Real Madrid's academy is widely regarded as one of the most incredible talent factories in European football. La Fabrica has done a great job in helping young players develop into stars who have gone on to play at the highest level of the sport across the world.
Some of La Fabrica's most notable alumni include club legends Raul Gonzalez, Emiliano Butragueno, Vicente del Bosque, Iker Casillas, and many other celebrated names from Real Madrid's glorious history. Several players from their current set-up are also proud graduates of the academy, including Nacho Fernandez, Lucas Vazquez, Dani Carvajal, and others.
The most recent academy star to make his senior bow for the club was highly-rated prospect Antonio Blanco, who debuted against Cadiz in LaLiga Santander on 21st April, 2021.
While many players have made a name for themselves at Real Madrid after coming up through the ranks of La Fabrica, others have had to move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for regular football at the highest level. On that note, here is a look at five players you probably didn't know were graduates of the Real Madrid's famous youth academy.
#5 Saul Niguez | Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez has established himself as a vital part of Diego Simeone's men over the last few years. Despite his issues at the club since the start of the ongoing campaign, Saul has been a great asset for Los Rojiblancos, appearing 330 times for Diego Simeone's side and playing across seven different positions at the club.
However, the Spanish international was once at Real Madrid's famous La Masia academy before moving to Atletico Madrid. Saul later revealed that he was relentlessly bullied during his short-lived spell with Los Blancos, due to which he chose to leave the club. He explained;
"A lot of things happened off the field. The sporting side went well but some things happened which shouldn't happen to a kid of 11, 12 years of age. I had my boots stolen, my food, I was punished for something I didn't do and I wasn't allowed at the training ground in Valdebebas for two weeks."
The 26-year-old won LaLiga, two UEFA Europa Leagues, and played in a Champions League final with Atleti, which they lost to his former club, Real Madrid.
#4 Juanfran | Free agent
Another player from Simeone's LaLiga-winning Atletico side in 2013/14, Juanfran made a name for himself as one of the most reliable full-backs in the world. During his prime, he was a player capable of covering the length of the pitch time and again, constantly providing an attacking outlet while defending resolutely as well.
Not many would know, however, that he was a graduate of Real Madrid's La Fabrica, and went on to make 11 appearances for the senior side during his time at the Bernabeu. In fact, Juanfran grew up playing as a winger and idolised Real Madrid legend, Luis Figo. It was primarily at Atletico Madrid that he went from being a wide midfielder to a full-back. He even remarked on the situation later, saying;
"What I thought at the time was that they must have trusted me and that they were rewarding me for being a hard-worker. I think everyone was surprised to see that I could play and perform at a high level as a full-back."
Juanfran made 355 appearances for Atleti before moving on to Sao Paulo. The veteran helped them to two Europa League titles, two Super Cups, a Copa del Rey, and an iconic LaLiga title win.
#3 Juan Mata | Manchester United
Juan Mata is one of the most decorated footballers on this list. The Spaniard has won the FIFA World Cup, Euro, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, EFL Cup, and Copa del Rey in what has been an illustrious career spanning over a decade in England and Spain.
However, the roots of one of Manchester United's and Chelsea's most memorable players over the last decade can be traced back to the Santiago Bernabeu as Mata is another one of La Fabrica's famous graduates. The diminutive playmaker played for Real Madrid's Castilla side back in 2006 alongside other noteworthy names such as Marcelo and Jose Callejon.
Mata left for Valencia shortly after, where he broke onto the scene as one of the most impressive playmakers in Europe and earned a big-money move to Chelsea. Three years and 135 appearances later, the Spaniard moved to Manchester United under David Moyes, where he's played 268 times to date.
#2 Esteban Cambiasso | Retired
Esteban Cambiasso joined Real Madrid from boyhood club Argentinos Juniors back in 1996, but failed to make the cut at the Bernabeu and moved to Independiente in 1998. Cambiasso then became one of only a few players to be brought back to the capital club after being sold as he impressed profoundly with his displays in Argentina.
The South American spent two years at Real Madrid, helping the club win LaLiga in 2002/03. After playing a bit-part role for the club, Cambiasso ended up leaving once again. He moved to Internazionale, where Cambiasso established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. He won five successive Serie A titles with the Nerazzurri and played a huge role in their historic treble under Jose Mourinho.
He eventually moved to Premier League strugglers Leicester City towards the end of his career and helped keep them in the division with a string of superb displays for the Foxes. After amassing a whopping 23 major honours in his career, Cambiasso eventually retired after a short stint at Olympiakos.
#1 Samuel Eto'o | Retired
The man who spearheaded Real Madrid's fierce rivals Barcelona to a historic European treble, Samuel Eto'o, was once of Real Madrid's famous La Fabrica. The Cameroonian superstar is one of the best strikers to have played the game and has been immensely successful with the Blaugrana and Nerazzurri, winning the treble with both sides in successive seasons.
Eto'o was part of Los Blancos' youth system in 1997 and played less than 200 minutes for the senior side. After three loan spells across Spain, Eto'o moved to Mallorca on a permanent deal after failing to break into the Real Madrid side, which then led to a €27m move to Barcelona on the back of a couple of superb seasons.
The capital club owned a percentage of his rights at the time, but the striker was keen on a move to their rivals. There was no looking back since for Eto'o, who won honours aplenty from that point.
A former agent once claimed that racism played a role in Eto'o's exit from the Bernabeu, claiming he was forced out of the club due to 'the colour of his skin'. The four-time African Player of the Year himself confirmed this claim as Eto'o said;
"I have always done well. The only explanation is that perhaps the black men in that club were not loved."
Eto'o went on to win LaLiga in his debut campaign at the Nou Camp, and during the title celebrations, he famously shouted the words, "Madrid, cabrón, saluda al campeon!" — which roughly translates to "Madrid, you a******s, bow down before the champions!".
Things could have been very different had the Cameroonian been given a chance at the Bernabeu. After spells at Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea, Everton, Sampdoria, and others, Eto'o eventually retired in 2019. He remains the only player to have won two European trebles in successive campaigns.