El Centrocampista

THE VALUE OF LA CANTERA – Home grown is a home known in Spain


There is something special about witnessing home-grown players pull on the shirt of their local club and make their first team debuts.

Many clubs have no alternative but to blood their young players at an early age, while others make it a determined policy.

Fans applaud it and it is also widely believed that if a  player has come through the ranks, they will carry a sense of identity for the club, something that has been embedded into their lives aswell as their playing styles.

But it would seem that this culture is taken far more seriously in Spain than it is in England – and with far greater results.

In Spanish, the word cantera literally translates as ‘quarry’, but in football terms it means the geographic region players are from, and you only have to look at the statistics from the incredible game between Barcelona and Real Madrid in November 2010 to see how cantera is highly valued by some and possibly not by others.

From the 14 players that featured in the match for Barcelona, a staggering 10 players were schooled at the famed La Masia training complex (Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Jeffren and Bojan)- and three of those scored in a thumping 5-0 win.

By contrast, of the 13 players that featured for Madrid, just Iker Casillas and Alvaro Arbeloa were brought through the Madrid ranks. The reason for this, which has been discussed in previous articles, is the reliance on the transfer market Real Madrid tend to maintain.

Of the current group of players; Pepe, Marcelo, Sami Khedira, Mesut, Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are all big money signings from outside Spain

Many Madrid graduates have actually gone on to forge good La Liga careers away from the Santiago Bernabeu, and some even around Europe.

Players such as Samuel Eto’o, Juan Mata, Borja Valero, Alvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado, Dani Parejo, and Javi Garcia have gone on to have successful careers, whilst several may even be able to return to Madrid one day, as some are of sufficient quality.

Maybe there should be a shift at Madrid – they spend money on their B team and their ‘Castilla’ team, but rarely actually induct the graduates into the first team setup instead of giving them a chance.

In fact, Madrid have started to bring back former academy players like Arbeloa, Esteban Granero and Jose Maria Callejon in a bid to say to their fans ‘we do use the youth’.

Many people will hold up Real Madrid’s bitter rivals in Catalunya as the prime example of promoting youth, and they would have a valid point but even Barcelona’s record of producing homegrown talent cannot compare with Athletic Club of Bilbao.

The club’s ‘Basque-only’ policy means their famed Lezama youth system (and maybe a few other clubs before Athletic come calling…) is the life blood of the club. In fact, without it there WOULD be no club.

The only non-Basque players are Venezuelan Fernando Amorebieta, who qualified because his parents are from the Basque region, whilst Spanish-Angolan defender Jonas Ramalho became the first ever mixed-race player to enter the San Mames ranks.

You would think that Bilbao would struggle as a result of this rule which should restrict their activity in the transfer market – but Bilbao seem to have priority over the up and coming players from local clubs, enabling them to secure top players like Javi Martinez, Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente.

But how does La Liga compare to England?

There is a large amount of trust given to young players in Spain, as they tend to be given regular game time. This may well be because of the financial troubles of many La Liga clubs, forcing them to play academy graduates.

But just look at the incredible belief shown by Atletico Madrid in the 2003/4 season, naming19-year-old Fernando Torres as club captain – something that is rare in the Premier League.

The results make for great reading for Spain – but less so for England.

The stats at the 2010 World Cup proved this point – 77% of La Liga players were Spanish, compared with just 40% of Premier League players being English.

That Spain went on to win the World Cup, whilst England only managed to make it to the second round before a humiliating 4-1 defeat at the hands of eternal adversaries Germany, also tells it’s own story.

So it begs the question – should England be trying to emulate Spain and place more faith in a cantera policy?

Should Real Madrid shift away from purchasing players to developing players?

Should more clubs be run like Bilbao?

With the current financial difficulties in football, those questions could be answered in the not-too distant future…


  1. Doherty Soccer

    22 September, 2011 at 21:32

    I don’t see the connection you’re trying to make.
    Because more of the fluff in the La Liga are Spanish players, that makes the national team stronger?
    All of the players on the English national team play in the Premier League. The fact that a majority of players in the Premier League aren’t English speaks to the fact that the league is drawing quality players from the rest of the world. Doesn’t that mean that English national team players are going up against better competition week in and week out with their clubs?

    Premier League teams don’t produce that many academy stars because the lower division teams hold on to their players. In the English market, English kids pull extravagant transfer fees, and these fees often help lift a club out of the red for a bit. Whereas Spanish young players would rather move to La Liga academies at age 8 or age 13, English players play for their actual local clubs until they are old enough, 16 or 17, to fetch a nice transfer sum.

    Your article is informative about Spanish clubs, but I don’t really follow any argument you’re making.

  2. ollydawes

    22 September, 2011 at 21:58

    What I’m trying to say is that the Premier League’s culture is now to buy the best players into the league; e.g. Aguero, Nasri, Silva, Mata, Suarez etc.

    I do feel that this is somewhat staggering the development of the players in England.

    For instance, look at a player from my team, Neil Mellor. He scored a couple of goals for Liverpool that were really important but his position in the pecking order plus his injury problems led to him signing for Preston. Now, had the same things happened in Spain, I genuinely think that he’d be given more of a chance to stake a claim.

    If the Premier League continues with that culture, especially without any form of ruling towards the amount of foreign players allowed, I don’t see how English football can progress how we want it too.

    Younger players can’t get games because of the established foreign players. They end up dropping down the leagues and not necessarily making it back up to the top. Coaching the players is a key part of the development, and the further down the pyramid you go, the worse the standard of coaching is.

    I do understand your point though. I do think that playing against the best in the world should be enhancing development of English players, but it’s become a bit rare for there to be young players in the starting line ups at top Premier League.

    I do think that part of the problem in England is that the transfer fees are HUGELY overpriced – look at Carroll, Henderson etc. I think that’s because of the money around. If City spent say £27m on Dzeko, Newcastle can sit there and say ‘if you want our young player, who is as important to our team as Dzeko is to Wolfsburg, we want more money than £27m.’

    It’s a problem, and showed in England’s failure in recent years.

    I just think that the British game needs to have rules on foreign players to help the young players, and in turn helping the national team.

    Thanks for the reply, always good to get some feedback.

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