AGAINST CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
Real Madrid has come to America!
Well, not exactly the entire squad, but if you don't know, the talk of this week in US soccer circles has been an official from the Spanish league champions arriving in New York to discuss a deal with the young New York striker Jozy Altidore.
After having an impressive campaign for the US Under-20 National Team during the World Championships in Canada this year and having a decent season with his MLS club, can we say that the youngster is a hot commodity on the international market now? You bet we can.
The news of Real Madrid coming stateside to possibly sign the Floridian may not have been the top story on sports pages, but it has brought up the question again that many a US soccer critic has debated before: Should our young American players risk signing with a big European club and face the possibility of zero playing time, or, should they sign with a smaller club in the top leagues, get the playing time and then try for a move to a bigger club?
Many critics think they have the answer, but the truth is folks it is not an easy question to answer because there are so many factors to consider.
First, when you analyze the leagues in Europe you have to consider which leagues the young players will benefit from as in terms of improving skills, but also the competition they will face at a club that expects to win things every year.
One thing in favor for Altidore, if he does decide to go ahead with a move to Real Madrid, is that he will be training and playing with some of the top players in the world. As the "Galactico" era ended, Los Merengues' have invested in younger players who will make up the core for the squad for several years. He would no doubt get great service from the midfield and the wings with likes of Dutch internationals Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.
With players of their caliber on a squad, a striker with the potential of the Altidore could certainly be one of the Spanish league's top goal scorers in the future.
Although the phenomenal striker might not have a chance to crack the line up at the moment with the players such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robinho, Javier Saviola, and long-term Madridista Raul, he would certainly gain a slew of experience and mentoring from these players.
I think it's safe to say that Altidore will not be thrown into a match so early into his career, if he does make the move to Europe at beginning of the New Year. Most critics have forgotten that he is has been 18-years old for less than a month, and only a handful of players have been able to make the transition to playing on the first team with a big club at such a young age.
Real Madrid would nurture this young man before they ever thought of moving him up to the first team.
Secondly, just to follow up what I've previously stated, we all must be realistic and understand that the Olympic hopeful will get his feet wet with Real Madrid's B team.
While the B team is merely a reserve squad they don't necessarily play in a reserve league set up that is similar to what we see in MLS, England and the Netherlands. Currently the B squad plays in the Spanish Segunda B division, a step below the second division.
Playing in a lower league in Spain will benefit Altidore as week in and week out he will be playing not only against other reserve squads such as Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruņa and Celta Vigo, but he will suit up against other teams such as Las Palmas and Rayo Vallecano.
These were clubs whom not that long ago were competing in the first division. The added bonus for him playing the lower division first is that he actually will be playing for something and that is the chance to move up to the second division with his club.
Also, playing a season or two in the lower league will see whether he can hack it in a league where it maybe more focused on physicality rather than skills. Nowadays in this sport not only does a player have be skillful, but he must also show that he's not going be thrown of his game if a defenders tries to push him off the ball. Jozy would have to show Real Madrid and the other coaches that he will not back down from challenges.
Let's also not forget that some of the top players in the Real Madrid squad, past and present had their start in the B squad. Players such as Raul, Guti and Iker Casillas would not be household names if they didn't start their careers with the B squad. Former players such as Santiago Canizares, Mista and Luis Garcia Fernandez have gone on to have remarkable careers away from the Santiago Bernabeu stadium
Altidore could find himself in familiar company if he were to establish himself with the B squad and then earn his way onto the first team.
There is also the chance that Real Madrid could send the 2010 World Cup prospect out on loan with another Spanish first division club so that he may get acquainted to the pace and physicality of the league. This would not hurt him one bit and maybe it will accelerate his progress. Barcelona and Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o, who was once a trainee at Real Madrid, can attest to this as he played for fellow first division team Real Mallorca for a few seasons. Now, he is one of the top strikers in the world.
Of course the naysayers do have proof to back up their claims that Altidore should sign on with a smaller club. Former USMNT members such as Jovan Kirovski and John Thorrington and current players Jonathan Spector and Frankie Simek all had their chances at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively.
However, for reasons we may speculate on, they were not able to establish themselves into these club's first teams. Now, while the critics may look to these players as proof that younger players should not sign on with big clubs, we can also see that these player's dreams have not diminished.
Currently, Spector is an influential member in the squad at West Ham United and Simek is one of the top players for Sheffield Wednesday and he could possibly make a move back to an EPL club if he continues the excellent play the drew a reported bids from Everton this summer. So all would not be lost if the project doesn't work out. He's still got a bright future ahead of him.
Real Madrid is one of the top clubs in the world and not many would turn their back if they come knocking at the door. Jozy and his agent have done the right thing so far and listened to what they have to offer.
Yes, there is the risk of being in the doldrums like most US players have experienced such Claudio Reyna and Frankie Hejduk at Bayer Leverkusen several years ago, but there is nothing wrong with taking risk. Jozy will be given a chance like all other prospects, but it's all up to him eventually if he does sign on the dotted line and go on a journey that all young American soccer players dream of doing.