Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article about the resounding success of Real Madrid’s youth policy. Between 2017 and 2018, the club signed 18 players under the age of 21. These signings were planting seeds; the club signed each with the understanding that success does not happen overnight. Patience was essential. Now, half a decade later, there is no question about who the best players in the team are, nor about some of the best players in the world: Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Valverde, Militao, Brahim, Camavinga. The fruits of the club’s labor have resulted in virtually no lag time or “transition period” between one great team and another. This summer, the club is likely to secure the capstone signing, the one that eluded them for so long – Kylian Mbappe. Yet, the best way to define the success of the current project is to recognize that a player like Mbappe is a bonus rather than a necessity. The current team is strong enough to compete for every title, even without the highly sought-after Frenchman.

The project that started in 2017 is only at its midpoint in terms of lifecycle. Vinicius and co. have the next 5-10 years to exhibit their best versions and herald the next great Madrid era. Many clubs would be satisfied with that level of recruitment – kicking their feet up to relax. Even more so with the impending arrival of a Kylian Mbappe-level superstar. Yet, Real Madrid has already begun identifying and stockpiling for the next generation – the “Endrick Generation.” The 17-year-old Brazilian phenom may be the face of Youth Policy 2.0, but he won’t be alone.

With the first project comes learnings and understanding; refinement to the process. Madrid pounce on talent regardless of current need. Talent will always trump current fit and the cream always rises to the top. Take Arda Guler, who was quickly capitalized on, regardless of his role in the here and now. The plan for Arda does not involve thrusting him into the spotlight now, shouldering responsibility at the world’s biggest club as a teenager. Instead, it’s about embedding him into the club’s values, training at an elite level with the best in the world, learning from a world-class coaching staff, and developing his physique and tactical IQ. The goal is for Arda to be ready in five years time.

Not every talented young player that signs for the club will embrace this process. Timelines may be accelerated or decelerated depending on sporting objectives, but the ultimate goal is always a pathway into an important first-team role. Some routes may lead to the Brahim road, a three-year loan spell away from the club, and others may follow the Vinicius route: being thrust into the lineup as a teenager and then spending years moving in and out of a starting role. The development of very few young players is perfectly linear (aside from the Mbappes, Haalands, and Bellinghams of the world) – a career path like Militao’s, characterized by patience and persistence, is more common.

The success of the first project feeds into the success of the next generation. Convincing Endrick and Arda Guler that Madrid is the best place for them is easier when pointing to the career paths of Rodrygo and Vinicius. Reports suggest that Leny Yoro – an 18-year-old center-back from France – is next on the list. Mastantuono, a 16-year-old with a gem of a left foot from River Plate’s famed youth academy, is another target. Talent within the Cantera, such as defenders Jesus Fortea and Jacobo Ramon (defensively oriented players often having the highest likelihood of making the jump to the first team) – may also join this group.

As the club reaches the pinnacle of the current youth project, it relentlessly pursues the next. Florentino Perez and his directors refuse to slow down. Much like a high-performance athlete training at a different level and intensity than the average person, Madrid operates a cut above most other clubs. There’s no resting on their laurels, no time to bask in current success. As players like Eder Militao, Valverde, Mbappe, and Tchouameni age over 30 in the next five years, Endrick, Arda, Yoro, and others will be entering their prime at 22-23 years old. Veterans like Nacho, Alaba, Carvajal, and Kroos will be gradually phased out, while the next generation is brought in to complement the initial youth policy.

Many of Europe’s elite clubs will attempt to mimic the success of Madrid’s strategy, thereby inflating the values of young players. This has already happened with clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City competing for and signing young prospects. Tweaks and variations to the recruitment policy will be necessary over time. The first tweak from the club is not all that different from it’s current policy, the idea is to double-down on their success: recruiting the best young talent in the world does not stop when the first generation reaches its peak years; recruitment is an ever-evolving, never-ending cycle. This philosophy ensures that as the current stars age, the next generation is poised to take center stage, perpetuating a cycle of success.

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