The Young Players hoping to benefit from Spanish Football’s Cash Crisis

Valencia protests

A combined total of €353 million has been spent on transfers by LaLiga clubs so far this summer and even though the transfer window does not end until October 5, that number seemingly will not grow much. Considering that a sum of €1.3 billion was spent by the Spanish top flight clubs last summer, it is proper to assume that the football market in the country has been hit hard by the pandemic. Transactions have slowed, wage cuts have been implemented and owners and presidents are more focused than ever on the nitty gritty of the finances of their clubs.

As many as six teams, including champions Real Madrid, have not spent any money in this window, while eight other clubs have expended less than 10 million euros each.

After last season’s title was secured, Madrid president Florentino Pérez explicitly ruled out any big money signings for this summer. The capital club’s coffers were already burdened by the grand renovation of their Bernabéu stadium and their agenda for this window is primarily to raise funds from sales. Also remodelling their stadiums are Levante and Osasuna, who together have spent only 12 million euros in the transfer market.

Teams have depended on other methods to fill out their squads like free transfers, loan signings and the best of all, having faith in their youth academy and giving first team exposure to young guns.

In total, 20 players below the age of 23 made their LaLiga debuts post lockdown last season. At 15 years and 219 days of age, Luka Romero of Mallorca became the youngest debutant in LaLiga history when he stepped on the Di Stéfano pitch for the final seven minutes of their 2-0 loss to Real Madrid.

The Young Players hoping to impress in LaLiga 2020/21

Perhaps the club most dependent on youngsters at the moment is Valencia. With the departures of crucial players like Parejo, Rodrigo, Coquelin and Torres, and the club owner Peter Lim’s reluctance to spend in the market, there are spots to be filled in the first team. New manager Javi Gracia has shown his faith in youth as three academy products started their opening LaLiga matches of the new campaign.

17 year old Yunus Musah made his senior debut in the win against Levante and 21 year old midfielder Vicente Esquerdo made the starting eleven for the first time in the same match. Also in the derby, Korean international Lee Kang-in became the youngest LaLiga player to assist twice in the same match in the 21st century in only his fourth senior start for Los Che. Gracia also has the option of Hugo Guillamón in central defence. In June, the 20 year old became a regular starter at the back for Albert Celades but did not enjoy the same confidence under Voro who took charge as interim manager after the sacking of Celades.

Real Sociedad had the youngest squad in LaLiga last season with an average age of 24.5 years. The most exciting wonderkid of La Real is 18 year old winger Ander Barrenetxea who became the first player born in this millennium to feature in the Spanish top flight when he made his senior debut in 2018, before having even played for the B team. He scored his first senior goal in May 2019 in a 3-1 win over Real Madrid and the Spain U-19 international has already become a fan favourite in San Sebastián. Barrenetxea has spent the last one and a half seasons as a regular on Imanol Alguacil’s bench but was picked to start in both games so far this campaign, signalling that this could be the teen’s breakthrough year in the Txuri-urdinak first team.

Real Sociedad’s first goal this term was scored by another cantera graduate, Roberto López. He was given his first senior start by Alguacil and netted the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Valladolid. 21 year old central midfielder Martín Zubimendi has preliminary experience in the top flight having featured in nine matches last season, and could provide decent back-up to Merino, Zubeldia and Silva in the middle. La Real also have some important B team players in Alex Sola, Näis Djouahra, Jon Pacheco, Robert Navarro and Urko González, all of whom may have some part to play for Alguacil in this campaign.

Real Sociedad also possess a fine young non-cantera player. Alexander Isak may not have started every game in LaLiga last season but the 21 year old Swede could provide tough competition to first choice Willian José in the battle for the number 9 spot.

Nobody in Spain relies more on their academy than La Real’s Basque rivals, Athletic Club. Some of coach Gaizka Garitano’s youngsters already impressed in the past season. Oihan Sancet was a revelation in central midfield, as the 20 year old made 17 appearances, starting in nine of them. Fan favourite striker Asier Villalibre, the heir to Aduriz’s #20 shirt, could be crucial for Athletic as goals were hard to come by for Los Leones last term. There was an overdependence on Raúl García who scored more than one-third of the team’s 41 league goals while striker Iñaki Williams had a quiet season finding the net only six times.

22 year old Jon Morcillo was Bilbao Athletic’s top scorer with 10 goals in Segunda B last year. The winger was promoted to the main team at the start of this season and played the full 90 on his LaLiga debut in the opening matchday versus Granada.

LaLiga rookies Gaizka Larrazabal and Unai Vencedor will be hoping to get more minutes on the pitch this term after having made their debuts last season. 21 year old Peru Nolaskoain, who returns from a satisfactory loan spell at Deportivo, will provide another option at centre back for Garitano to choose from. Nico Serrano, Ewan Urain and Oier Zarraga are some other Lezama products tipped to don the senior shirt for the first time this season.

Five players have made their first team debuts for Deportivo Alavés in the past four months. 20 year old Mauritanian midfielder Abdallahi Mahmoud could be a decent option in the middle of the park and will intend to prove his worth to new manager Pablo Machín.

But El Glorioso’s most thrilling prospect is 19 year old winger Borja Sainz. Signed from Athletic in 2017, the boy from Leioa demonstrated his potential in the Alavés B team and advanced into the main team last season. Already a Spain international at U-19 level, Sainz featured in a total of 19 matches and scored his first goal in a 2-0 home win over Real Sociedad in June. A versatile and fast wide player, he likes to play on the right but can also operate on the left wing.

Elsewhere in the Basque region, midfielder Miguel Atienza has been a part of the main squad of Eibar since the beginning of this year and has since made four appearances off the bench. 21 year old Sergio Cubero made it into the matchday squad regularly post lockdown. Though the defender is yet to make his LaLiga debut, he featured in two matches for the Armagiñak in the Copa del Rey. Coach José Luis Mendilibar, delighted with their performances with Vitoria, Eibar’s farm team, called up two attackers – Eñaut Mendi and Unai Arietaleanizbeaskoa to train with the first team in the preseason and also included them on the bench in the first two league matches. Many key players departed the Ipurua at the end of last term, and as such this could be a huge season for Mendilibar’s young guns to prove their mettle and assist the team in continuing their LaLiga fairytale in its 7th season.

Villarreal have two bright 20 year old attackers in their ranks. Left winger Álex Baena played 23 matches and scored five goals for the B team in the Spanish third tier in 2019/20. He assisted twice on his senior team debut in a 5-0 Copa del Rey first round win over Comillas last December and earned his first LaLiga experience in July at the Céramica in a 1-2 defeat to La Real. But the standout youngster of the past season for the Yellow Submarine was Fer Niño. The lanky striker stunned the Mendizorrotza crowd when he fired home an 89th minute winner for Villarreal only two minutes after coming on for his LaLiga debut in January. Three days later the kid scored again in a 2-0 cup win over Rayo Vallecano to round off a dream week. Currently it might seem an impossible task for Niño to break the Gerard-Paco hegemony up front, but Unai Emery will very well know that he’s got a gem on his hands.

Sevilla have two young players returning from loan deals who could make a difference for the Europa League winners this term. 21 year old Alejandro Pozo was sent to Mallorca in January and was a key presence at right back for the islanders. The U-21 Spain international can be a perfect replacement for Jesús Navas. Just like the Sevilla captain, Pozo can comfortably adjust between playing as a right winger and a right back. Also returning from a half season loan spell from Leganés is left winger Bryan Gil. The 19 year old won his Sevilla first team debut in January 2019 and then featured in a total of 11 matches in the 18/19 season, all off the bench. He scored his first senior goal in a 5-0 home rout of Rayo Vallecano and became the first player born in the 21st century to find the net in LaLiga. Gil featured in four Europa League fixtures last season and also scored at the Pizjuán against Qarabağ, before being sent on loan at Leganés to gain more minutes. But manager Julen Lopetegui seems keen to keep the teenager at the club this season and understands what he adds to the squad as the Nervionenses chase another top-four finish in the league.

Óscar García’s Celta de Vigo had a goalkeeper crisis towards the end of the 19/20 season. First and second choice keepers Rubén Blanco and Sergio Álvarez were sidelined for a few months so 23 year old academy product Iván Villar had to step in between the sticks. The former Spain U-19 international’s one and only LaLiga match was in 2017 in a 1-3 away loss to Alavés but his Balaídos debut had to wait until matchday 35 of last season when he came on for the final nine minutes of a 1-1 draw against Atlético. Villar then started in the last three matches of 2019/20 and also in for the first two matches this season. With both of the senior goalkeepers not set to return until at least November, it’s going to be the most important few weeks in Iván Villar’s career if he is to prove that his future belongs in Vigo. Some other youth players at Celta to look out for are Gabriel Veiga, who made his debut last week; Diego Pampín, the Celta B captain, and Iker Losada, who scored on his LaLiga debut last year against Real Madrid.

Newly promoted Elche don’t boast many young players in their first team but since they are running low in numbers in the squad, new manager Jorge Almirón could look for options in Ilicitano, Elche’s reserve team, if needed. 20 year old Nacho Pastor took part in two of the club’s Copa del Rey matches last year and the centre back will be eager to make his top flight debut in a season where defence will be of utmost importance in Elche’s quest for survival.

When it comes to handing out debuts to young players, Osasuna manager Jagoba Arrasate isn’t the first person you would think of. In his two years in charge of Los Rojillos, Arrasate has allowed only three cantera boys to taste LaLiga football. One of them, Jon Moncayola, who won promotion to the first team in August of last year, has already dazzled the Osasuna fans with his performances in the midfield. The 22 year old can also be deployed as a makeshift right back when needed and now has 29 LaLiga matches under his belt. Arrasate waited until the last matchday of 2019/20 to give debuts to two academy products, attacking midfielder Aimar Oroz and centre forward Javi Martínez who were regular faces in the Osasuna B team which finished 7th in their group in the Spanish third division last season.

The big three clubs haven’t been able to make the big money star signings they would have wished but it’s not totally a bad thing as there’s plenty of young blood coming up through the ranks.

Two 20 year olds from the Atlético Madrid B were promoted to the main team earlier this month – left back Manu Sánchez and winger Rodrigo Riquelme. Sánchez was involved in four matches in the post lockdown weeks, amassing a total of 325 minutes and will be a quality back-up to Renan Lodi on the left side of the defence. Riquelme on the other hand was only involved in one LaLiga match last term, coming on for the final 12 minutes for his senior debut in a 3-2 win over Eibar but the winger had a fine season with the B team and the U-19s in the Youth League as he racked up 7 goals and 6 assists in the two competitions.

Talent does not end there for the Colchoneros. They also have returning loanees in winger Víctor Mollejo and Argentinian centre back Nehuén Pérez. Both were impressive last season for Deportivo in the Spanish Segunda and Famalicão in the Portuguese Primeira respectively. Also in the fray for a transition into the senior squad is B-team striker Sergio Camello, a goalscorer on his LaLiga debut in May 2019 in a 2-2 draw at Levante.

Though Barcelona have splashed over €100 million so far, they have also sold some players including Arthur and Nelson Semedo and hence have actually made a profit over the course of the current transfer window. With important figures like Suárez, Vidal and Rakitić departing for free or minimal fees, new manager Ronald Koeman is on the hunt for replacements to rebuild the team. As it will be tougher than usual to sign players this time around, attention can be turned to the youth set-up. Barcelona already possess possibly the hottest young property in world football by the name of Anssumane Fati. It has been an exciting month for the 17 year old, winning his first senior Spain cap, becoming the youngest goalscorer for La Roja and then being promoted to the Barcelona main squad for the upcoming season. There will be no surprises if Koeman picks Fati as his first choice on that left wing for the Blaugranas.

2019/20 was a campaign of exponential rise for Riqui Puig. The 21 year old midfielder featured in all but two of Barça’s 11 matches post lockdown and amazed many with his exploits in the middle of the park. With Koeman recently hinting of a possible move away from the club for Puig, his future remains in doubt. But whether he’ll kick a ball in Camp Nou this season or not, Riqui is one of the finest midfielders to come out of La Masia in recent years. Ronald Araújo is another one of the Barça B players to have benefited post lockdown. Though the Uruguayan’s league debut came in October of last year against Sevilla, it wasn’t until June of this year when he played the full 90 in a 4-0 victory over Mallorca. The centre back played a part in four more matches until the end of the season and Barça didn’t concede a single goal whenever he was on the pitch.

La Masia is always churning out stars and more could be in the making as there are some more skillful names in the Barcelona B squad. Starting with Guinea born Ilaix Moriba, an instrumental 17 year old midfielder with a release clause set at €100 million. American 19 year old winger Konrad de la Fuente and 21 year old midfielder Álex Collado had good outings in the Youth League last season and have spent valuable time training with the first team this preseason.

It could be the first time in the 21st century that Real Madrid don’t spend a single cent in a summer transfer window. The only “new signing” for Los Blancos has been Martin Ødegaard, returning from a stellar spell on loan at Real Sociedad. And it was against La Real on Sunday that the Norwegian started his first ever LaLiga game for the Spanish champions, 2,069 days after signing for the club. The 21 year old could be the answer to Zidane’s midfield which lacked a bit of creative flair at times last season. When someone talks about Real Madrid’s youngsters, we immediately think of Vinícius and Rodrygo. But there are some cantera products making noise lately for Los Merengues.

In the match at Anoeta, Zidane brought on wingers Marvin Park and Sergio Arribas for their senior debuts. Marvin had already been a Castilla regular in Segunda B last season but this was Arribas’ first ever match at senior level, having only played for the U-19s before. Both the boys were part of the Real Madrid squad which was recently crowned the UEFA Youth League champions last month in Nyon. A goal and three assists for Marvin and a goal and four assists for Arribas in the four knockout matches were enough to impress Zidane. It’s assumed that these two are not going to be the only LaLiga debutants from the Youth League winning team. 20 year old Antonio Blanco’s rendition at the centre of midfield has prompted many Los Blancos fans to term him the successor to Casemiro. Captain Víctor Chust has been a wall in the U-19 Madrid backline and Miguel Gutiérrez has made a name for himself as a goalscoring left back after netting thrice in three matches in the Youth League. If everything goes to plan for these young men, this could be one of La Fábrica’s finest batches ever produced.

Finally, a few other notable young guns from the rest of the league. Miguel de la Fuente of Real Valladolid topped the goalscoring charts in the Spanish third tier with 14 goals before appearing in seven league matches for Pucela last season. Georgia U-21 international Giorgi Kochorashvili became only the third from his country to feature in LaLiga as he came on for his Levante debut in July. Las Granotas also have fine talent in the shape of Álex Blesa and Pablo Martínez in their reserves. Getafe forward Hugo Duro was a youthful presence in their attack but unfortunately the 20 year old will not feature in LaLiga this season as he’s been loaned out to Real Madrid Castilla.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way business is done in the football market. It has been a non-star-studded transfer window and that has paved the way for youth to prove their worth and tell their clubs, why go out and spend when you have talent sitting at home waiting to be unearthed?

We may not have the array of established global stars that have graced LaLiga in recent years, but with plenty of young blood on show in almost every team, this could be one of the most exciting Spanish top flight seasons in terms of bright new names making big impressions.

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About Akhil Rawat 41 Articles
Based in New Delhi, Akhil follows LaLiga and Spanish football religiously. Currently a novice in the world of football writing, he fancies expressing his passion for the league through words.