A rash of brilliant homegrown youngsters are helping to fuel Sevilla FC's UEFA Cup drive.
By Andy Hall
When asked which Primera División club had made the wisest squad reinforcements over the summer, most of the top coaches in Spain unanimously responded Sevilla FC.
As they showed in their 2-0 UEFA Cup victory against TSV Alemannia Aachen on Thursday, the southern side are now reaping the rewards from a project that blends an important youth team programme with some cunning transfer trading. Sporting director and former Sevilla goalkeeper Ramón 'Monchi' Rodríguez presides over a squad of exceptional strength.
You could say that the club's youth programme is, at this point, in its most brilliant period," he told uefa.com. "The reward for this youth project comes when younger players make the leap into the first team and this has been a special year because we have seen numerous players graduate successfully."
Monchi has been delighted to see coach Joaquín Caparrós hand top-flight debuts to homegrown talents like Diego Capel, Jesús Navas, Sergio Ramos, Antonio Puerta and Pablo Ruiz. "For the youth programme to function, there has to be someone who will open the door for them," Monchi explained.
Sevilla rank alongside UD Las Palmas and FC Barcelona as one of Spain's top clubs for youth development. As Monchi said: "We have 17 teams from children right through to the B team, who are currently in the Segunda División B. It's important that we look to the future because in years to come we would like a sizable percentage of our first team to consist of players who have gone through our system. It is also a cost effective way of replenishing the team as the club does not have to pay top prices in the transfer market."
Sevilla find many of their child prodigies on their own doorstep but also cast their net further afield. "We have scouts in Madrid and northern Spain, but the majority of our 'base material' we find here in Seville or in the Andalusia region," he continued. "For us it's a long-term plan. We won't see four or five players being introduced every season because that would be impossible."
Playing the percentages
As Monchi readily admits, not all young players will go on to become footballers. He said: "It's difficult to gauge how a 12-year-old player is going to turn out - our job is to help them to mature and help them with the technical and tactical aspects of the game plus make sure that physically they are in shape. Out of around 370 youngsters, only a handful will make the grade."
Perhaps the most instantly recognisable figure on the modern stage that emerged from the Andalusian capital club is Arsenal FC winger José Antonio Reyes. Arsène Wenger had been keeping close tabs on the player since 2000 and broke the club coffers to bring him to London in January. Since then Reyes has not disappointed Gunners fans and Monchi is not in the least surprised.
'Reyes is a natural'
"Occasionally your instincts prove you wrong but in the case of José Antonio we knew that he would be a success story in England because he is a natural and blessed with all the technical and physical attributes that make him the great player he is," he said. "Perhaps the big surprise was just how quickly his career has taken off. But we always knew that sooner or later he would make a name for himself."