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Keeping Castilla’s brightest talents might not be a bad idea after all

On the futures of Castilla’s best players and what staying might mean for the coming season

Real Madrid v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The first pre season friendly has been played and we are all emerging from the international furor and drama of the summer. It has been a busy one for the first team (mostly for the wrong reasons one might argue); Zidane left, Ancelotti came back, Sergio Ramos joined Paris Saint Germain and Raphael Varane looks set to follow him out the door in the coming weeks not to mention all the off-pitch drama.

It’s strange watching all this excitement occur at the upper levels of the club compared to serenity of the reserves. Back in May, Castilla followers expected departures. Raul refused to confirm his future in the face of rumors' that he had been approached about moving to Germany. Over a fortnight later, Antonio Blanco echoed the same sentiments while on Spain U-21 duty and was joined by the likes of Marvin Park, Sergio Arribas, Victor Chust and Miguel Gutierrez, all of whom have been rumored with moves away. None of this is particularly unusually for the reserves.

Last season just three players from the 2019/20 squad returned to play for Castilla. That side contained just four players that had reached the playoffs in 2018/19 and so on and so forth. What is truly strange about Castilla’s summer so far is that no real moves have occurred in spite of every reason to believe they would. Speculation around Raul’s future has more or less disappeared and only two notable departures in Hugo Duro and Diego Altube have been made official in spite of all the interest surrounding key members of the squad.

The finish line for silly season is only just coming over the horizon. There is still plenty of times for a surprise and, to be realistic, there will probably will be at least one. Nonetheless, the latest coming from the Castilla camp is that the silence is purposeful, the club’s plan being to keep the core of last season’s team for another year.

Iván Martín, a trustworthy source in the realm of Castilla news, recently reported that Chust, Arribas, Park, Gutierrez, Gila as well as goalkeepers Toni Fuidas and Luis Lopez will stay at the club this year. Lopez can be considered the favorite to succeed Altube in the reserve role given Raul’s preference of Fuidas last season (15 starts compared to Lopez’s seven) with the four outfield players also being at Carlo Ancelotti’s disposal.

It’s an interesting decision for Madrid, especially in regard to senior members like Park and Gila whose careers would have benefited moving on from the club this summer. Martín also correctly points out that Real Madrid are looking to cut down on the number of senior team players in the team for next year not add more to the mix. The likes of Gutierrez and Arribas took full advantage of a massive injury crisis in the team last season, however, if such a crisis can be avoided this year, it doesn’t sound likely that all six will be able to match the sort of minutes they played with the first team last season.

One must also consider other things like Carlo Ancelotti’s player preferences, the natural struggles of a sophomore year for youngsters in the top level, injuries etc. All this is to say that, by in large, one would expect most of these players to be Castilla players next season rather than Real Madrid ones. Such a decision is bound to be polarizing come September and whether it proves to be a good or bad one is likely to change with the fortunes of each player throughout the campaign

It can’t be denied that Real Madrid generally prefer a high profile loan for their young stars . Javi Sanchez and Jorge de Frutos to Real Valladolid, Reinier Jesus jumping to Borrusia Dortmund after six months in Spain, Take Kubo to Real Mallorca, Miguel Baeza heading off to Celta all spring to mind. There is always plenty of excitement seeing a young prospect reared in the academy heading off into the big bad world of top flight football and it speaks of the reputation of La Fabrica that big names are willing to take a “gamble” on Real Madrid youngsters.

I use gamble in the loosest sense of the word. Although there is trust in bring a young player into a senior side setup, actually playing him outside of squad disaster is another thing entirely. Javi Sanchez arrived at Real Valladolid with an ankle injury. In spite of returning to full fitness in January, he didn’t make his debut in the team until the season restart in June 2020 (a game in which he played two minutes) . Ironically, Sanchez has only established himself at the club since signing a permanent contract. In fact, he clocked his biggest contribution of the season in the game after the transfer was made offical, playing 83 minutes against Atletico Madrid and has been largely a starter at the club ever since.

His Castilla teammate, Jorge De Frutos, managed 53 LaLiga minutes in six months in northwest Spain before he being bounced back to Madrid in the shape of Rayo Vallecano. Reinier Jesus needed just a handful of games to mark himself as the best of the three Brazilian talents to play for Castilla, but that he has managed just five matches with Dortmund since his move will likely set him back at least one or two years. That sort of time won’t be afforded to him at Madrid and even those that don’t watch youth football are aware of the damage these loan moves do to the development of Real’s youngsters when they go bad.

Naturally, there is a tendency to blame the loan team. Why bring in a player you don’t plan on playing? Though fair criticism, it lacks self awareness given Real Madrid are effectively doing the exact same thing in buying said players in the first place. The Celta Vigos and Real Valladolids have a lot to lose in throwing a fresh faced 20 something year old into their starting lineup and, just like Real are suffering with Vinicius, there are a lot of growing pains in getting the best out of them. Not to mention that no team is interested in loaning in a starter who’ll they have to replace in a few months time. Not unless said player is going to significantly boost the team’s ceiling.

Real Madrid have a role in this as well. The club reportedly set up a loan department two years to avoid these sort of moves going poorly and yet the track record has continue to be poor. It was also no secret to those in Castilla circles, that Javi Sanchez and Jorge de Frutos had what it took to make it in first division, that was made abundantly clear by their performances at Castilla. There is a little bit of snobbery in regards to performances in the third tier, however, the reality is that Castilla have only spent four seasons in the second division this century and, yet, still boast the most graduates playing in Europe’s top flight leagues and are among one of the most common stepping stones clubs for established top flight players. There is 100% a massive carrot to be had in having the reserves in Segunda, however, there is no evidence to suggest that being in the third is stunting the conveyer belt of world class talent La Fabrica is producing. At least, we don’t have a large enough sample size to say it is.

In this, we return full circle. Last season, Castilla did what they needed to do to secure the team’s long term future. They won the battle, but there is still a war to be fought. The Primera RFEF is most certainly harder than the division that Castilla has left behind. It’s filled with some high profile B teams (Barcelona, Villarreal, Betis Deportivo), some good fourth tier sides (Alcoyano, Algeciras) and some familiar faces that have regularly challenged Castilla for promotion. If Raul’s side is going to have any chance of repeat or adding to the successes of last season, he’s going to need experience. Keeping the core of last year’s side gives him exactly that and also provides much of that very same core the chance to further establish themselves in a way that a loan move might not allow.

Individually, some players may suffer but as a collective there is a scenario where holding onto the best and brightest looks like a very good decision come next summer.