Former Castilla coach Solari has handed four debuts to young players that were under his wing until he took over the first team at the end of October.
Santiago Solari has come into the role of coach of Real Madrid’s first team without forgetting where he came from. Up until the end of October, the Argentinean coach was overseeing Real Madrid Castilla, the reserve team where many graduates of Madrid’s youth setup – known as La Fábrica (The Factory) – are groomed before making the jump to the first team.
Since Solari took over from Julen Lopetegui, he has already handed four debuts to four young Castilla players over the two legs of the Copa del Rey tie against Melilla (Cristo and Javi Sanchez in the first leg; Fran García and Fidalgo in the second leg). The youngsters were impressive, between them scoring two goals (Cristo and Javi Sanchez) and providing one assist (Fran García) over the two games against the Second Division B side – a sign, perhaps, of a bright future for Los Blancos.
The tall centre-back (1.89 metres) already had entered the radar of Lopetegui, and took part in in the pre-season games against Juventus and Manchester United during the U.S. tour in the absence of Ramos, Varane and Nacho. The Basque coach had him marked as his fifth emergency centre. But, in the end, the Castilla captain’s first opportunity came under Solari for the first match against Melilla.
Elegant on the ball, strong in the tackle and confident in the air, Sanchez has played both games against Melilla for Solari, as well as 30 minutes against Plzen in the Champions League and 45 minutes against Valladolid in LaLiga. In his Bernabéu debut against Melilla on Thursday evening, he scored an impressive outstretched volley that gave Madrid a 3-0 lead before half time, besides fulfilling his defensive duties well.
Fran García is one of the most promising full backs from La Fábrica and in the Spanish underage setup. Left footed, lightning fast and attacking-minded, the 19-year-old began his career as a winger, and his style recalls that of left wingers like Jordi Alba and Valencia’s José Luis Gayá. He arrived at La Fábrica in 2013 and, interestingly, is a distant cousin of Atlético Madrid midfielder Koke.
Last season he suffered an injury ordeal, undergoing two shoulder operations, but this year he has stood out with Castilla in Second Division B and the Uefa Youth League. Solari handed him his debut when he came on for the second half against Melilla, and the youngster looked lively throughout his 45 minutes, setting up Isco’s second goal in the 83rd minute after making a beautifully-angled run down the left.
“He does things like Benzema,” is something that Cristo González Pérez has been hearing at Castilla since he joined from Tenerife in 2017. But the 21-year-old is the first one to shun any comparisons with first team players. Former Tenerife coach Álvaro Cervera (now manager of Cadiz) handed him his debut at 16 years old and he became the youngest ever player to score for the club.
He played 53 games and scored five goals for Tenerife before Madrid signed him for 750,000 euros in summer of 2017. He came on for the last 10 minutes of the first leg against Melilla, which was enough time for the young striker to bag his first goal in the 92nd minute to give Madrid a 4-0 victory.
His grandfather played for Real Oviedo, and Álvaro Fidalgo Fernández was expected to follow in his footsteps. But after five years in the youth setup at Oviedo and two years at Sporting Gijón, Real Madrid came knocking for the then 15-year-old in 2012.
He made the jump to Castilla in 2016, before a one-season loan spell at Madrid second division club Rayo Majadahonda. Since his return to Castilla for the 2017-18 season, he has become an undisputed starter in midfield. His former Castilla coach handed him his debut for the first team against Melilla in the second leg on Thursday, giving him 12 minutes at the end of the game.