Real Madrid's academy products: Where are they now?
1. Javier Portillo (2002-06)
Portillo hovered between the top two tiers in his final five seasons as professional, never quite fulfilling the early promise that had Madrid fans drooling
Portillo is the perfect example of why fans need to keep their expectations of Borja Mayoral in check. After shattering Raul’s record of 150 goals for the youth team, the striker entered the senior setup with high hopes of becoming understudy to Fernando Morientes, Ronaldo and Raul, with a 35-yard strike on his Champions League against Panathinaikos only raising excitement levels in the Spanish capital.
Skip to 2:28
The following season, in 2002/03 Portillo was handed his first La Liga appearance and soon began to get into his scoring stride. His most notable goal was a beautiful finish against Valencia, while an equaliser against Borussia Dortmund in the 92nd minute saved Real Madrid from being knocked out of the Champions League at the second group phase.
At that point, no one would have anticipated Portillo's success ending so quickly. He scored nine goals in 35 appearances on loan at Fiorentina and Club Brugge between 2004 and 2006, and by the time he was looking to return to the Bernabeu after his time in Belgium came to an end, Madrid no longer needed him. With Ruud van Nistelrooy, Raul, Antonio Cassano and Ronaldo ahead of him in the pecking order, Portillo's career descended rapidly.
A permanent switch to Gimnastic brought 11 goals and relegation, before a move to Osasuna yielded just three strikes in two seasons. Portillo hovered between the top two tiers in his final five seasons as professional, never quite fulfilling the early promise that had Madrid fans drooling. He retired in 2015 aged 34.
2. Francisco Pavon (2001-07)
The allure quickly wore off, however, and it was soon apparent that he was not really up to scratch as part of a team that went on to win the Champions League that season
The centre-back's name will forever be immortalised because of the ‘Zidanes y Pavones’ policy, which saw Madrid attempt to combine the signing of Galacticos with the promotion of players from the youth system. While Pavon was full of potential as a youngster, his name is now used as a moniker for defenders on low wages who simply fill spaces in the squad and help balance the books.
Pavon was actually a key figure early on in his Madrid career, with an impressive debut against Athletic Bilbao in 2001 earning him plenty of admirers. The allure quickly wore off, however, and it was soon apparent that he wasn't really up to scratch as part of a team that went on to win the Champions League that season.
Thanks to Vicente del Bosque, who has the painstaking task of trying to balance a lopsided outfit that was far stronger going forward than at the back, Madrid were able to mask the Fernando Hierro-Pavon centre-back partnership by using Ivan Helguera as a sweeper and Claude Makelele as a midfield destroyer. By suffocating opponents with their possession, Madrid were able to adequately protect the youngster and make him look better than he really was.
After three seasons he had become a bit-part player, and in 2007 Pavon packed his bags for Zaragoza in the second division. He returned to La Liga immediately as the northerners won promotion, but was immediately shown to be out of his depth at the highest level.
Pavon finished his career with Arles-Avignon in Ligue 2 in France, featuring 26 times before hanging up his boots in 2011.
3. Alvaro Morata (2010-14)
Unlike Portillo and Pavon, Morata has found relative success after leaving the Spanish giants. The 23-year-old won a domestic double during his first season at Juventus last term, as well as reaching the Champions League final after knocking out his former club in the semi-finals.
While Morata made his Madrid debut in 2010, he truly won the hearts of the Bernabeu with his permance in El Clasico three years later
While Morata made his Madrid debut in 2010, he truly stole Bernabeu hearts with his permance in El Clasico three years later. Despite not scoring, Morata played with maturity and confidence, notching an assist and generally proving a handful for Barcelona's defence.
Madrid couldn't guarantee him a starting role, though, so the Spain international left for Juve in 2014. Morata came back to haunt los Blancos with two goals against them in the aforementioned European tie, strikes that brought back memories of Monaco's Fernando Morientes knocking Madrid out of the competition in 2004.
4. Ruben de la Red (2004-07, 2008-10)
MORE REAL MADRID
De la Red’s case is a sorry one, but nevertheless deserves to be remembered. Supremely talented and boasting a high footballing IQ, it looked as if the academy product could have been the long-term solution to Madrid's problems in defensive midfield were it not for health problems.
His first goal against Valencia was a belter and he impressed in most of his 16 appearances between 2004 and 2007, but a heart condition forced him to retire at just 25, two years after his hospitalisation from collapsing against Real Union in the Copa del Rey. He remained in football, however, and is currently coach of Getafe B – the club he first left Madrid for in 2007 before rejoining the Blancos a season later.
... oh, and this lot
Esteban Cambiasso, Alvaro Negredo, Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado, Diego Lopez, Samuel Eto’o: the amount of talent formed at La Fabrica but let go by the club is enormous.
Madrid will regret allowing some of them to depart, others less so. Regardless, though, it's still a stern reminder to the Bernabeu faithful not to get too carried away about a youngster like Borja Mayoral. After all, the next turn he takes could be decisive for his career – either for better or for worse.
- RECOMMENDED Meet Borja Mayoral and Mariano Diaz Mejia: Real Madrid's future stars?
- RECOMMENDED Real Madrid's flawed youth policy could be preventing global domination