Brahim Diaz, Vinicius Jr and Real’s wonderkid XI: How Madrid could line up in five years

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The Merengue have ditched the famous Galactico policy and embarked on an unprecedented investment in young talent over the last five years

The times, as Bob Dylan rather ironically has sung for the best part of the last six decades, they are a-changin'. Real Madrid boast a core of world-class players which has led the Spaniards to unprecedented continental domination over the last few years, including three consecutive Champions League titles.

But that same squad, minus of course the great Cristiano Ronaldo, is showing its legs.

The evidence was already on show for those willing to look closely enough in Zinedine Zidane's final season. A distant, disappointing third in La Liga, the Merengue salvaged their campaign with the European crown during a run that was epic rather than dominant, like a tired prize fighter drawing on all his reserves of strength for one last moment of glory.

Since Zizou walked away, those same issues torpedoed Julen Lopetegui's short, unhappy reign and threaten to condemn replacement Santiago Solari to a similar fate. Sunday's disastrous defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad left Madrid 10 points shy of leaders Barca and in a lowly fifth place, leaving much work to do in the second half of the season.

Behind the scenes, however, president Florentino Perez has been orchestrating a changing of the guard. Young stars on the periphery of the first team like Marco Asensio and Vinicius Junior are just the vanguard of a generation which within five years could signify a total rebuilding at Santiago Bernabeu.

“The outlook in international football has been transformed in a dizzying manner and we have to adapt and confront that reality.” Perez uttered those words to reporters in the summer of 2018, during the presentation of 19-year-old Russian goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. The former king of the Galacticos believes that the financial muscle of the Premier League and oil-backed millions of clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City means Madrid can no longer compete for football's global superstars.

The new key, then, is to pick up the stars of tomorrow, today. Lunin was the 22nd player under the age of 23 signed by Real since June 2013; if one includes the return of Mariano from Lyon, the club have spent a total outlay of just over €350 million (£315m/$400m) on such prospects, while incorporating a further 10 from their own youth ranks.

Not all of those investments have borne fruit, of course. The likes of Jese, Asier Illarramendi and, to a lesser extent, Alvaro Morata never quite reached their undoubted potential at the Bernabeu and have continued their careers elsewhere.

The jury is still out on two players on the fringes of the current team, Vinicius and Dani Ceballos, who set back Madrid more than €60m but who are yet to show they can match Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and the rest of the side's established names.

Vinicius Jr Real Madrid 2018-19

Even Isco, one of the flagships of Perez's dramatic policy switch when he arrived from Malaga at the tender age of 21, still arguably has a point to prove at Madrid five years down the line from his arrival. The future nevertheless looks promising: the capital club boast more under-23 players in their first-team squad than even Barcelona, with almost an entire alternative side additionally active on loan across Europe.

Those numbers will only be bolstered next summer with the planned arrival of Santos wonderkid Rodrygo , while late on Sunday Madrid added 19-year-old Man City prospect Brahim Diaz to their ranks in a move worth an initial £15.5m . Add to that list too River Plate sensation Exequiel Palacios, who is almost certain to join up with Madrid this January after leading his side to the Copa Libertadores at just 20.

And let's not forget the precocious  Martin Odegaard, in fantastic form at Vitesse and still only 20 – Perez certainly has not. "He has developed well and we hope he can play for the first team at Real Madrid one day," Perez said of the youngster, who has publicly shown himself impatient to finally make the breakthrough at the Bernabeu. "We value that he is still only 20 years old."

Real Madrid Wonderkid XI GFX

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It would be foolish, of course, to write off Madrid's old guard just yet. Modric is the current, deserved Ballon d'Or holder and a genius even at 33, while Sergio Ramos is as pugnacious as ever, Toni Kroos a delight to watch and still on the right side of 30 and Marcelo without a doubt the best player in the world in his position.

Up front, too, Gareth Bale and Benzema have delighted in silencing their many critics with an upturn in goals this season, even if their combined efforts have fallen short of compensating for the giant loss Ronaldo represented. Thibaut Courtois may have had his ups and downs since swapping Chelsea for Madrid, but at 26 he could yet ensure that even a talent of Lunin's calibre has to wait some time for his chance to shine.

Those players will also have another role in the coming years: grooming and advising the stars of tomorrow so that when the time comes the likes of Diaz, Rodrygo and Odegaard can break through and claim first-team places. Some will make it, others will fall by the wayside, that is football's nature; but one thing is certain: thanks to Perez's far-sighted transfer policy, the future at Madrid looks extremely bright indeed.

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