A Castilla built on sand

Posted by Rob Train

Jese Rodriguez Real MAdrid B v Barcelona BGettyImagesCastilla have struggled without the likes of first team graduate Jese.

While the travails of Real Madrid's senior squad have been at the forefront during the international break, with glory and agony in equal measure and a touch of indifference thrown in as Spain lost yet another friendly to continue their Harlem Globetrotters impression -- in a World Cup year no less -- a broader question was quietly raised this week: Just what is going on at Castilla?

Real Madrid announced on Tuesday, pretty much at the same time Cristiano Ronaldo was turning in the performance of his Portugal career to guide his country to Brazil, that they had decided to sack Castilla coach Alberto Toril. This is not a mere footnote to the miles of media coverage generated by Ronaldo and co. on the world stage; it is a serious institutional problem.

Toril was shown the door after Castilla slumped to a 6-0 defeat at Eibar at the weekend, its 11th loss of the season. A side that is ostensibly Real Madrid's reserve side, and supposedly a source of future first-team players and back-ups when injury crises strike, lie bottom of the Segunda Division with seven points from 14 matches. Only a Mallorca side in freefall, who beat Real B a couple of weeks ago, and the institutional basket-case that is Hercules CF have conceded more than Castilla's 23, and no side has managed fewer goals than the seven chalked up by Toril's tactics board.

Castilla has been shorn of some of its recently notable talent as Alvaro Morata, Nacho, Jese and Jesus Fernandez all ascended to the first team squad permanently in the summer, alongside the imported Casemiro. Meanwhile, Denis Cheryshev was loaned to Sevilla to gain some Primera experience. That is certainly a success story for a club that has not exactly excelled in bringing through home-grown talent in the 2000s, but surely the question must be asked: Why on earth is a club of the stature of Real Madrid not cherry-picking the finest young talent from across the globe for its youth teams? A move to the Bernabeu isn't a hard sell, surely.

Castilla brought in 15 players during the summer, of whom only Diego Llorente (Real Madrid C) and Leandro Cabrera (Atletico) have made any sort of impact. Of the Castilla graduates promoted this summer, only Jese hails from outside the Madrid region, and he is part of the Canaries production line that has churned out Juan Carlos Valeron, David Silva, Pedro Rodriguez and Ruben Castro, among others. It's hardly a footballing backwater.

Just how effective is Real Madrid's scouting network? Assuming they have at least one in Brazil and Argentina -- Casemiro's transfer from Sao Paulo and early interest in Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain are cases in point -- where are the rest? Snapping up Sergio Canales after a few eye-catching performances for Racing and nicking Kiko Femenia after his release by Barca this summer hardly constitutes scouting. It's more like watching television.

Real Madrid's youth ranks have produced Juan Mata, Alvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado, Samuel Eto'o, Esteban Granero and Luis Garcia in recent memory, all of whom went on to notable success elsewhere. Of the current Real side, Iker Casillas, Diego Lopez and Alvaro Arbeloa came through the ranks, although the latter two also had to fly the coop to prove their worth. Rafa Benitez and Vicente del Bosque cut their managerial teeth on the cloth of Castilla.

Right now, it seems very unlikely that similar success stories will be plentiful in the near future (although Real C promotion Raul de Tomas looks like the real deal). Toril was no fool. Taking over in the middle of the 2010-2011 season, he guided Castilla to the playoffs in an unbeaten run of 19 games, including 15 victories. Defeat that year by Alcoyano in the playoffs kept the side in the dark depths of Segunda B, where Michel had taken them a few seasons earlier. In his first full campaign in charge, Toril took Castilla to first in the regional group, then to Segunda via the playoffs, where it beat Cadiz 8-1 on aggregate and Mirandes, who in the same season swept to the King's Cup semis on the back of three Primera Division scalps, 6-0.

That suddenly seems like a ling time ago in the corridors of the Bernabeu. Toril was seen, as Michel was in his day, as a one-club man and a potential home-grown successor to the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho. He has been replaced by Real C coach Manolo Diaz, and a lot of Castilla's ambition will be decided by how long he stays in the post.

Andre Villas-Boas suggested -- to hoots of derision -- when he arrived at Tottenham that England should incorporate reserve teams into the four divisions. I would suggest the opposite in Spain. Barcelona B is also on the rocks in 18th place in Segunda after the Premier League pinched most of its promising talent and unless Diaz is a miracle worker, Castilla may well find themselves in Segunda B yet again come the summer.

There is little motivation for either side in reality; neither can be promoted of course, but both can be relegated. Mourinho complained that it was difficult to incorporate Castilla players into his squad because Toril played a different system to his. What did he expect? B teams and their players face hardened professionals week in, week out, and Real and Barca's are currently the only two in Segunda. Development is a bit of an issue when you're getting lumps kicked out of you by Alaves and Numancia.

The saying goes that if you're good enough, you're old enough. Castilla's squad currently contains four players aged under 20, three of whomare Real C graduates. Raul remains the youngest debutant to have made an impact at Real, in 1994. The closest Real have to that now is Jose Rodriguez, who bettered Raul's mark in Europe when he came on in a Champions League match against Ajax. Rodriguez, 18, is another prospect. But he, and Raul's namesake De Tomas, look to be about it in terms of the future for now. La Liga is unlikely to change its structure any time soon, so Castilla must if it is to remain relevant to the grander designs of Real Madrid.

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