In just a few weeks, Real Madrid will face Liverpool in another Champions League Final, but, this time, they will be facing a more experienced and dangerous Reds’ side – even moreso than the team they beat in the Champions League quarterfinals last season.
Real, of course, did not have an easy road to getting to this final. They had to beat three of the very best teams in the world – PSG, Chelsea, and the imposing Manchester City. Los Blancos had to conjure magic and Santiago Bernabeu Remontadas, but they earned their spot in the final through their club’s identity. They will win by any means necessary.
There are so many people to praise for Los Merengues getting to this point, whether it is superstar striker Karim Benzema for his goals or veteran backup center back Nacho Fernandez for his second leg heroics against City.
But it is very easy to forget the people behind the scenes who set in motion the pieces in constructing a Champions League finalist from the ashes of the 2018-19 season. It was Real’s first without one of the GOATs, Cristiano Ronaldo, who left after leading Madrid to the unprecedented three-peat of the Champions League.
Juni Calafat brought Vinicius, Fede, Rodrygo, and Camavinga to Real Madrid
Scout Juni Calafat has found so many top-class players and helped bring them to the Bernabeu. There are three players, in particular, he recruited and helped sign who could have easily slipped through the cracks. And these three players have proven indispensable in the Champions League this season.
Fede Valverde, Vinicius Jr., and Rodrygo Goes are all 23 years old or younger, yet they are already among the best players in the world.
Fede’s defensive work and intensity changed Real’s course in the Champions League once Carlo Ancelotti started using him heavily after the first leg embarrassment against PSG.
Vinicius has been a Ballon d’Or candidate in his own right this season, producing game-winning assists, crucial goals, and equal amounts of intensity to buoy the Madrid attack. Without Vini, we aren’t talking about Benzema fulfilling his “best in the world” potential at Madrid either.
And then there is Rodrygo. The young Brazilian winger’s versatility, creativity, finishing, and clutchness have been vital throughout the season, from the group stages against Inter to the ridiculous heroics at the Bernabeu against BOTH Chelsea and City.
All three of these players were signed from South American clubs by Calafat. Fede was a bargain at just five million euros. And even though Vini and Rodrygo were a combined 90 million euros, they look like bargains now. Calafat saw them as slam-dunks, whereas fans of other clubs may have seen them as superfluous, unnecessary risks as investments. Perhaps some Madridistas thought the same about both before their breakouts in 2021/22 – Rodrygo’s coming several months later than Vini’s immediate explosion.
Calafat can get credit for Eduardo Camavinga’s signing as well. The 30 million euro man from Rennes is already world-class in the midfield at the age of 19, having shut down the Chelsea and Manchester City midfielders in crucial second leg, extra time efforts.
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Real Madrid would not be in the Champions League Final without Calafat’s eye for talent, tireless scouting, and advocacy to Florentino Perez to take a chance on these players and invest in them. So be sure to remember him when thanking those responsible for this magical, LaLiga-winning 2021/22 campaign.