Raul and Valverde are keeping Madrid prodigy Alvaro’s feet on the ground
“And your little brother made a big impression.”
It’s late in Pamplona and Federico Valverde is laughing. Real Madrid have just beaten Osasuna 2-0 at El Sadar. hard place to go. Under pressure, they found a way to win, and this is very similar to their path. “I feel like I’ve seen this movie before,” sighs Osasuna manager Jagoba Arrasate, which is inevitable in all of this, but if the movie is familiar, then the kid playing in the final scene is not. Not yet. It will, however, be fast.
It was not just a cameo, says Carlo Ancelotti.
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Seven minutes before the end of the match, the Real Madrid manager sends a tall, slightly awkward-looking 18-year-old boy. His name is Alvaro Rodriguez and he played just 23 unremarkable minutes all season against third tier Cacereno in the Copa del Rey. He played 15 times for Castilla, Madrid’s B team, scoring five goals and just returned from the U20 World Cup. He has five goals in six games for Uruguay. “He’s tall, he plays well in the air, a profile that we don’t have,” Ancelotti explains before the game, speaking to those who haven’t seen him play, which is most people.
After seven minutes, when he was out of the game in regular time, Alvaro provided two assists and Madrid won. Not to mention that one of them was ruled out for offside, the impact is huge. And in general, something else is decisive. Tall, good in the air, you say? Instead, he tackles and makes a flawless pass for the second goal, and victory is finally assured. There’s a smoothness that belies his large body, and a calmness that, while it may seem clichéd, belies his age. In the same place. According to Ancelotti, most players in his place would have neither calmness nor selflessness.
At 18 years and 219 days old, he is the second youngest player to ever provide an assist for Real Madrid. Only Javi Garcia’s pass to Michael Owen beats him.
No wonder Valverde, the guy from Uruguay who took care of Alvaro, is beaming. He couldn’t be happier for his not-so-little brother.
Near El Sadar, by the command bus, Alvaro’s mother, Pilar, is waiting for her son. The journey is hurriedly organized – being away from the team finally opened the door, sooner than expected – what everyone else sees as the beginning of something seems like a climax to her, better than anyone else, aware of how far they’ve come. He ends up walking through the glass doors, just a teenager in a tracksuit. Feet on the groundshe keeps talking.
It is not so easy. His previous game was against Linares. His next game is against Liverpool. He does not play at Anfield, although he receives a Darwin Nunez shirt, but seven days later he plays at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s not the first time he’s been here – there’s a clear picture of him sitting in the press room as a child, having been to the stadium a few years ago – but he’s playing here for the first time. It goes out for 13 minutes at Derby against Atlético Madrid. And he scores.
You say tall and good in the air? Towering over the Atlético defense, which is not a defense you should tower over, he headlined the equalizer. He was on the field for seven minutes. He doesn’t wander around, instead running back to start over in search of a winner. This time his mom didn’t survive, but in the south stand, his agent Joyce Moreno, who started his career at Real Madrid and made his first division debut at Real Oviedo, starts to cry. Three players this century have scored goals before his client: Alvaro Morata, Vinicius Junior and Borja Mayoral. It’s not too early, but damn good.
After the game, Alvaro returns to his residence in Valdebebas, where he shares a room with Miguel Angel, who plays for the U19 team. The agent informs Cadena Cera that the first thing Alvaro asks Moreno about is Castilla. They are still his team.
Feet on the ground. There is a warning in these names: Vinicius is flying, Morata is a Spanish international, now he is on the other side of the city, and Javi Garcia and Borja Mayoral have built and are building careers. And it’s worth remembering something that we all forget too easily: the worst player you’ve ever seen played first is damn shinyendowed with a talent that one could only dream of. And nothing comes for free. However, to succeed in Madrid is quite another. Sometimes it may seem like the last thing a player should do is assume they will, or listen when others say it for them; worse still, believing he’s already done it.
Exaggeration comes easily. “A Star Is Born,” read one of the headlines this week. But here are the words of Nick Cave (who knew, huh?): The stars will explode in the sky. But they don’t, do they? The stars have their moment and then they die. It can be a bit surly, but all that noise doesn’t always help. Sometimes there is no attention either, all the reports written about the players, the fuss to tell their stories – sorry about that – and a lot of players showed up only to disappear again.
And yet … and yet … to believe in a person, to want to believe. And there is something about him, something a little different about him. There is something to hold on to; you can see something. Ancelotti can still. The fact that he says so is reassuring in itself, because he has seen several players, and he is the personification of calmness, and not the one who screams for it. “Alvaro has qualities that few players have,” says the Italian manager.
Alvaro scores against Atlético, which also makes comparisons inevitable. Atlético was the team against which Raul González Blanco scored his first goal, and only in the second game, back in October 1994. And here’s the thing: everyone says that Raul is Alvaro’s idol. Growing up, Alvaro saw only the last years of Raul’s career – he was born in July 2004, and Raul left Madrid in 2010 – but his father admired Madrid, and Raul was on the calendar on his wall.
Now Raul is in charge of Castile. He is a symbol of seriousness, fortitude, selflessness day after day, day after day; as the role models go, it doesn’t get much better and he couldn’t be much closer. The former Madrid captain and career top scorer (until Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record) saw something in Alvaro – a header he had never seen before – and quickly brought him into the team. It is Raul who will now share his developments with the first team. In the end, although the promotion helps, but the minutes too.
“We will talk to Raul and decide what is best for him,” Ancelotti said. These are two good guides, men who are not prone to passion.
There are others: mother, stepfather and grandmother. Alvaro’s father, Coquito Rodríguez, was a Uruguayan footballer whose career began even earlier – he made his debut at Peñarol at the age of 14 – and ended in Palamos, Catalonia. There he founded a club called Global Palamos where Alvaro started his career. There were videos, lessons, training and trial at Real Madrid. Well, it should have been.
The letter arrived in 2017 inviting Alvaro to Valdebebas, a nice little detail revealed by Marca a week after his goal against Atlético, when the hype was building around him: come with boots, molded studs, sports socks (preferably white) and a towel. , the letter said, but not in a Real Madrid uniform to avoid confusion. The problem was that Girona, the club where he started training, did not give him permission to leave, so he had to wait and he eventually arrived in 2020.
This time he stayed. How long remains to be seen, but now there is a way to get there. Once, according to Raul, he saw Alvaro score with his head, which you don’t see in a child. For two weeks he was in the Castilla team, jumping two stages at once. Last week he was called up to the first team. This transition will become permanent next season. For now, he will play both for the third tier and for the top together.
“He will be an important player for years to come,” says Ancelotti.