PETE JENSON: For all the brilliance of Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois against Man City, Real Madrid kids Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga carried them to the Paris final… the Spanish giants’ shift from signing Galacticos to starlets is paying off
- Real Madrid’s win over Manchester City was formed on policy change from 2014
- They started to focus on bringing in talented teenagers for less than star names
- Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga starred in Real’s victory over Manchester City
- Kylian Mbappe is still on their radar this summer but the future does look bright
It was about 2014 when Real Madrid decided they wanted to stop being the club that just bought Ballon d’Or winners for €150m, and start being the team that signed talented teenagers for less than a third of the price. Their victory over Manchester City was built on that policy change six years ago.
If not for Vinicius’ incredible goal in the first leg, a second leg comeback might have been beyond even them. And if not for Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga on Wednesday night they would not be in the Paris final.
For all the brilliance of Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois, it was the supporting cast of kids that carried them over the line.
Real Madrid youngsters Rodrygo (front) and Eduardo Camavinga (back) were crucial to their win over Manchester City
Rodrygo’s goals per games record in the Champions League is one every 104 minutes, that’s better than every other player who has played at least 10 games for the club in Europe, bar Ferenc Puskas and Cristiano Ronaldo.
His ability to be in the right place at the right time in the biggest of games is even more incredible in view of his limited role in the league this season – only 13 starts.
Camavinga was not far behind him with his contribution. It was his pass out to Benzema ahead of the first goal. And it’s his running with the ball that looks like it’s been super-imposed on the game from another match – he’s fresh while others are wilting.
That can be explained by the fact that he had come off the bench but he’s 19 – it’s far harder to explain where he gets the confidence to dominate the biggest game of the season at both ends of the pitch the way he did.
Madrid supporters have wondered where their midfield will be, once Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are no longer playing.
Judging by Camavinga’s performances in the Champions League this season they need have no concerns.
Madrid were so often linked with Paul Pogba but they really only ever had eyes for someone who looks like he can be better than Manchester United’s French World Cup winner.
Rodrygo scored two after the 90th minute to take Champions League semi-final to extra-time
Not all the deals for youth have worked out. Brazil Under 23 international Reinier Jesus is still out on loan at Borussia Dortmund and struggling to make an impact. Martin Odegaard had to leave to get regular football and Take Kubo is out on loan and in a relegation battle at Mallorca.
They also still signed Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic for big money and both have flopped but the drive towards taking young talent and making it theirs has worked.
Fede Valverde is another example. He came through at Penarol in Uruguay after having stood out in the country’s legendary ‘baby football’ starter matches from six years of age.
He was spotted by Real Madrid’s top South American scout Juni Calafat when he was 19 and he was persuaded to move to a Spanish-speaking country as opposed to England where Arsenal and Chelsea were among the clubs rumoured to be promising him a fast-track route to the first team.
Camavinga’s performances in the Champions League this season have been impressive
Calafat is also the man behind the signings of both Rodrygo and Vinicius. It was in 2016 when he was urging Madrid to pay €5m for Valverde, and the club trusted him enough to listen, and take his advice.
He was by now the club’s chief scout internationally and with a gift not just for spotting players but for persuading them to join too.
Barcelona wanted Rodrygo but they had no chance once Madrid had stepped in to sign him for an estimated €60m. Vinicius arrived for a similar fee from Flamengo.
This was big money for kids, and Rodrygo had only played 11 games for Santos albeit scoring 10 goals, but Madrid did not want to miss out on the pair as they had missed out on Neymar.
Real will play Liverpool in the Champions League final in Paris after sensational comeback win
Now the two Brazilians look like eclipsing Neymar, just as Camavinga has the potential to be better than Pogba.
This summer Madrid are expected to go back to their old habits and sign an established star for big money (paid to him in signing on fee and wages and not to his club). The question being asked on Wednesday night was: will Kylian Mbappe get in the side?
It was tongue in cheek of course. If Mbappe arrives, Carlo Ancelotti will have the new signing plus Rodrygo, Vinicius and Benzema to pick his front three from. In midfield Camavinga and Valverde will continue to contest the evergreen Modric, Casemiro and Kroos.
In the meantime Ancleotti must decide which of the young pretenders start in Paris.
He’s still likely to start with the old guard but as he said in the preview to the second leg regarding Camavinga and Rodrygo: ‘Sometimes it’s not who starts but who finishes the game that matters.’
Real boss Carlo Ancleotti must decide which of the young pretenders start the final in Paris