Contrary to popular opinion, Real Madrid do produce their own talent. ‘La Fabrica’, as their academy is known, has developed some of the finest footballers in Europe today. However, most of them ply their trade well away from the Santiago Bernabeu.
In the Premier League, flying full-back Marcos Alonso and all-round striker Àlvaro Morata thrive at Chelsea, while creator Juan Mata is one of Manchester United’s important attacking options. In Serie A, Borja Valero is Internazionale’s key schemer, while José Callejon is similarly integral to Napoli’s ultra-effective offensive game.
Others, such as Atletico Madrid stars Juanfran and Saul Niguez, and Valencia’s Dani Parejo and Rodrigo, operate geographically closer to the youth system they came through. Only a rare few stay with Real Madrid through to senior level.
Alongside the likes of Dani Carvajal and Nacho, Lucas Vázquez is one of the rare few. A winger who joined the club at the age of 16, he has worked his way up through the ‘C’ and ‘B’ teams, gained experience on loan, and returned a first-team player.
However, having started just five La Liga games this season, it is increasingly likely that he will have to follow the path so many before him have trodden and leave the Bernabeu in order to fulfil his potential.
And the Premier League, just as it was for Alonso, Morata and Mata, could be his next destination, with Liverpool and Arsenal both linked to him in recent weeks.
WHO IS LUCAS VÁZQUEZ?
Like so many budding footballers, the beautiful game was Vázquez’s world when he was a child. “Everything I remember is playing football. The dining room at my uncle’s restaurant was a Primera División pitch,” he reflected in April.
“My brother and I always used to play one on one, with my cousin Jacobo in goal. We used to break things all the time…I was the one who caused all the trouble and then my brother always used to take the blame.”
Born and raised in Curtis, Galicia, he played for his local team before joining Ural. Then, at 16 years of age, Real Madrid came calling. Coming from a family of Madridistas and with Raul as his childhood hero, the move was a dream, but it didn’t appear certain to work out.
Indeed, Vázquez was 24 at the time of his first-team debut for the Spanish giants, coming off the substitutes’ bench during a 6-0 win over Espanyol, with whom he had spent time on loan in 2014/15. But thanks to the guidance of Rafa Benítez and then Zinedine Zidane, he received chances.
Speaking of Zidane, he said: “He spoke to me a lot and told me he had faith in me, that I should be calm because I was going to get opportunities.
“My attitude was to train at 100 per cent every day and give it my all so that when the chance came, I could do a good job and help the team win games. I slowly began to build confidence and show what I’m capable of.”
Between 2015 and 2017 Vázquez made over 50 league appearances for Real Madrid, cementing his position within the first-team squad.
However, this term he has enjoyed just 13 outings and, with Zidane having brought in a diamond midfield without wingers, his future with the club is far from clear. At 26 years old, now may be the right time for him to move on.
VÁZQUEZ’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
While he is a right winger, Vázquez likes to drift infield and contribute in more central areas as opposed to holding a wide position near the touchline. He can often be found in the right inside channel, facilitating and receiving forward passes and combining with team-mates.
His ball control and first touch are exquisite, as can be expected of a modern Spanish attacker. These qualities enable him to be effective in tight spaces, meaning his talent is not fully maximised when stuck out on the wing.
Unlike so many other wingers, Vázquez doesn’t rely entirely on his pace or athletic attributes. While deceptively sturdy for his 5ft 8in stature, he lacks the raw pace seen in the likes of Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sané at Manchester City. However, he does have a knack for luring in his opponent before moving decisively to the right or left to beat his man.
The Spaniard’s skill on the ball and ability to commit defenders makes him an effective outlet in one-on-one situations. However, he also possesses the technique and tactical awareness to thrive in more crowded situations.
SHOULD PREMIER LEAGUE SIDES SIGN HIM?
Spanish outlet Diario Gol reported there had been a bust-up between Vázquez and Zidane after the manager left the player on the substitutes’ bench during a 0-0 draw with Athletic Bilbao. So, while the Spaniard’s contract with Real Madrid lasts until 2021, he could be open to leaving.
Competition for places in the Spanish champions’ squad is intense, so much so that even Welsh wizard Gareth Bale has struggled to make an impact of late. There is, therefore, no shame in being sat on the bench in such circumstances, but Vázquez appears too ambitious for such a role.
He undoubtedly has the quality to improve most Premier League starting line-ups. Arsenal would be particularly wise to add his intricate skills at a time when both Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil are set to leave on free transfers. Arséne Wenger will soon need an injection of inside forward talent, and the Real Madrid man could be ideal.
Liverpool would also benefit from the player’s presence. With Mohamed Salah playing an increasingly central role up front, they may want another attacker to come in and provide artistry and craft on their right-hand side.
Vázquez isn’t a star name, and he isn’t a hot prospect. This, alongside his decreasing status at Real Madrid, mean any move for him shouldn’t come with an overly expensive transfer fee – at least not by today’s extravagant standards.
But he would add quality in attacking areas to almost any side interested in signing him.