Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

U-19 Champions League

July 5th, 2012

Rumours of an official UEFA U19 Champions League surfaced last week and it looks like it will happen. UEFA have confirmed that they will be launching an Under 19 shadow Champions League tournament in 2013. This is in response to the growing popularity and obvious financial feasibility of The NextGen Series which had its inaugural season last year. The NextGen Series was hugely successful, with some of Europe’s best academies taking part (including Barcelona, Ajax, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Chelsea, Juventus, and Manchester City). This year the tournament organizers have taken things to a new level with twenty-four of the best clubs in Europe sending their youth sides to compete, including newcomers and youth development juggernauts; Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao, and Arsenal.

UEFA look to halt The NextGen Series’ progress and take over the market. Plans for the UEFA tournament which would begin in 2013 include limiting the playing field to the thirty-two teams that qualify for the Champions League proper, with identical group compositions and match calendar. This has the disadvantage of meaning that top youth sides such as Liverpool, Athletic Bilbao, and last season’s finalists Ajax could not take part. The knock-out phases of the tournament will all be single leg ties and the semi-finals and final would be held at a neutral ground.

Inter Milan’s youngsters celebrate their title in the first season of The NextGen Series.

As much as UEFA are being criticized for their recent actions, I cannot help but think all of this is positive. The more attention and money poured into football at the youth levels the better position our sport will be in for the long run. There will still be tremendous opportunities for The NextGen Series with the many academies that will not be able to take part in UEFA’s new tournament.

U19 Euro: Spain 2-1 Greece

July 3rd, 2012

Spain U19 opened their European Championship tournament against Greece on Tuesday. Julen Lopetegui started a strong line-up:

Kepa Arrizabalaga
Javi Manquillo
Alejandro Grimaldo
Derik Osede
Joni Castro
Saul Niguez
Oliver Torres (Jose Campana – 64min)
Jese Rodriguez (Paco Alcacer – 52min)
Gerard Deulofeu (Juan Bernat – 84 min)

Spain started strongly, pressing Greece high up the pitch and forcing errors in important areas. However a couple nervy moments in defense by the two center backs, Osede and Castro meant that Spain were kept on their toes. After the opening minutes passed the Atletico Madrid midfield duo of Niguez and Torres slowly took over the match with equal measures of crisp, creative passing as well as committed tackling.

Spain celebrate Osede’s goal, the team’s second of the match.

Spain’s full backs and wingers were dangerous all evening with FC Barcelona’s Grimaldo and Deulofeu especially impressing. We had to wait until the thirtieth minute for the Spanish dominance to translate into a goal, but it was worth the wait when Deulofeu fed Real Madrid’s Jese Rodriguez who proceeded to dribble through four defenders and score with a cool finish. Deulofeu had his hand in the second goal ten minutes later; his corner fell to Spain’s captain Juanmi who headed it to center back Osede to finish with a powerful strike on goal. I would be remiss if I did not mention Oliver Torres’ impact on the game. The diminutive midfielder was at the heart of everything Spain did, playing a Xavi-like role for the U19 side and opening up the Greek defense with his vision and pin-point passes. He and fellow Atletico Madrid midfielder Niguez impressed throughout the match and seemed to be wherever they were needed with flawless positioning.

The second half followed a predictable path with Spain sitting back on their laurels with a two goal lead and letting Greece back into the match. The exit of Oliver Torres in the sixty-fourth minute had an obvious effect on the side and two minutes later Greece scored to make a match of it. Spain had positive spells in the final half hour of the match but Greece had the better chances and made it uncomfortable for Julen Lopetegui’s lads late on. Spain managed to hang on and finished the match with their fourth 2-1 victory in a row (having won all three of their Elite Round matches by the same score). Lopetegui will have to find a way to help his team maintain their intensity for the full ninety minutes if Spain are going to win this tournament but it was a strong performance to start what should be an exciting ten days.

Man of the Match: Alejandro Grimaldo

Although players like Oliver Torres and Gerard Deulofeu were outstanding for much of the game, Alejandro Grimaldo deserves the credit for playing a consistent and impressive 90 minutes. In the first half, the sixteen year old was aggressive and aided in attack, but when Spain sat back he was one of the most active players, winning key tackles and starting counter attacks. His positioning allowed him to be involved in all phases of the game and he never slowed down or showed any fatigue, from the first through ninety-fourth minutes.

Spain U-19 Predictions

July 2nd, 2012

We are less than twenty-four hours away from the start of the European Under-19 Championship and Spain looks primed and eager to defend their country’s European title at the U-19 level. They also hope to follow up on the senior side’s European success against Italy on Sunday. Julen Lopetegui and his squad are in Estonia preparing for their opening match against Greece on Tuesday and La Rojita are set to play an attacking lineup. At the risk of looking like a fool I wanted to give you some predictions for what Spain’s starting line-up might look like on Tuesday.

With six wingers and forwards named to the 18 player squad it is likely that Lopetegui will play with an attacking line of four with two creative/holding midfielders linking defense with attack. Couple this with the fact that the team’s full backs are aggressive, attacking players and you have a dynamic and dangerous offense to throw against young, inexperienced defensive lines. The plethora of attackers available to Lopetegui means that some of the team’s big names will be relegated to the bench, giving the Spanish a plan B if things do not go well. Of course this lineup could change depending on the opponent as we observed in the Elite Round when Spain played with three midfielders to ensure dominance in possession.

Regardless of how many attackers Lopetegui decides to start against Greece, his options in midfield are robust and would be the envy of any manager in the tournament. Manchester City’s Denis Suárez and Sevilla’s José Campaña join Atlético Madrid’s Saúl Ñíguez and Oliver Torres in the midfield, all four are creative forces but I would expect Suárez or Ñíguez to partner Torres or Campaña to provide an inventive and defensive balance. The Atlético Madrid duo might be the best option as the pairing are used to playing together and could provide stability at the center of the pitch. My prediction for the starting line-up is as follows:

Adrián Ortolá

Javi Manquillo – Pablo Insua – Derik Osede – Jonás Ramalho

Saúl Ñiguez – Oliver Torres

Suso – Paco Alcácer – Juanmi – Gerard Deulofeu

Sergi Samper

July 2nd, 2012

For anyone that was paying attention at the end of Barcelona’s season, you would have noticed that Xavi was not part of the squad in each of the last two games. This illustrates that the thirty-two year old’s body is not what it used to be. This isn’t to say that his days are numbered; it was just a reminder to me that the world’s best midfield maestro won’t be around forever. There is no need to fret, Cules, life doesn’t end with Xavi’s retirement. This is thanks in part to a seventeen year old currently being developed at La Masia.

Full Name: Sergi Samper Montaña
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Midfielder
Age: 17
Birth Date: January 20, 1995
Birth Place: Barcelona, Spain
Height: 5 feet 11 inches

He has been lauded as one of the “next big things” to come out of Spanish football which is praise enough when you consider the talent that has come out of Spain in the last few years. Sergi started out playing tennis as a young boy, but his grandfather, bless his soul, spotted his footballing potential and signed him up for a trial with the FC Barcelona Escuela. He passed the trial and in a matter of months, at the age of 6, he was snatched up for the club’s Benjamin B side.

Once within the club, Sergi shot up through the levels within the youth structure. He has played a key role in every side he has been a part of and he was the captain of many of them as well, showing leadership qualities which are a valuable addition to any side. At sixteen years old, he had already trained with the first team under Pep Guardiola, showing how highly the lad is rated and how close he could be to making his debut with the first team. His skills drew the gaze of Arsene Wenger, a manager who keeps an eye on and is never too far away from Barcelona’s La Masia. Arsenal’s manager famously signed Cesc Fabregas at a young age, and last summer he managed to lure youngsters Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin to London, but he was hoping for a triple swoop with Sergi Samper at the top of his list. Aresne’s dream went unrealized as Sergi was committed to making it at his hometown club and chose not to join his teammates in London. Last season Sergi was the star and captain of one of the strongest Cadete A sides in recent memory. He led the team to a trophy-laden year that included winning the Niker Premier Cup, La Liga, the Championship of Catalunya, and the prestigious Mediterranean International Cup.

This season, Sergi was promoted to the Juvenil B team. Soon after, it was realized that he was already beyond that level and so he was quickly promoted to play with Barcelona’s Juvenil A side under the highly touted coach, Oscar Garcia. Sergi Samper has shone and been an undisputed starter at the highest youth level at FC Barcelona (before the Barca B side) and he is destined to be promoted to the B side next season, if he is not given a chance in the first team before then. At the end of this past season, he was called up with three other players from the Juvenil A side to train with the first team.

The lanky midfielder plays a “number 4” role, and his play has been likened to Italian and Juventus midfielder, Andrea Pirlo. He has drawn comparisons to Pep Guardiola, but perhaps the best way to describe him is as a deeper lying Xavi. He has all the tools to be successful at the Camp Nou; he has a deft touch, intelligent positioning, and what his coaches have called a “privileged” vision of the game. This technical ability, coupled with the fact that he is only seventeen he has yet to finish developing physically, may prove to be the reason why there are still some smiles around Barca’s training grounds. His club performances have earned him a starting place with the Spanish U17 team and he recently led his country to a 4-0 win against England, contributing with a goal and another solid performance. His future is blindingly bright and Barcelona is counting their lucky stars that he chose to stay in Catalunya.

Juanmi captains Spain’s U19 team at the European Championships

June 29th, 2012

Full Name: Juan Miguel Jiménez López
Team: Málaga
Position: Forward
Age: 19
Birth Date: May 20, 1993
Birth Place: Coín, Spain
Height: 5 feet 7 inches

At nineteen years old, Juanmi is already a star. He has been a one man club so far in his young career. He started with Málaga’s academy as a youngster and now he has become a regular for the first team who are one of the most ambitious football clubs in Europe at the moment. He made his first team debut back in 2010 in a Copa del Ray match against Getafe CF. Juanmi scored in a losing effort, becoming the Andalusian club’s youngest ever goal scorer at sixteen years of age. Since that time, he has experienced the fight to avoid relegation which went to the final day of the 2010 season. This season, he helped the club to a Champions League spot, coming fourth in La Liga.

Starting opportunities have become elusive for the lad who was born and raised in Málaga. The big signings of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla, Julio Baptista, and Valencia’s young phenom, Isco, has pushed him further down the pecking order. Despite this fact, Juanmi continues to score important goals, including scoring the only goal in Málaga’s 1-1 draw against Osasuna earlier this season, helping secure a point that may have been crucial later in the season. He has scored five times in twenty-eight appearances for his club, most of which came as substitute appearances.

With Spain, Juanmi has been a dynamo at every level. He has represented his country at the U-17, U-18, and U-19 levels, and in twenty-one appearances, has fifteen goals, he has a scoring record that would be the envy of any forward in Europe. With the U-19 side, as an eighteen year old, he played a vital role in Spain’s European Championship last summer scoring twice in the tournament. He returns a season older as one of the leaders and the captain of a side who are favorites to defend their title and their country’s continued dominance.

Juanmi has limitless potential; it is no coincidence that clubs like Real Madrid, Liverpool and Chelsea have been linked with him since 2010, and the rumours are only going to continue to swirl around. He’s quick and technical, with a lethal scoring touch at every level he plays. If Manuel Pellegrini can include him in his ambitious plans at Málaga, then all the better for Los Boquerones. But if not, he will definitely find a home elsewhere. He is destined for great things and maybe this summer’s tournament in Estonia is the time to springboard his career into hyper drive.

Raúl de Tomás

June 27th, 2012

Full Name: Raúl de Tomás Gómez
Team: Real Madrid
Position: Forward
Age: 17
Birth Date: October 17, 1994
Birth Place: Madrid, Spain
Height: 5 feet 10 inches

Raúl de Tomás is yet another Spanish forward on the U-19 squad who has been lethal for club and country over the past few years. Raúl, who now features for Madrid’s Juvenil A team, is a Madridista through and through, hailing from the Spanish capital. He is a clinical finisher within the penalty area and joins a talented group of attacking players that have been developed by this season’s La Liga winners, including Raúl’s U-19 teammate, Jesé Rodríguez.

In the Copa Atlántico in February, Raúl de Tomás started along with his Spanish U-18 teammates as they added another trophy to a bulging cabinet. Raúl de Tomás won the Golden Boot award with three goals during the tournament and earned himself a call-up for Spain’s friendlies against Montenegro. He scored a goal in both games and impressed, but was not called up for the Elite Round matches to qualify for this summer’s final tournament. At seventeen, he is the youngest of the forwards Spain is bringing to Estonia. He is unlikely to start key games with Juanmi, Gerard Deulofeu, and Paco ahead of him, but watch for Raúl de Tomás to play the part of impact sub, much like Francisco Alcacer did last summer where he came off the bench to win the final match against the Czech Republic.


June 25th, 2012

Full Name: Jesus “Suso” Fernandez Saez
Team: Liverpool FC
Position: Winger
Age: 18
Birth Date: November 19, 1993
Birth Place: Cadiz, Spain
Height: 5 feet 9 inches

Jesus Fernandez, also known as Suso, is really making waves in England this week after a stunning performance by the Spaniard with the Liverpool Reserves against the newly-crowned champions, Manchester United last Monday. The eighteen year-old has been in tremendous form since the start of the New Year, but was very much a standout against United’s Reserves where he had a hand in the tying goal at the 91st minute of the match, sending a brilliant pass down to Emmanuel Mendy who crossed it for Substitute Eccleston to finish. More Information can be found at Private limited to one person company conversion

Suso arrived at Liverpool Football Club from his hometown club, Cadiz CF, in the summer of 2010 as a fifteen year-old. Acquiring his signature was a major coup for the English side that fought off the advances of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. He may have been the last positive influence that former manager Rafael Benitez had at the club that he lead to a Champions League title, the youngster says it was the Spanish manager’s personal touch that was the differentiator when deciding on which club to join.

“I was going to sign for Real Madrid but one day before it the phone rang and Rafael Benitez spoke to me. He convinced me that Liverpool was the club for me and after that I had to change my plans. I was going to come to Liverpool.”

A self-proclaimed Real Madrid supporter, Liverpool fans are worried of their own Cesc Fabregas transfer saga as soon as Suso is good enough but I believe they still will have many years to enjoy Suso’s skills and talent at Anfield. He is a versatile attacker who started his career as a midfielder (and was compared to former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso) but has since been developed as a winger and even a striker in the Liverpool academy. He has been touted as the best player to come out of Liverpool’s academy since a certain Steven Gerard entered the spotlight. Suso is a supremely talented and technical player like so many of his compatriots and he has adapted well to the faster and more physical English game which is why many supporters are calling for his inclusion in the first team, a side that has been lacking in creativity during the latter half of the season. His former trainer at Cadiz, Quique Gonzalez, says that he has “great quality, a good shot – his vision is great and his passing is outstanding” something that the club could use to support Luis Suarez in attack when his time comes. He has already featured for the senior side in a pre-season friendly against Borussia Moenchengladbach and even played in Jamie Carragher’s testimonial. Suso is getting closer to his English Premier League debut.

Juan Bernat

June 24th, 2012

Full Name: Juan Bernat Velasco
Team: Valencia CF
Position: Forward
Age: 19
Birth Date: March 1, 1993
Birth Place: Cullera, Spain
Height: 5 feet 8 inches

Juan Bernat is another gem from the famous Valencia cantera. Like so many young footballers nowadays, Bernat made his senior debut at a young age. At just seventeen he joined Valencia B and helped to get them promoted to the Segunda Division B. He made twenty-five appearances in his first and only season with the B side, scoring six goals and starting for the club. His contributions did not go unnoticed and that summer he was invited to play with the first team during pre-season. He signed a professional contract soon after, tying him to the club until 2015 to reduce the Pollution in Ganga River

Bernat made his La Liga debut this season in Valencia’s 4-3 victory against Racing Santander. He only made seven appearances this season, but as an eighteen year-old he gained invaluable experience on one of the top teams in Spain. The fact that he helped many supporters of Los Che forget the pain of losing one of the nation’s brightest talents in Isco, speaks volumes about Bernat’s own immense skills. He has the pace and technique to write his ticket to any club he wants; however, he lacks a competitive edge or fighting spirit that is needed at the top level. With the right coaching and development, this attitude can be instilled in such a young player. He’s a brilliant winger for the future and Valencia is one of the best places he could be learning his trade at the moment.

Jesé Rodríguez

June 23rd, 2012

Full Name: Jesé Rodríguez Ruiz
Team: Real Madrid
Position: Forward
Age: 19
Birth Date: February 26, 1993
Birth Place: Las Palmas, Spain
Height: 5 feet 10 inches

Jesé Rodríguez has been with the Real Madrid organization since 2007 when he was fourteen. He joins a prolific group of young strikers currently with the Castilla including Álvaro Morata and Joselu. Jesé has drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo because of his playing style and impressive dribbling ability. He scores many of his goals from distance and his competitive edge and powerful build make him a force to be reckoned with for defenders. Last year he was the undisputed star of Madrid’s Juvenil A team; he scored seventeen goals that season and was promoted to the reserve team at the beginning of this season.

Jesé’s talents and form were noticed by Jose Mourinho who called him up to the first team for the 2011 pre-season tour. He played two friendlies over the summer and scored his first goal for the Merengues against Guangzhou Evergrande FC. He started the season with the reserves where he scored in his first appearance. He had a great debut season, scoring ten goals in forty-two appearances and Mourinho had him with the first team again against SD Ponferradina in the first round of the Copa del Rey. Jesé proceeded to make his La Liga debut this March against Real Sociedad with Jose Mourinho showing faith in a young player which we haven’t seen much before. With the log-jam of talented youngsters in the attacking position, there are rumours that Jesé may be on the transfer block this summer, but Mourinho has made a demand that the club keep the prospect, stating that he plans to make room for him in the first team for next season.

Paco Alcácer

June 22nd, 2012

Full Name: Francisco Alcácer García
Team: Valencia CF
Position: Forward
Age: 18
Birth Date: August 30, 1993
Birth Place: Torrent, Spain
Height: 5 feet 9 inches

Francisco “Paco” Alcácer is one of the brightest stars in a galaxy of talented young Spaniards. The eighteen year old striker is a canterano of Valencia, and has recently drawn the gaze of footballing royalty, following in the footsteps of David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata. He joined the Valencia B side at sixteen years of age where he had mixed experiences. During his first season, Valencia B were relegated from the third division despite a strong showing from Paco. In subsequent seasons he has netted forty-two times in sixty appearances for the reserve side, a statistic which cannot be taken lightly.

Paco scores one of his two goals in last year’s U19 Euro finals.

Paco made his debut for the first team in 2010 during the Spanish Cup match against UD Logroñés. During a preseason friendly against A.S. Roma in 2011 Paco scored his first goal for the first team, the third goal in Valencia’s 3-0 win. It has not all been smooth sailing for Paco in his career. At the end of the friendly against Roma, he was leaving Estadio Mestalla with his family when his father suffered a heart attack and died at the age of forty-four. This is a shattering event for anyone, let alone a seventeen year-old, but Alcácer was out on the pitch again the very next week, stating that he returned for “therapy purposes”.

Paco has shone for his country and has drawn the most attention to his talents while on duty with La Roja. During the 2010 UEFA U17 European Championship, all eyes were on him as he led Spain to the final of the tournament. Although Spain lost to an England side that boasted the likes of Connor Wickham, Benik Afobe, and Jashua McEachran, Paco ended as the tournament’s leading goalscorer with six goals in five matches. The next year he was with the Spanish U19 team where he was relegated to the bench because of Madrid’s Álvaro Morata and Malaga’s Juanmi. Despite receiving less playing time, Paco ended up second on the team in goals with three. In the final against the Czech Republic, the match went to overtime at 1-1 when Paco came on and starred, scoring twice in overtime and single-handedly winning Spain the tournament. He will join the U19 side again in a bid to make it three international finals in three years when they head to Estonia in July.

Is more silverware in Paco’s future in Estonia this summer?

The jewel of Valencia’s cantera crown looks destined to continue his career away from Estadio Mestalla. Valencia is still struggling with debt and the club’s structure has made it hard for canteranos to be promoted to the first team. This has led to Isco and Arron Niguez, two tremendously gifted youngsters, leaving the club. Paco has been courted by Liverpool, Arsenal and FC Barcelona, with the latter looking like the probable destination. Where he ends up playing could have a lot to do with how he performs in the tournament this summer where he will be a central figure in Spain’s defence of their U19 crown.

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.


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