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Sergio Arribas: Real Madrid's teen star leading La Fabrica's golden generation

12:00 BST 08/10/2020
Sergio Arribas NxGn
The 19-year-old playmaker was the star of the Blancos' triumphant UEFA Youth League campaign last season and has already made his first-team debut

When it comes to teenagers making an impact on the Real Madrid first team in recent years, very few can be regarded as being homegrown.

Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Reinier were all bought for big money having already broken through in Brazil, while the likes of Martin Odegaard, Fede Valverde and Andriy Lunin were acquired in their mid-to-late teens.

The term 'Baby Galacticos' has been used to describe Florentino Perez' transfer policy in recent years, with the Madrid president having largely moved away from spending huge swathes of cash on established superstars, preferring instead to now focus on signing younger players with world-class potential.

While that is certainly a policy that could set the club for up for yet another decade of success, there is no question that Los Blancos have fallen behind some of their rivals at home and abroad when it comes to producing talent of their own.

That could be about to change, however, following a 2019-20 season that not only saw the club win La Liga but also what could prove a far important title.

For the first time in their history, Madrid were crowned UEFA Youth League champions, after their Under-19s team saw off Benfica in the final of the continental competition in Nyon.

After falling at the semi-final stage three times in the last seven seasons, Madrid – coached by legendary former striker Raul – smashed through their own glass ceiling in what could well be the first step towards La Fabrica establishing itself as one of the world's great academies.

The undoubted star of Madrid's campaign was 19-year-old playmaker Sergio Arribas, who put in a number of dominant performances during the latter stages of the tournament.

His reward was a place on the bench for the senior squad's opening fixture of the new Liga season, against Real Sociedad, a game which ended shortly after Arribas had been brought on as a late sub by coach Zinedine Zidane.

He joins a select group of youth players to have made their senior debut before playing for the club's 'B' team, known as Castilla, though he is likely to spend at least the first half of the season earning experience playing for the reserves in the Spanish third tier.

That will mark the the next leg of an eight-year journey for Arribas at his hometown club, having joined Madrid from Leganes as an 11-year-old in 2012.

Having routinely impressed throughout the various under-age sides, Arribas was first called up to train with Zidane's first-team squad in 2017 when he was still only 16.

Though the reality was that Arribas had only been summoned to bulk up the numbers during an international break, it was a sign that he was doing something right within the youth ranks, and Zidane has been tracking his progress ever since.

It has not always been plain sailing for the youngster, however, and at the start of the season he was not even in Madrid's first-choice XI for their Youth League group matches.

That said, when he was selected by coach Daniel Poyatos – who has since left the club to become Panathinaikos manager – he made an impact, scoring in a 6-3 win over Paris Saint-Germain before laying on an assist in Madrid's final group game against Club Brugge.

That was as far as Madrid got before the coronavirus pandemic forced football into lockdown, with the new restrictions putting pay to their last-16 clash with Juventus.

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During the break, Poyatos left to be replaced by Raul. Whether it was the presence of a club icon in the dugout, or just a keenness to get back on the field after a six-month break, once Arribas arrived in Switzerland for the culmination of the Youth League, his performances suggested that Poyatos' decision not to start him in the early stages was a rather big mistake.

Like the Champions League and Europa League, the knockout stages of the Youth League were all played in one location in August, with UEFA's headquarters in Nyon chosen to host.

Arribas started as he meant to go on against Juventus, scoring the equaliser as the 10-men of Madrid came from behind to knock out the Bianconeri.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dreams come true!🏆🏅🤍

A post shared by Sergio Arribas (@sergio_arribas10) on Aug 27, 2020 at 9:33am PDT

That set up a quarter-final with more Italian opposition in the shape of Inter, but the Nerazzurri had no answer to Arribas, who claimed assists for all three goals in Madrid's 3-0 victory.

Left-footed but given freedom to roam from the No.10 position, Arribas proved a nightmare for opposition defences, and after Red Bull Salzburg were dealt with the in the semi-finals, a final date with Portuguese giants Benfica awaited.

Arribas was again the star of the show as he regularly drifted out to the right-hand side before delivering dangerous crosses into the box.

He was able to leave defenders for dead with his trickery and pace, going on to claim assists for each of Madrid's first two goals in their 3-2 victory, which in turn took his tally for the competition to six to go along with his two goals.

"We are proud. There are many players around the world who come to Real Madrid who are then sold to all leagues. We are the team that has won the most Champions League and as a club we also needed this title," Raul said post-match, with many hoping this can be the catalyst to more success at youth level for the continent's most decorated club.

The signs are good. Arribas' team-mates Miguel Gutierrez, Pablo Roman, Luis Lopez and Isra Salazar are just some of the homegrown stars being tipped to make the leap into the Madrid first team in the coming years, and there are others, such as Bruno Iglesias and David De la Vibora, who will form part of this season's Youth League team when the competition returns in 2021.

However, Arribas, who will likely need to fill out physically before he can truly be considered for regular first-team minutes, is set to be the leader of La Fabrica's new golden generation.