Injury to Vinícius Júnior means that Carlo Ancelotti will be sweating about the limited number of attacking options he has in his Real Madrid squad. As he looks beyond Joselu and Rodrygo, he will undoubtedly be turning his attentions to one of the few youngsters to have impressed the Italian this season: Gonzalo García. Or “Golzalo” as his team-mates call him.
García was called up to the squad for the home win over Getafe in September, though he did not make it off the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu bench. With attacking options now limited again and fixtures coming thick and fast in Europe and domestically, it seems likely that he might get his chance to make his Real Madrid debut.
The 19-year-old attacker has been training with the first team at times this season and could see that become a more regular occurrence should he break into the squad and establish himself as a more regular feature in Ancelotti’s squad lists.
Who is Gonzalo García?
To say that Gonzalo García is a unique footballer at 19 years of age may seem an exaggeration, but he’s close to it. He’s been with the club since the age of 10, making the brave decision to return to Madrid at the age of 15 only a year after leaving to move to Mallorca for family reasons. He returned alone, moving in with his grandparents, to pursue his potential at Real Madrid.
His profile goes beyond that of the typical young footballer, and that’s shown by the fact that he’s currently enrolled on a five-year university course to study double majors in Business Administration and Management alongside Business Analytics with a speciality in Big Data.
Where does he play?
Within the attacking positions, the better question is where doesn’t he play? Take it from Diego Nogales, a youth coach who worked with him in La Fábrica. He told Relevo: “He has the qualities of a poacher because of his great finishing, he has forward capabilities because he knows how to attack spaces due to the power and intuition of his instincts and he has what you ask of a good winger, who is capable of gaining an advantage through his power and putting in very precise crosses, due to his good technique.”
García’s versatility is exactly why he could be such a valuable option for Carlo Ancelotti. This year alone, he has played as a number nine, as a second striker, on both flanks and as a number 10 for Castilla, and that flexibility has seen him become an unpredictable presence. It is that versatility which has seen him seemingly leapfrog Álvaro Rodríguez in the pecking order, despite the Uruguayan’s impressive cameo against Atlético earlier this year.
Playing in a central role, Gonzalo has registered 3.62 touches in the penalty box per 90 for Castilla this season, ranking seventh in Primera RFEF for the stat. He stands out particularly for his aerial prowess, where he ranks 12th in the division for headed shots at this point of the season and despite not being a fixed centre-forward.
For Spain, where he is an under 19 international, he has primarily featured in wide positions, operating as a winger and most usually on the right flank. He ranked highest for attempted crosses per 90 at the UEFA Under 19 European Championship in Malta in the summer, with an impressive 46.7% completion rate, at 5.9 per 90.
His most clinical form has come with him operating as a centre-forward coming through the middle, but Raúl has also used him with great impact while coming in from a wide role. That hybrid could be the perfect fit for Ancelotti’s current system, one which has posed its own challenges to the likes of Vinícius who have had to adapt from a wide role to a more central one.
What’s his style of play?
Gonzalo is a direct threat, who looks to make things happen quickly through his intelligent reading of the game which puts him in a strong position to then move quickly. When playing in central roles, he looks to time his runs to break between the lines and catch out offside traps to break through.
His movement is particularly impressive, as can be seen in both, but particularly the first, of his two goals against Atlético Baleares earlier this month. Anticipating the crosses into the box, he was able to move freely and find the gap between the two central defenders to get into a goalscoring position.
That is how he operates both as a number nine and as a second striker, mirroring some of Jude Bellingham’s techniques to get himself into prime goalscoring positions. That’s why his 3.73 xG in Primera RFEF this season is the twelfth-highest in the league, and the highest of any player under the age of 21. Equally, his 0.99 xG per 90 in the UEFA Youth League is the seventh highest.
However, he also provides a great threat when operating from wide areas. In these roles, he very much takes up the role of the creator, rather than the finisher. Unlike Vini, Rodrygo or even Sergio Arribas with Castilla last season, he won’t look to cut inside quite as often and instead looks to get to the byline and put in a cross.
Unlike the Brazilian flair that occupies the flanks of the Real Madrid first team, he isn’t a player who usually looks to dribble and take men on, but rather looks to pass and move quickly and rapidly. That’s part of why he is quite so deadly, particularly when the team are pouncing on a counter-attack.
His technique does enable him to take players on, as proven by his impressive assist for Spain against Greece at the UEFA Under 19 European Championship this summer, as shown below. There, he showed the fanciest of footwork to beat two men.
That flexibility, and the ability to play such varied roles, is part of what makes him appeal so much to the Real Madrid first team. Ancelotti was said to be impressed by quite how versatile he was when he trained with the first team earlier this year, and Gonzalo may find that the ability to mix things up is what helps him break into the side.
How good could he be?
As with any young player coming through, it can be hard to judge how players will adapt to playing at first-team level after making the jump up from the youth system. In the case of García, his lack of experience even at Castilla level, where he has only played 21 games to date, is similar to the step up that Nico Paz is going through at the same time.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. His 35 goals in 43 games for the Juvenil A team last season was the highest return of any player since Borja Mayoral in 2014/15 and certainly got Álvaro Arbeloa on board as a big fan of the teenager. Raúl too has been impressed, and it seems that Ancelotti has also been sufficiently satisfied given his decision to call Gonzalo up for the Getafe game earlier this year.
Coming into the team now will be another kind of challenge. Pressure-free games in the Champions League with little to play for could be the perfect opportunity to blood a promising youngster who needs to get minutes in the pressure cooker environment of the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
He has the backing of his Castilla coach, who knows what that step up takes all too well, to do the job. “If he is in the squad and performs at that level, he is more prepared than others as of today,” he said when asked about Gonzalo earlier this season. “You must follow his development. Both him and other teammates. Without a doubt, he was the best player for Castilla by far.”
Gonzalo’s stats are leading for his age group at every level, and his work rate and commitment would suggest that he will be able to handle the transition period into the first team. The biggest test for him will come in how he can adapt to face a slightly different system in the first team with Ancelotti’s 4-4-2 shape.
From there, Gonzalo appears to have all the features needed to make it and establish himself. Doing so would provide a major boost to Ancelotti’s squad depth in the front line, and could resolve an ongoing problem for the Italian coach.