5 most disappointing Real Madrid academy graduates of the last decade

Jese Rodriguez (L) failed miserably with Real Madrid
Jese Rodriguez (L) failed miserably with Real Madrid
Apoorv Rastogi

An adversary to the famed La Masia, Real Madrid's academy, or 'La Fabrica' as it is less commonly called, has been churning out some quality players, ever since its inception in the 1950s.

Although, Los Blancos' policy of recruiting 'Galacticos' to carry out major proceedings at the Santiago Bernabeu at the beginning of this millennium dealt a huge blow to the numerous up-and-coming talents of their academy.

Nevertheless, as many as 36 academy prospects were handed out first-team debuts in the 2010s, subject to various degrees of success. Real Madrid may not be hosting the best youth development program in their native country, but La Fabrica certainly ranks high among the rest of Europe's elites.

Some notable alumni of Real Madrid's academy

You know that your system is capable enough to nurture and groom raw talent when players with the potential to top the team's all-time scoring charts graduate from your academy, i.e. Raul Gonzalez. Former club-captain Iker Casillas, Dani Parejo, Juanfran, Saul Niguez and many more have all learned their trades at La Fabrica.

Even current Real Madrid mainstays Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernandez are products of their famed academy. Nevertheless, there exist a plethora of players that showed serious promise in their initial years at the vintage institution, yet ended up slipping through the cracks.

Here we look at 5 such Real Madrid players who were destined for greatness during their stay in the academy but are now on the verge of sliding into complete obscurity:

#5 Enzo Zidane (Rodez)

Enzo Zidane (L) battling it out with Lionel Messi
Enzo Zidane (L) battling it out with Lionel Messi

Probably because of his last name, Enzo Zidane was hyped up to such an extent that he couldn't possibly fit into the gargantuan shoes, people had built for him. Likened to his father since the tender age of 16, Zinedine Zidane's oldest son was branded as a generational talent at Real Madrid's academy. So much so that he was elected to be one of the vice-captains of the Castilla team at just 20.

A famous pundit on youth soccer, Santi Cañizares even went as far as to say:

“He’s very much like his father in his football, especially in his movement. On the field he’s the same, he’s a central midfielder with the same freedom.”

In truth, the mediocre midfielder was being set up for definite failure, due to the sheer ridiculousness of the expectations everyone had with him. Having only played one game for the senior team, where he slotted home a goal from the edge of the penalty area, Enzo was snapped up by Alaves in 2017.

His nomadic journey has taken him from Swiss outfit Lausanne-Sport to relegation-threatened Portuguese side Aves, far from the heights of Real Madrid's senior squad. A highly-rated prospect in his days at the academy, Zidane recently signed for Ligue 2 club Rodez in his native France.

#4 Raul de Tomas (Espanyol)

Raul de Tomas turning out for Espanyol
Raul de Tomas turning out for Espanyol

Raul de Tomas was ordained to become a prolific goal-scorer after he impressed at every single youth level for Real Madrid. During his academy days, Tomas was known for his clinical finishing and received high praise for possessing instincts of a natural number 9.

However, he was only awarded 14 minutes of first-team action in a cup game before Real Madrid decided to let go of him, initially on loan and eventually on a permanent basis.

He had a particularly sensational 17/18 season with Rayo Vallecano, where Tomas almost singhle-handedly spearheaded Los Franjirrojos to promotion with his record 24 goals in the Segunda division. The Spaniard was awarded an extended deal at the Bernabeu for his efforts.

Nevertheless, things never materialized for the sturdy striker and Real Madrid offloaded him to Benfica at the first time of asking.

SL Benfica quickly cut on their losses after buying Raul de Tomas for a hefty €20m
SL Benfica quickly cut on their losses after buying Raul de Tomas for a hefty €20m

Tomas tanked catastrophically in Portugal, showing no trace of the mercurial talent he was thought to be. After just three goals for the Eagles, the then 25-year-old was shipped to Segunda side Espanyol.

Even though Tomas has done fairly well at the Barcelona-based club, he has failed to reach the potential he exuded back in the academy. With another year of La Liga football coming up next season, only time will tell whether the €22.5m signing was worth the hype or not.

Also read: 10 most disappointing graduates from Barcelona's La Masia academy in the 21st century

#3 Denis Cheryshev (Valencia)

Cheryshev had an impressive 2018 World Cup with Russia
Cheryshev had an impressive 2018 World Cup with Russia

Denis Cheryshev had a rough time coming through the ranks at Real Madrid's academy. Having spent nine years with the reserve teams, accumulating over 100 appearances for Real Madrid Castilla along the way, Cheryshev was officially promoted to the first team in 2013.

Despite his obvious talent, the Russian winger's time at the Bernabeu will always be remembered for controversy rather than his on-field heroics.

After three consecutive loan spells in the Spanish top-flight, the academy stalwart returned to Madrid in 2015, finally looking to make his place in the first-team. His first competitive goal for Los Merengues came in a 3-1 drubbing of Cadiz CF in the Spanish Cup.

Instead of kickstarting his campaign with Real Madrid, that fateful match proved to be Cheryshev's last with his boyhood club.

Rafa Benitez had illegally fielded the Russian in a cup game, despite him serving a suspension, sanctioned during his time on-loan with Villarreal. Real Madrid were subsequently expelled from the competition and what was meant to be his breakout moment ended up derailing his career.

Cheryshev did have a moment in the sun, starring for his country at the 2018 World Cup. Nevertheless, his club career has stalled ever since that infamous incident.

Valued at just €3.5m at the time of writing, the 30-year-old playmaker has experienced a lackluster career in contrast to the potential he showed in his academy days.

#2 José Rodríguez (Maccabi Haifa)

Rodriguez (L) joined Real Madrid's academy aged 14
Rodriguez (L) joined Real Madrid's academy aged 14

Perhaps the most unknown entity on the list, Jose Rodriguez's silent fall from the top has been one of the most drastic in the history of Real Madrid's academy. A highly-rated candidate from the start of his Madrid career, Rodriguez was handed his first-team debut by Jose Mourinho in 2012.

The Spaniard scored in his first appearance for Los Blancos, netting the third goal in a 4-1 win against CD Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey.

Just a month later, Rodriguez made his La Liga and Champions League debuts, becoming Real Madrid's youngest ever player in the continental tournament, aged 17. Unfortunately for the central midfielder, his career in the Spanish capital never took off after a promising start.

After spending the following season with Castilla and another on loan at Deportivo La Coruna, the academy graduate was sold to Galatasaray on a free transfer.

Barring a brief stint with Dutch minnows Fortuna Sittard, Rodriguez has mostly disappointed in his post-Madrid career. He recently moved to the Israeli Premier League with Maccabi Haifa on an annual salary of just €270k.

#1 Jesé (Las Palmas)

Former star of the Real Madrid academy, Jese, playing for Las Palmas
Former star of the Real Madrid academy, Jese, playing for Las Palmas

The 'Bojan' of Real Madrid, Jese Rodriguez's style of play was compared to that of his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, in the Spaniard's early days at the academy. His coach at La Fabrica, Alberto Toril, always regarded Jese as a prodigy. The former academy manager was quoted as saying:

"He had everything. Physically he was gifted: strong, fast, powerful, agile. Also, technically. At that age you already saw different things in him."

Jese displayed some exceptional dribbling abilities in his youth, attracting interest from all over the world, including Barcelona. Versatile and technically apt, the Las Palmas-born forward was touted to succeed in any team that was lucky enough to acquire his services.

However, a string of horrible injuries and his off-field antics prevented the youngster from shaping his career with Los Blancos.

Even at the time of his sale, Real Madrid rated him so highly that they famously included an 'anti-Barcelona' clause in his transfer to PSG, which forbade the French giants from selling Jese to Madrid's arch rivals.

Nevertheless, disciplinary issues and continuous struggles with injuries meant that Jese's PSG career never really took off.

Fast forward five years and the 28-year-old former prospect of Madrid's academy, has just signed for UD Las Palmas, the club in his hometown. A part-time musician, Jese has failed to show the commitment an athlete requires to succeed in the game. Another 'wonderkid' story without a happy ending.

Also read: Ranking the best graduates from Barcelona's La Masia in the last decade

Edited by Rohit Mishra
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