009-2010 season, Kroos played 35 games (over 2,500 mins), scoring 9 goals and producing 12 assists. He went on to make his debut for the full German National team in a friendly vs Argentina.
The following season, Kroos was immediately brought back to Bayern Munich as a starter.
Luka Modric had a wild ride in Eastern Europe. Two years prior to even sniffing minutes with the Dinamo Zagreb first team - at just 17 - Modric was loaned to Zrinjski Mostar in the Bosnian Premier League. He won the Bosnian Premier League Player of the season and felt he could deal with the physical nature of any league after playing in Bosnia. At 18, he was loaned out again, this time in the Croatian first division, and helped Inter Zapresic into 2nd place and UEFA Cup qualification. In 2005, at 19, Luka Modric finally returned to his parent club and started to feature prominently — scoring 7 goals and playing 31 matches. That same season, Modric made his debut with the full Croatian national team.
At 19, Eden Hazard was tearing apart defenses in Lique 1. He was a bona-fide star. The likes of Chelsea and Manchester United were fighting toe-to-toe for his signature. Zinedine Zidane had recommended his signing to Florentino Perez, but there was no room for the Belgian with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. In the 2009-2010 season, playing over 4,000 minutes (52 games) for Lille, Hazard scored 12 goals and provided 14 assists. He featured on the left wing, right wing, and occasionally as a second striker.
The Frenchman was one of the most sought after young talents in all of world football. At 19, he was gradually breaking into a dominant Lyon side. The French club had won 7 successive league titles from 2002-2009. Benzema managed 27 appearances in the 2006-2007 seasons (1,400 minutes) and scored 8 goals and provided 5 assists. He played as a striker, a left winger, and a right winger. The youngster only started 14 of his 27 games.
It was the next season, at 20-21 years old, where Benzema exploded. He would go on to score 31 goals and provide 10 assists in 52 matches. Alex Ferguson was dying for Karim’s signature, but Florentino Perez beat him to the punch.
The caterano who has won over Zidane since the Frenchman’s start as a manager, has had a different developmental path than most. At 19 years old, Lucas Vazquez was still playing for Real Madrid C (one tier below Castilla). He made 14 appearances for Real Madrid C, scoring two goals. The following season, he joined the “golden generation” at Castilla and played well as a rotational piece / impact substitute. He never appeared for Spain at any youth level and would not have been picked out as a prospect from the academy widely tipped to be involved with the first team for over 5 years and to win 3 Champions League titles and 2 La Liga titles during that time.
Isco fled Valencia and Unai Emery in search of first-team minutes. With David Silva, David Villa, Joaquin, and Mata all in front of him in the pecking order, a return to boyhood and hometown club Malaga was on the cards. Malaga had begun an exciting new project with foreign investors and placed Manuel Pellegrini at the helm. At 19, in his first season with Malaga, Isco became an out-and-out starter. He helped Malaga earn a UCL spot and scored 5 goals, while also contributing with 5 assists in just over 2,700 mins.
In 2015, Rafa Benitez was announced as the new manager of Real Madrid after the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. Marco Asensio would take part in Real Madrid’s pre-season tour and impressed both the coaching staff as well as fans. Heading into the final month of the transfer market, there was a debate internally on whether to keep Marco in the squad or send him out on loan. Ultimately, a loan was agreed, with first-division Espanyol. At the Barcelona-based club, Asensio scored 4 goals and provided 15 assists, including 3 assists in one match vs Real Betis. He played over 3,000 minutes and featured on the left wing, right wing, and as a central attacking midfielder. Vincete Del Bosque admitted that he was very close to taking Marco Asensio to the European Championships that summer, and called him the “best talent in Spanish football”.
Even with exceptional talents like Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, and Eden Hazard — how many of these 19-20 year old versions of existing players listed above would make it into the Real Madrid’s starting XI in 2020, when all players are healthy? I’d argue none — maybe, just maybe, a young Eden Hazard could pull off playing on the right wing or maybe a young Toni Kroos could occupy that spot and play at the tip of a diamond, but it’s still slim pickings amongst these elite talents in this hypothetical world. In other words, all is not lost, if the likes of Vinicius JR, Rodrygo Goes, Kubo, etc. are not yet performing at Real Madrid levels on a weekly basis.