The Real Madrid academy, commonly known as “La Fabrica”, consistently produces professional-level talent. Many of the most talented young players in Spain and in Europe have worked their way through the different categories of the club’s youth system, never to make the ultimate step, debuting with the first-team. For many, just one single appearance for the mighty Real Madrid is enough to cement the realization of a dream.
In Zidane’s two separate tenures in charge, nine players have been handed their debut after being plucked from the academy and thrown into the spotlight. Of those nine players, four had been promoted to the first team; a feat very few achieve. Let’s examine the career path of each of those four canteranos (so far):
Zinedine Zidane had been in charge for a little over a month when he decided to hand Borja Mayoral his debut for Real Madrid. On February 27th, 2016, an 18-year-old Borja Mayoral was substituted into the match at halftime vs Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Karim Benzema had picked up an injury and Zidane put his faith in the striker whom he had managed just a few months prior at Castilla.
Mayoral was flanked in the attack by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez. The lanky and sleight of frame Mayoral, struggled with the physical challenge presented by Atletico Madrid center-back’s Godin and Giminez. He did manage to latch onto one golden opportunity. Jese Rodriguez played an aerial headed pass to Mayoral, within 10 yards of goal, but the youngster scuffed the volley with his left foot, leaving Oblak with an easy save.
The following season, Mayoral was loaned to Wolfsburg in Germany but failed to break into the team. In the 2017-2018 season after returning from Germany, Zidane trusted Mayoral to be the back-up to Karim Benzema and promoted him to the first team. Mayoral managed 24 appearances in his first full season with the Real Madrid first team, but that only amounted to 924 minutes. The Canterano scored 7 goals and provided 3 assists that year.
Now at 23-years-old, Mayoral is on loan from Real Madrid at Levante for the second successive season. The striker has found continuity at Levante, but has been far from a Real Madrid level striker. In 59 appearances for the club, he has only scored 11 goals and provided 3 assists. For the avid Loan Tracker listeners, it’s become commonplace for Mayoral’s to be labeled as a passenger in most matches. It’s unclear what the future holds as he returns to Real Madrid this summer. His contract expires in 2021.
After a successful preseason tour, 18-year-old Achraf Hakimi was promoted directly to the Real Madrid first team from Castilla. He formed as a part of the squad and provided back-up to first choice right fullback, Dani Carvajal. The Moroccan had been part of the Real Madrid youth academy since he was 10-years-old and had worked his way up through each category.
He made his debut in La Liga against Espanyol, starting as the team’s right fullback. Real Madrid comfortably cruised to a 2-0 victory with Achraf looking composed and comfortable. After the victory, Achraf revealed what Zidane had said to him pre-match. “The coach phoned me yesterday and told me that I’d play today. He told me to remain calm during the game. I am very happy to make my debut at the best club (in the world). This is a day I will never forget,” he told reporters.
In total, Achraf played 17 games in his debut season as a professional and amassed 1,300 minutes. His biggest test’s were the two starts vs Tottenham Hotspur, both home and away, in the UEFA Champions League. In both matches he struggled as an attacking outlet for Zidane’s diamond formation and in all honesty did look like a mere teenager with plenty of room to improve. Despite the up’s and down’s in his first season, Achraf provided glimpses of the attacking quality which has made him a household name today. He scored two goals and contributed one assist, including his first goal for the club in the 5-0 route over Sevilla at the Bernabeu.
Following the 2017-2018 season, Achraf decided to follow in Dani Carvajal’s footsteps and move to Germany to gain more experience. He opted for a two-year loan spell with German powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund. Since his move, Achraf has developed at an exponential rate and is now widely considered one of the best right backs in the world. Arguably, his greatest characteristic — aside from the frightening speed — is his versatility. At Dortmund, he has played as a LB, RB, RWB, RW, and even LW. Over the course of two seasons at Borussia Dortmund, Achraf has played 65 games and scored 10 goals while also contributing with 17 assists. Many reports have indicated that Achraf will return this summer to Real Madrid and once again rival Dani Carvajal for the right back position.
Originally from Girona, Ruben Yanez joined the club in 2012 and was one of the goalkeepers for Real Madrid C. He was promoted directly from Castilla to the Real Madrid first team in August of 2015 as a 22-year-old. Though, it was not Zinedine Zidane who had promoted the keeper, but his predecessor, Rafa Benitez. During his two seasons at the club, Yanez was consistently third choice behind Keylor Navas and Kiko Casilla.
His debut, and single appearance for the club, came in the Copa Del Rey thrashing of Cultural Leonesa. Ruben Yanez was brought on as a substitute for the final 14 minutes of the match replacing Kiko Casilla. The team was already winning 5-0 upon Yanez’ arrival into the match. Unfortunately, there would be no clean-sheet as Cultural Leonesa parted with one late consultation goal.
Yanez departed Real Madrid in 2017 and transferred to Getafe, where he was then immediately loaned to Cadiz. He only made four appearances for Cadiz, all in the Copa Del Rey. The following season, 2018-2019, he was the third choice goalkeeper at Getafe. This season he was loaned out to Huesca. Once again, he has been relegated to a bit-part role and has only featured in 5 matches. Since signing for Getafe in 2017, he has yet to play an official match for the club.
Following the departure of Ruben Yanez in the summer of 2017, Zinedine Zidane directly promoted his son, Luca, to the first team. The then 19-year-old acted as the club’s third choice goalkeeper, but also featured regularly for Castilla. Luca Zidane ended up playing 13 matches for Castilla in the same season that he was promoted to the first team.
Zidane’s final game La Liga game during his first tenure, saw Luca Zidane start in net. The match was away to Villarreal at the Estadio La Ceramica. Despite drawing the match 2-2, Luca looked composed with the ball at his feet and was often used as an outlet to play out of the back.
Currently, Luca is plying his trade on loan at Second division side, Racing Santander. He is the starting goalkeeper for the club. He is player who we have kept tabs on in the Loan Tracker podcast, and he has done surprisingly well. His size does put him at a disadvantaged, but he has quick reflexes and very good technical quality with his feet.
The remaining academy debutants under Zinedine Zidane had their moment of glory in the Copa Del Rey. All of these individuals, played the lone game or two for Real Madrid - either against Cultural Leonesa or Fuenlabrada:
The oldest Zidane son, and the second Zidane son on the debutant list. Enzo was given 45 minutes in the second leg vs Culutral Leonesa in the 2016/2017 season. The match against Cultural Leonesa is the only match Enzo has played for the first team. His 45 minutes were brilliant and included a gorgeous Zinedine Zidane-esque goal. There were moments throughout the match where one could see that Enzo had the Zidane DNA.
Despite being an extremely skillful player, Enzo has always struggled on the physical side of the game. In the summer of 2017, Enzo signed for Deportivo Alaves on a 3 year deal for an undisclosed fee with Real Madrid including a buy-back clause in the contract. He found chances very limited, two in total, and decided to leave in the winter market. He took a strange path and moved to Switzerland to play for FC Lausanne-Sport. He finished out the season in Switzerland scoring 2 goals and providing 1 assist in 16 appearances.
In 2018, Enzo moved back to Spain playing in Segunda with Rayo Mahoanda on a 1 year loan deal. He played 36 games that season and did not score a single goal. He provided only 1 assist. His career continued to bounce around. In the summer of 2019, he moved to Portugal as a free agent. With Portuguese club, Aves, Enzo played 11 matches in total — starting 6 and featuring as a substitute in 5. It was a quick 6 months in Portugal, before he moved back to Spain in the most recent winter transfer period to join Guti’s Almeria. He has had one substitute appearance for Almeria since joining in February.
The Argentinian winger has made two appearances for Real Madrid, both in the Copa Del Rey, during the 2017/2018 season. Both appearances came against Fuenlabrada. His debut came in the first leg, the away fixture, where Real Madrid ran out 2-0 victors. Franchu played the final nine minutes at right wing after substituting Achraf Hakimi and moving Lucas Vazquez to the right back role.
The following season, Franchu remained in Castilla but succumbed to a season ending ACL injury in December. He has since recovered and is once again playing for Castilla, this season under Raul. His progress has been stunted by the injury, but the Argentinian will likely look for a move to a higher level this summer.
In November of 2017, Oscar Rodriguez was handed his first-team debut at home to Fuenlabrada in the Copa Del Rey second leg. He started the match and was placed on the left wing. Overall, it was a rather timid debut from the then 19-year-old who many fans were aware of due to his good play with Guti and Juvenil A. Zidane liked Oscar and even gave the youngster some minutes in the preseason. He scored a typical Oscar golazo vs Manchester City in the International Champions Cup.
The following season, Oscar was loaned to Leganes. Expectations were low given that he had failed to translate his good performances with Juvenil A to Castilla. Instead, Oscar surprised everyone and became a fixture in Mauricio Pellegrino’s line-ups. Now in his second year at Leganes, he has scored 7 goals. If they manage to stay up, much of it will be down to Oscar’s attacking influence. It is unclear whether Oscar Rodriguez still has a Real Madrid future, but he is certainly a quality La Liga player.
Another academy prospect who was handed his debut in the 2nd leg vs Fuenlabrada in the Copa Del Rey. Quezada has the ability to play at either left back or left wing and made his debut for the first team on the left wing. He entered the match for Oscar Rodriguez and played the final 15 minutes of a 2-2 draw.
Luismi Quezada left Real Madrid in the summer of 2018 and joined Cordoba on loan in the Spanish second division. He played a total of 16 matches both at left back and left wing. After the loan move, he secured a three year deal with Cadiz. He has played a backseat role with Cadiz, only featuring in five matches this season.
Seoane was the fourth academy prospect to make his debut vs Fuenlabrada in the Copa Del Rey. He featured for a total of nine minutes and only had a few touches, but will surely cherish his debut on the Bernabeu pitch.
The central midfielder featured prominently for Castilla in both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons. After a good spell with Castilla, Seoane signed for Huesca on a three year deal playing in the Spanish second division. He only managed 4 appearances for Huesca and decided to move to fellow Spanish second division side, Lugo, on loan in the January 2020 transfer window. Since moving to Lugo, Seoane has started all five matches in a central midfield role.
Many former academy players bounce around from club to club as evidenced by the up and down career path of Enzo Zidane. Of the nine academy players who have been handed their debut by Zidane, it’s likely that only two, potentially, have any type of Real Madrid future. Oscar Rodriguez and Achraf Hakimi are two prospects that may eventually find their way back to Real Madrid. Particularly, Achraf Hakimi, the Moroccan is the only outfield player whom Zidane has directly promoted from the first team.