Real Madrid football is returning to your TV screens, however, for some of you it will be unfamiliar surroundings. With the club’s traditional home currently a building site, Los Blancos will be hosting Eibar at Castilla’s home venue, The Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.
Sitting on the edge of the massive Real Madrid Valdebebas complex, the 6,000 seater stadium was opened in 2004 and played host to hundreds of games across the third and second division of Spanish Football. One could argue that the venue change is yet more disruption for an already disruptive season, however, a more optimistic view of the move is that much of the current senior team setup are returning to their roots and that might give Los Blancos a small edge in this season’s title race.
Renovations are underway at the Di Stefano stadium - new floodlights will be erected at the Valdebebas pitch to ensure that the pitch is fully illuminated for TV broadcasts, and advertising billboards are set to be installed in order to comply with sponsorship deals. [@Marca] pic.twitter.com/VcvPvi8COw— Infinite Madrid (@InfiniteMadrid) May 30, 2020
Nine members of the current first team have competitive first-hand experience with the Di Stefano stadium. Nacho Fernandez, Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez, Fede Valverde, Mariano Diaz, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes have all played there while Zinedine Zidane started his managerial career at the Di Stefano stadium. Few grounds carry the the emotional and historical weight the Santiago Bernabéu does, however, for this particular dressing room the Di Stefano will carry plenty of emotional weight.
The last time Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro and Nacho stepped foot in a competitive game in this stadium was during Castilla most recent golden era, where the club were promoted as runaway champions in 2011/12 and survived a season in the second division before returning to Segunda B.
“I think the ascent to Segunda was one of the most magical memories. Every time we step on this pitch, that scene and that day come to mind. I remember it with a lot of affection” Dani Carvajal told Real Madrid TV last January, Nacho followed up those comments by saying, “If I had to only keep one year in my footballing career, I would stay with that year.”
Marca recently interviewed players from the 2011/12 Castilla team. One comment that has stuck with me came from from current Alaves forward Joselu who said, “It was the start of something that I’m still living, those two seasons.”
The later graduates will be no different, someone like Mariano Diaz will likely see the Di Stefano as the place where he played the best football of his career so far. Lucas Vazquez and Casemiro will remember the games that saw Castilla survive that first season in the Segunda division.
One might see these memories as irrelevant to Real Madrid’s campaign going forward, however, I think one has to respect this intangible. Young players at Real Madrid are practically raised by the club. They live and are educated on the team grounds and play their football mere metres from their homes. Real Madrid do this because they want their youth players insulated into the club’s culture, it provides an extra competitive edge.
It’s also worth remembering that Zinedine Zidane is Real Madrid manager. Rightly or wrongly, many owe his success to his motivation skills and one need only listen to his press conferences to realize how much he appreciates the intangibles of football. He will no doubt squeeze every drop of emotional fuel the Di Stefano has got and will be armed with the knowledge of knowing exactly what buttons to press given that he is also returning to the Di Stefano having started his coaching career at Castilla.
Outside of this undeniably intangible advantages, there are potential tangible ones too. The Di Stefano will be new to away teams and few players will have any experience actually playing while most of Real Madrid’s team have played there in some form or another (Sergio Ramos scored the first goal there for instance).
With all other Spanish leagues cancelled, there are a host of talented young players that can be brought into the fold if needs be. Zidane certainly seems keen on youth as a possible answer to the likely injuries Real will face, calling up Reinier Jesus and Javi Hernandez for first team training.
One crucial element of being a Real Madrid player is managing the dizzying transition of youth team football in front of small crowds at the club’s training ground to professional top flight football in front of 80,000 of Europe’s most demanding’s fans. In that aforementioned Marca interview, the players spoke about why Castilla failed to be promoted the previous season,
“In the first season, the mistake was made of playing at the Bernabeu,” fomer Castilla defender Juanfran said, “we saw 50,000 people in the stands and it wasn’t good.”
Playing in familiar surroundings takes one worry off the mind of any youngster that might have to step up and the lack of the crowd also takes alot of pressure off.
The Santiago Bernabéu will be missed by fans and players alike, however, don’t doubt that playing at the Di Stefano doesn’t produce a trove of it owns advantages.