Real Madrid: Stats show Zinedine Zidane is not holding back youth

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

There is this narrative that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane does not trust young players. Luka Jovic and Martin Odegaard, who both ended up receiving loan deals this winter, are pointed out as two apparently damning examples that Zidane is just some old goof who can’t get with the times. Or something like that.

But just like the narrative around Zidane’s supposedly average tactical acumen has been completely turned on its head after he blew Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool out of the water, hopefully the bizarre notion that Zizou holds back young talent is scrapped soon, too.

In their weekly post, the CIES Football Observatory took a look at which teams around Europe give the most minutes to players under the age of 21. Unsurprisingly, Borussia Dortmund were in first. But some Madridistas may have been surprised to see that in their own league, Real Madrid rank third behind only Barcelona and Valencia.

Does that sound like Zidane is holding back young players?

Let’s look at the men under the age of 21 who have been getting minutes for Los Blancos. Vinicius Junior has nearly 1,500 minutes played in La Liga. Rodrygo Goes, despite injuries, has 566 minutes. Sergio Arribas and Marvin Park have 109 and 87, respectively. And even Hugo Duro and Victor Chust have made league appearances for Los Merengues.

Only three elite clubs give more minutes to U21 players than Real Madrid

How do Real Madrid stack up in comparison to Europe’s elite clubs?

Glad you asked!

Manchester City, PSG, and Barça are the only top clubs that give a higher percentage of minutes to players under the age of 21. That’s it. Real Madrid give more minutes to young players than the likes of Chelsea, Juventus, and Bayern Munich.

It is tough for a player under the age of 21 to crack the rotation in Madrid. This is team that is competing for the league and Champions League titles. Excellence is expected, and it can be tough for a young player who is still learning to meet these expectations. Yet that hasn’t stopped the likes of Vini and Rodrygo from being key contributors this season, while Arribas and Marvin have impressed in small roles.

So what of Odegaard and Jovic? The former was dealing with a knee injury from the previous season, and he could not earn a start over Luka Modric. Zidane could have done more to squeeze him in, but how healthy was Odegaard?

As for Jovic, Zidane was unwilling to shuffle his entire team to a two-striker system just to accommodate one player who is good but not world-class. And Jovic did not play well enough in two starts at the beginning of the season to justify a formation change.

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Additionally, Jovic is not under the age of 21 and neither is Odegaard. So are they really prospects? When it comes to prospects, Zidane seems to be doing his part if a player shows the right stuff, as the numbers imply.