Madrid's La Liga loss can be Castilla's gain

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Three-time European Cup winner Alan Hansen once proclaimed that "you can't win anything with kids". The former Liverpool defender's comments came as a television pundit for the BBC in response to Manchester United's 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995-96 Premier League season.

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The comments may well ring true with Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, who has come under fire from some quarters this season due to his failure to give players from the club's youth team, Castilla, a chance on the big stage at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The argument over Madrid's apparent preference to get the cheque book out rather than give youth a chance has been one that has rumbled on for some time. Not just under Mourinho, but before him too. It's an argument that came to a bit of a head earlier this season, however. Madrid had an injury crisis at the back, with left-backs Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao both sidelined for spells through injury, while Alvaro Arbeloa, a right-back who could fill in on the other channel, was also out. There was a clamour to call Nacho up from the Castilla to plug the gap but instead Mourinho opted for Michael Essien in the position - a position he had barely played before.

Rightly or wrongly, it didn't look good on Mourinho's part. A mini argument ensued between the Portuguese and Castilla boss Alberto Toril and things got a bit messy in-house, and in public. Mourinho went on to field both Nacho and another Castilla star Jose Rodriguez in a Champions League match against Ajax but the bites continued between first team and second string.

That run-out for the young duo came with Madrid already through to the knock-out stages of the competition. It was a relatively risk-free decision for Mourinho to make. Kaka and Ricardo Carvalho started - a sure sign that it was a far from full strength Blancos side.

It should be a risk-free chance for Mourinho to appease his critics, then, when Madrid visit the Riazor to take on Deportivo on Saturday night, with the current champions throwing the towel in on their defence of La Liga. Barcelona are almost home and dry and Madrid has bigger fish to fry for the remainder of the campaign, namely with the Copa del Rey and Champions League still to play for. Madrid make the trip to the Camp Nou next week for the second leg of their cup semi-final with the tie nicely poised at 1-1. A week later, a trip to Manchester and Old Trafford for the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.

It would be no surprise to see a much-changed Madrid side for the trip to Galicia this weekend, and why not throw in some Castilla players to give them a chance? Alvaro Morata should be one name in Madrid's starting line-up. He's the leader of the youth pack at the Bernabeu, a player who already has some kind of good reputation with Madridistas, something intensified earlier in the season when he came on as a substitute and bagged the winner at Levante. The closest thing Madrid has to a Raul, especially with Iker Casillas out injured.

Morata got another chance last week as Madrid saw off Ray Vallecano 2-0. He made a blistering start, scoring the opener just minutes in. His stay was frustratingly cut short, however, with Mourinho shuffling his pack after the sending-off of Sergio Ramos. Morata was the man to make way.

The clash with Depor is the ideal opportunity for Mourinho to give the kids a chance and he should not stop with Morata. Jese Rodriguez, Morata's Castilla team-mate, has been in good form and deserves another chance in the first team this weekend. The likelihood is that he will feature for Castilla, however, and he let his frustrations get the better of him in an interview with Spanish daily newspaper Marca this week. "In the first team there are good players but a lot of them are not homegrown," he said. "I do not see why I have not been given a chance. What I will do is keep working, but I do not know. I hope the club know I'm training hard; I'm sure they know, and they will consider me soon enough."

Mourinho may well believe the players are simply not good enough to impress at first-team level, but how will he ever know without giving them a run of matches? It's all well and good throwing players on for a few minutes here and there, and extended time in meaningless pre-season friendlies, but that's not the same as allowing them a proper chance in a league match. A league match with nothing, in the title race at least, to lose at this point.

One of the reasons the Madrid boss gave for few promotions from Castilla, around the time of the aforementioned left-back debate, was that he did not want to play players he did not believe would be around for the future. Yet he continues to use Ricardo Carvalho and Kaka, two players he wants rid of, when injuries mount (and that's not a dig at either player).

My belief is that Madrid's Cantera gets a pretty tough time. Barcelona's La Masia may be shining at the moment thanks to the first team's success, but the players Madrid has produced are not doing too badly, albeit away from the Bernabeu. Think Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo, Juan Mata, Javi Garcia and Juanfran, who have all been Spanish internationals and made good careers for themselves elsewhere.

Madrid ride with the idea that they can sell young players to other clubs and include a buy-back clause in the deal that allows them a return to the Spanish capital once they've been handed good first-team experience and improved as players. In theory, they let other clubs do the job of improving these players once they've reached a certain age and standard. It's worked with players such as Alvaro Arbeloa, who returned from Liverpool, and Jose Callejon, who had a stint at Espanyol.

There's also the defence, for the manager at least, that the club is focused on the short-term and not the long-term. With Real Madrid, managers are not brought in to produce success in five years' time, they are brought in to bring about success immediately. Why should Mourinho risk trying untested players to appease the fans, and Castilla, when he has superstars within the first-team and a cheque book that could lure most of the world's best players?

With that in mind, matches like this weekend's trip to Deportivo, and arguably all league matches between now and the end of the season, are crucial for giving youth a chance at the top level, and for a number of games. Madrid needs to take advantage of the albeit unwanted situation they find themselves in La Liga and give the fans a glimpse of a possible future filled with Cantera-produced players.

For the record, Hansen's comments are well remembered, in Britain anyway, for a reason. United, the side he believed could win nothing with young players such as Gary Neville and David Beckham, went on to win the Premier League that season. They lifted the FA Cup, too, for good measure. Turns out you can win trophies with kids, after all.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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