Real Madrid: Will Luka Jovic, Martin Odegaard make other young attackers hesitant?

Real Madrid, Luka Jovic (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Luka Jovic (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid have loaned two young attacking players in the January transfer window despite being in second place in La Liga and out of all domestic cup competitions. Los Blancos could very well go trophyless this season, but they are also heading for a difficult situation when it comes to the integrity of their youth project.

President Florentino Perez has prioritized youth signings for one reason and one reason only. He wants superstars, but he doesn’t want to pay a premium price for them. That’s ironic, of course, because Los Blancos are closely linked with Kylian Mbappe, who will cost at least 150 million euros in assets.

The problem is that if you want a youth movement, you need to create an environment that is actually conducive to players developing into superstars. With the exception of a select few, most young talents need time and patience in order to become major stars. And by time, I don’t just mean years. I mean literal minutes on the pitch.

Real Madrid are not a patient club. Look at what we have seen this season. Twice, Zinedine Zidane has felt heat on his job, in spite of the fact that this squad has been hurt by injuries, COVID-19, and zero transfers. Whenever he benches the old guard to give younger players a chance, Real lose. And that’s understandable. You will lose games when starting less experienced players who haven’t been fully integrated into the team. That’s where the necessity of patience comes in. But how can Zidane keep his job when he does not have the confidence that the club structure will give him that patience?

Luka Jovic, Martin Odegaard could be cautionary tales at Real Madrid

So the young players do not play, they then have to leave on loan, and we get into a situation where we agonize over balancing young players getting minutes on loan but still being at a competitive enough club so that the eventual jump to Real Madrid isn’t too steep.

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It’s so tough to juggle all these issues at a club like Real Madrid, which is why there needs to be a careful plan. Perez has no plan. If he does, please tell me, because all I see is a guy who signed a bunch of blank checks and told his coach, “Make this work. Oh and by the way, if we don’t win a title, you’re fired.”

At the end of the day, the players who are hurt the most are the young players who sign on. Martin Odegaard wasted six months at Real Madrid by not playing. He spent YEARS on loan, working hard to get to the first team. Zidane should have done a better job of integrating him into the team, but he also missed time with injury.

Furthermore, it’s hard for Zidane to fit him in the lineup when Luka Modric is so necessary to the team’s success. How could he fit Modric, Odegaard, and Casemiro in? Casemiro is also necessary to avoid allowing counterattacking goals!

Real Madrid, Luka Jovic
Real Madrid, Luka Jovic (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Zinedine Zidane is not to blame for this structural issue at Real Madrid

Luka Jovic has had it the worst, though. Real signed him for 60 million euros, and they had no idea how to fit him and Karim Benzema. They did not even try. This man scored 27 goals in 2018-2019, got a big transfer to Madrid, and wasted 18 months mostly sitting on the bench. In those 18 months, Jovic could have been playing consistently, scoring goals, and perfecting his craft at another club. Instead, he wasted valuable time in his young career just sitting there.

Do I blame Zidane? No, because it’s so tough to bench a legend like Benzema who provides goals and assists in spades, to the point where he is the team’s clear leader in both categories. But did Real really spend 60 million euros on Jovic to be a seldom-used backup? They could have paid a fraction of the price for an experienced striker instead of toying with Jovic like that.

Young stars like Jovic chose Real Madrid over other opportunities. Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, and Takefusa Kubo all had other suitors, too, before joining Real.

But if Real want to keep signing the best young players in the world, they need to prove to these players that they are a destination worth going to. Players are smart. They’ve seen how Erling Haaland has flourished with regular playing time at Borussia Dortmund, and they have taken notice of how the RB Leipzig system develops talent. There are ways young players can become established stars through these routes by joining teams that value and develop youth.

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If Real Madrid want to get in on the game, they need to prove to the young players that they are a club worth joining and not a place where their careers will be derailed and they will be miserable. Jovic and Odegaard could prove to be cautionary tales for future transfer targets if Los Blancos are not careful. Their situations may make other players think twice about joining Real as an attacking player due to the scrutiny, paucity of minutes, and lack of long-term planning of their developments.