A sense of inevitability and deja vu filled the air on Wednesday morning, when news broke that Real Madrid star Martin Odegaard had handed in a transfer request in search of regular first-team football.
You can just picture the Madrid board’s reaction now: ‘Good riddance! He wasn’t Real Madrid quality anyway! He never proved himself to be worthy of our beloved white jersey! We’ll get a pretty fee for this one, that’s for sure! ‘
Only, one of those statements is true.
Odegaard is just the latest example of a talented youngster who grew tired waiting for his chance to burst onto the scene and make Santiago Bernabeu his very own stage. Instead, he looks set to abandon this particular dream, where he will undoubtedly go on to prove Madrid wrong in their assessment of the Norwegian playmaker.
And he wouldn’t be the first to highlight a worrying lack of faith in young footballers in the Spanish capital, particularly under the stewardship of current coach Zinedine Zidane.
The Frenchman is known for his masterful art of ego-whispering, keeping the biggest names in football onside and coaxing them to European and La Liga glory. And you can’t win a league title without some tactical intelligence in the bank, so it’d be amiss not to mention that he is a more than capable coach as well as a man-manager.
But one glaring flaw in Zidane’s managerial game is his impatience and inability to nurture and develop young, upcoming talent into the first team. Madrid have taken a new direction in their transfer policy in previous years, avoiding the hefty price tags of Galactico signings and instead banking on young, exciting talents to trickle into the starting lineup.
Los Blancos scoured the market for the hottest teenagers on the planet, and even promoted youth academy products of their own into the senior side, hoping that by the year 2021, their starting XI would be filled with precocious wonderkids.
Instead, Zidane is still heavily reliant on stalwarts Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema. And the fact that this team cannot function when one or two of these superstars are absent highlights some major failings in their recruitment – but principally in their treatment of the next generation.
Selling Odegaard, a youngster who demonstrated just how much of an impact he could have in the Spanish top flight while on loan at Real Sociedad last year, is purely a damning indictment of Zidane’s attitude towards Madrid’s future starlets.
The 22-year-old has made a measly seven league appearances this season, completing more than a half of football on only two of those occasions. Compare that to last year’s heroics, when he scored seven and assisted nine in all competitions, and you begin to understand where the fault may lie.
It’s no wonder he’s looking to follow Luka Jovic out of the door. The Serbian striker arrived in Madrid from Eintracht Frankfurt, having scored 28 goals in all competitions over the course of the 2018/19 season.
One year in the Spanish capital with Zidane sent the forward’s career arc on a rapid downward trajectory, from which many thought he would never recover. He scored only two league goals for Los Merengues in 18 months – albeit from a bunch of cameo displays – prompting his coach to send him packing from whence he came.
Now, make of this what you will, but Jovic matched the two goals he managed in 569 minutes with Madrid in only 28 minutes on his return to action for Frankfurt. The Serb was back firing, while Blancos fans were forced to watch their men crash out of the Supercopa de España.
It’s not only forwards which Zidane has trouble trusting. Full-backs Sergio Reguilon and Achraf Hakimi were both deemed surplus to requirements in the summer and were sold to Tottenham Hotspur and Inter respectively, where they are both lighting up their new homes.
Madrid also spent €30m on Real Sociedad wing-back Alvaro Odriozola in 2018, and he has made a grand total of 19 league appearances ahead of the experienced Carvajal. Zidane has even opted to play winger Lucas Vazquez at full-back this year, clearly indicating the food chain to the out-of-favour Spanish star.
Flying left-back Theo Hernandez came in 2017 and left for Milan in 2019, with 13 league appearances under his belt, and he has since transformed into one of the most exciting attacking defenders in world football.
They even took a financial loss on the 23-year-old to get him off the books. Madness. Milan clearly spotted a gap in this particular market, and brought in midfielder Brahim Diaz on loan, and I Rossoneri are now sitting top of Serie A.
Atletico Madrid also took note of Los Blancos’ wasteful tendencies towards youngsters, and convinced academy product Marcos Llorente that the grass was greener at the Wanda Metropolitano in 2019. 18 months later, Los Rojiblancos sit four points clear at the top of the table with two games in hand on their city rivals – and Llorente is truly at the heart of their success.
And talk about misunderstanding a player’s potential – the 25-year-old was a holding midfielder with no senior goals to his name before joining Atleti, where he now has nine goals and six assists playing behind the striker.
So, all of that mismanagement must raise concerns for the current crop of starlets still on Madrid’s books.
Eder Militao is probably wondering if Madrid will convince Ramos to play until he’s 50, meaning the Brazilian will never be handed his chance to shine – even if partner Raphael Varane has hardly impressed in recent months.
Arsenal loanee Dani Ceballos must feel caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, either destined for mediocrity with the Gunners, or be banished at the hands of Zidane.
And the latest star of Japanese football Takefusa Kubo is having the time of his life on loan at Getafe, unaware of the treachery and heartache that awaits him.
So, is it all Zidane’s fault? Well, one player reaching his peak away from the Bernabeu may be a coincidence, and two might be considered unlucky. But a list as long as a potential starting XI? That’s poor managerial skills.
Madrid fans may like to think they’ll lose little sleep over Odegaard’s departure, given his lack of involvement for the club at a senior level. But perhaps they’ll look back on this moment in 10 years, when a 45-year-old Modric and 41-year-old Kroos are being wheeled out to face their sprightly opponents, and wonder if they should have sacrificed immediate success for a couple of years, to look towards a long-term plan.
The future is bright, after all, just not in Madrid.