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The rapid rise of Israel Salazar

U-15 Kirin Lemon Cup - Day 1 Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images

Hot on the heels of our UEFA Youth League preview, Raul Gonzalez announced the 40 kids who’d be travelling to Switzerland. The current Castilla coach has called upon a number of players across three age groups throughout training meaning few were surprised when he released a diverse squad list for Sunday’s game against Juventus. Amongst the 40 is cantera darling Israel Salazar.

Despite plying his trade for Real’s youth ranks since the age of 12, Sala’s fledgling career so far has already seen him put some miles under his belt. He started out in Guadeloupe in western Spain, a two hour drive from his native Badajoz. From there, he has travelled to Andalusia, returned for a stint at a youth team in his hometown before signing for Real Madrid in 2015.

Starting out at Infantil B, his half-decade in Madrid has been dominated by goals. He has finished top goalscorer of every competition he has ever played in and has found the back of the net 157 times since he joined, no one has scored more in that time. Ironically, in the lone Salazar game that I watched before the lockdown, he missed a sitter and finished without a goal. Nonetheless, what impressed me about the pink booted assassin that night was that he played out wide and completely dominated his marker.

“He is top five of La Fábrica in the last four seasons without any doubt,” Julio Sanchez Barreda, who covers Real Madrid youth sides for ADN Blanco and Real Madrid TV, told me, “ The best of him is that he is way more than a goal scoring striker. He’s a very good, competitive player who appears all over the pitch, not just in the finishing zone.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by anyone who has watched Salazar closely. When I asked Real Madrid Fabrica, a Twitter account that has followed Salazar closer than most this season, what the teen’s most underrated traits were, he responded “For me his most underestimated quality is his ability to resist under pressure, to play as a pivot and then go on and leave his defender in place. His off-the-ball movements are also remarkable, he knows how to attack the space and is very clever in his positioning and in his ball calls.”

All this form and talent has been richly rewarded. In November 2018, the 16-year-old got a premature debut for the Spain U-17s against Bulgaria, typically marking the occasion with a goal. This season, the reward for a campaign in which he scored 28 goals in 18 matches comes in the form of a slightly unexpected UEFA Youth League call up having only started training with the team last Monday.

His case was helped by the unfortunate injury of inform Juvenil B forward Andri Gudjohnsen (son of Eidur) which has ruled the Icelandic striker out for next season and ensured his place in the U-19s next season. Whether he will get any minutes is another matter.

“He has two strikers already ahead of him in the pecking order and I think Raul will favour Latasa and Pablo,” Real Madrid Fabrica said of his playing chances, “but if he has a chance and impresses, I think Raul will not hesitate to play him as a starter even if it’s an unlikely scenario. In any case, Raúl will be paying close attention to what he does because he must have seen that Salazar is a special player.”

To this point, Salazar had been reported to have several role models including Cristiano Ronaldo and the closer to home Borja Mayoral, however, few are likely to be more influential in Sala’s career than Raul can potentially be.

His place in Juvenil A assured, the promising young forward has a chance to fully capture the attention of the Castilla coach and firmly place himself in the conversation for the odd Castilla appearance next season. Raul offers him the chance to work with a coach that will understand him better than anyone, having enjoyed the child prodigy title himself when he was in the academy.

That sort of shared experience comes at a good time. Juvenil A is one of the most challenging and phyiscally demanding age groups in the academy and the things that have come so easy for Salazar so far, might not do so over the next season or so. The UEFA Youth League this season will be the first test in that case and it will be interesting how the young Salazar manages its heading into the new campaign.

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Posted by Managing Madrid on Monday, August 17, 2020

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