'Zidanes y Pavones' 2.0 getting encouraging results

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Dani Pozo/AFP/Getty ImagesYouth player Jese and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo have developed chemistry up front in attack for Real Madrid.

The "Zidanes y Pavones" experiment didn't exactly go according to plan during Florentino Perez's previous term as Real Madrid president, but Los Blancos are brewing a similar setup that looks to bring more success this time around.

Perez is renowned for bringing Galacticos to the Santiago Bernabeu, one per season in his last stint at the helm including star names such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Ronaldo, but he also looked to balance that out by promoting promising youngsters from the club's youth setup.

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It was an idea that ultimately failed. Francisco Pavon, the poster boy for the campaign, didn't live up to the billing and left in 2007. But Perez has introduced a new take on a previous idea in his current run as the man at the top, and the signs are encouraging.

It's been highlighted this week. Los Blancos may not be spending big bucks in the midseason transfer window, but they secured a big boost in getting midfield maestro Xabi Alonso to pen a new two-year deal at the club. It came in the same week that Jese Rodriguez, one of Madrid's hot prospects from Castilla, continued to make strides with assists and goals to help Madrid to two wins in the space of four days.

Rodriguez penned a new four-year deal to stay at the Bernabeu during the summer, such is the confidence in his ability from those who matter at the Bernabeu. That confidence looks to be well-placed so far. Jese has burst on to the scene, overtaking Alvaro Morata, another Castilla product, in the pecking order and becoming a key cog in Carlo Ancelotti's plans around the winter break.

Jese's performances may have persuaded the Italian not to splash the cash on another striker in the January transfer window. Karim Benzema is the only out-and-out striker with plenty of experience while Morata has offered good backup. The rise of Jese means Madrid have another string to its attacking bow, one that not too many outside of Spain will be fully aware of.

The 20-year-old, who has scored twice in four appearances for Spain's U-21 side, is the future of Madrid, and the future has been at the forefront of the club's thinking this season with youngsters such as Asier Illarramendi, Isco and Dani Carvajal (who all signed for big fees, granted) joining the club during the preseason. Jese, goalkeeper Jesus Fernandez and Nacho have been promoted from Castilla while Casemiro and Morata also offer reasons to be cheerful for the long term.

On the other side of the coin, the "Zidanes" side, if you like, Madrid spent big, very big, to acquire Gareth Bale. They also renewed Cristiano Ronaldo's contract earlier this season and have, finally, secured Alonso's future at the club for a further two seasons. The future is bright, but the present isn't too bad either.

Keeping the former Liverpool man at the club was crucial. He may have suffered some frustrating injuries this season and may not be able to pace around the pitch as he did 10 years ago, but he is the man who orchestrates Los Blancos around the pitch. Who needs bags of pace when you have arguably the best long ball in the game?

Alonso is the perfect fit for Madrid. Director Emilio Butragueno said the 32-year-old "represents Real Madrid values on and off the pitch" during the news conference arranged to discuss the player's new deal. Despite misdemeanours during Jose Mourinho's stint in the Spanish capital, the club likes to perceive itself as one that acts “properly” on and off the pitch. Alonso does just that. And he's not a bad player either.

The stats tell some of the story this season. Alonso missed the start of the campaign through injury, but since he's returned, Madrid have won all but two of their 11 matches with him playing some part. Those games were the 2-2 draw at Juventus in the Champions League and the 2-2 draw at Osasuna where Madrid played with 10 men for much of the match. Not only do his qualities improve the side, but his presence makes his teammates feel more comfortable too.

The rise of Luka Modric as seemingly the perfect midfield partner for Alonso may have helped his decision to stay. The former Tottenham man took time to settle at the Bernabeu, but he has been a revelation this season, seemingly all over the pitch and with a midfield engine that more than makes up for Alonso's aging legs. The two have been superb in the middle since Sami Khedira's injury and should keep their starting roles even when the German returns to full fitness.

His commitment to Madrid should help Illarramendi's development as well. It may mean fewer matches for the former Real Sociedad man, but Illarramendi was brought to the club in the summer to eventually plug the gap that will be left by Alonso. The similarities are there, with both playing for Real Sociedad, both being Basques and both having a similar calm playing style in the middle of the pitch. Illarramendi will learn from having someone of Alonso's class beside him in training and on the pitch.

The "Pavones" of Jose Rodriguez, Diego Llorente, Jorge Casado and Jaime Sanchez all got a run out for Madrid in their midseason friendly against Paris Saint-Germain in Doha, and although the quartet may not feature for Madrid's first team just yet, it shows Ancelotti is willing to take a look at what he potentially has at his disposal from Castilla next season and beyond.

Jese and Alonso are doubtful for Madrid's trip to Espanyol in La Liga on Sunday. The youngster suffered a calf injury during Madrid's 2-0 Copa del Rey victory over Osasuna on Thursday, and although it's not as bad as first feared, he's unlikely to make a trip to Catalonia just three days later. Alonso is recovering from a perforated eardrum and will be given until the last minute to decide if he can play.

Whether they make it or not, Madrid's new-look "Zidanes y Pavones" approach is looking much better this time around.

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