Season 1. Episode 1 with Manuel Romero. Listen to the podcast. Don't forget to subscribe!                                            

Season 1. Episode 1 with Manuel Romero. Listen to the podcast. Don't forget to subscribe!                                            

The Spanish Model: Why Are They So Good?!

Announcer: Welcome to the Rethinking Football podcast, where we discuss player development with players, world renowned scouts, professional football academy directors, coaches and others. We will use Spain’s model and compare it to other national governing bodies in other countries. At the end of each podcast we will update our theory of change to improve player development worldwide using indicators, best practices, and our own research, along with the opinions and expertise of our guests.

This podcast features an interview with Manuel Romero. Manuel Romero was Chief of Scouting for Real Madrid in Catalonia, Spain. He has discovered and scouted hundreds of youth players who have reached professionalism in La Liga and other elite leagues. Some of the people he discovered include Kiko Casillas (Real Madrid), Dani Jarque (RCD Espanyol), Aleix Vidal (Barcelona FC), and Mariano Diaz (Olympic Lyon). Romero talks about what he looks for in players, and what it takes to become an elite player.

Romero joins us from Barcelona, Spain and we will speak to him through an interpreter.

Host:  Welcome to rethinking football. This is part one of a three-part interview. I am Dawn Brown. Today we will be discussing the indicators that make Spain an ideal player development environment, as well as an elite league in all tiers at the senior level.

Welcome Romero. Let’s start today with talking a little bit about your background.

Guest: Well I would say that I am addicted to this sport. I've dedicated my whole life to it.  And the truth is that I couldn't live a day without football. And, that I'm not used to being without football.

Like everyone else, I started (playing and training) in my town. After that I was hired by a team that is a famous developing academy from Spain, especially in Catalonia, named Mercantil de Sabadell, where many players have come from who have reached elite level and gone profesional. I was there 10 years. Then I signed with Real Club Deportivo Espanyol. And in '95 we got the World Championship in Manchester beating Borussia Dortmund, 2-0. And, that year I signed with Real Madrid where I was working for the following 20 uninterrupted seasons as Chief of Scouting in Catalonia for Real Madrid.

(In Spain) All our (youth) categories have promotion and relegation. And, each game has a prize by way of points. Apart from making the competition more legitimate, it makes the child grow with that competitive gene, which is apparent when they become professional
— Manuel Romero, Former Chief of Scouting Real Madrid
  Manuel Romero & former Real Madrid coach and FIFA World Cup Spanish National team coach, Vicente del Bosque .

Manuel Romero & former Real Madrid coach and FIFA World Cup Spanish National team coach, Vicente del Bosque.

Host: You have a lot of experience Romero, and based on your experience I’d like for you to explain to us what makes the system in Spain superior to others.

Guest: Well here are several factors. In Spain fans are well educated in the sport of football. And, in the schools, one of the primary games that children play is football when they go out to recess, and so on. But it is also true that in the wake of our country's success, especially the last few years that Spain won the world championship, people working in the field try to get better everyday. Many more coaches become more studious, everyone has become more interested in formative training and competitions are hard.

It also influences that we have LaLiga, the best in the world, with the best players of the moment being Leonel Messi and Christian Ronaldo. Thus many things come together, many things that influence our growth. It is also true that so far is perhaps the sweetest moment of Spanish football because everyone protects its development academy system, which in the past was not a priority. Everyone wants to have the best players from an early age.

In short, I think we are in the most magical moment. Of the years that I've dedicated to the sport, now is when better and more things are being done so that tomorrow the talent that our youth has gets developed in the best conditions and result in more elite footballers.

Host: That’s great. So let’s talk a little bit about the promotion and relegation system that they use in Spain. I know that they start as soon as U8 and up through U18 in the Academy system with a separate promotion and relegation system even from the first team and professional team. Can you talk about how that impacts on the professionalism and the path that youth follow to a professional career?

Some of the people manuel romero discovered include Kiko Casillas (Real Madrid), Dani Jarque (RCD Espanyol), Aleix Vidal (Barcelona FC), and Mariano Diaz (Olympic Lyon)

Guest: The organization of the competition is very important because children begin to realize from an early age that they cannot  develop their talent without conscious effort. You have to make an effort if you want to compete.  

Then as you said, all our (youth) categories have promotions and relegation. And, each game has a prize by way of points. Apart from making the competition more legitimate, it makes the child grow with that competitive gene, which is apparent when they become professionals.

The world has noticed in recent years, since Spain has won the World Cup. But not just that. Real Madrid has won the last two European championships, and before that Barcelona won. Sevilla has also won the Europa League, our U21 national team has also won in Europe. And that culture, that education system based on the formation of talent development together with competitiveness has turned Spain into a world power in the field of football. And, puts us at the level only a few countries can claim. For example, before Brazil was the place where the best players came from, and now there are teams in Spain and Germany that are doing good work. And, we do not have very much to envy anymore from the likes of Brazil.

I say that each game should have a reward or disappointment because that makes the child begin to learn to compete from an early age. Then the child experiences the sport more in every thing the child works on. And it increases the child's interest in improving. I think that an organized competition with relegation and promotion for youth levels should be part of the base in the United States because it would raise the level of professionalism to the level baskeball is in that country. 

Dani Jarque, legendary RCD Espanyol Captain, was a Spanish footballer who played as a central defender. He played his entire career with Espanyol. he died of in tragic accident in italy in 2008.

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An organized competition with relegation and promotion for youth levels should be part of the base in the U.S. because it would raise the level of professionalism
— Manuel Romero, Former Chief of Scouting Real Madrid

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I say that each game should have a reward or disappointment because that makes the child begin to learn to compete from an early age. Then the child experiences the sport more in every thing the child works on. And it increases the child's interest in improving. I think that an organized competition with relegation and promotion for youth levels should be part of the base in the United States because it would raise the level of professionalism to the level baskeball is in that country. 

Host: I think another thing that’s important to note within the system in Spain is that you don’t just draw talent from the top teams or the biggest name teams like Real Madrid or the Barcelona’s of the world, but you also look to the smaller and lesser known teams for talent as well. I know that you recruited or scouted Dani Jarque and I know that he is one of the most symbolic players in the history of RCD Espanyol. Talk to us a bit about your experience with him, and helping him in his career.

That culture, that education system based on the formation of talent development together with competitiveness has turned Spain into a world power in the field of football
— Manuel Romero, Former Chief of Scouting Real Madrid

Guest: Really the one who signed him was my boss, Josep Manuel Cassanova, may he rest in peace, but I went to evaluate him (Jarque) because he (Cassanova) sent me. He played in a neighborhood team of Sant Boi de Llobregat in the team called Cooperativa. I went to see him and I remember that day, he played wearing the number 6 as a midfielder. Well, I went to see him because Josep Manuel Casanova sent me and he trusted what I said about the kid. Then he went to see him and certified my reports and the matter was closed.

The truth is that he was a charming kid, a good kid. And, there is proof. At every Espanyol home game, at the  21st minute, the whole stadium ovates his legacy. They honor him and now that time is called the Dani Jarque minute. The members of the rival team usually applaud too. He was a very humble kid. Think about the rivalry between Espanyol and Barcelona. Despite that,  Andres Iniesta, who was one of his best friends and a symbol of Barcelona, when he scored the goal that gave Spain the World Championship against Holland, he was wearing a shirt underneath that dedicated the win to Dani Jarque.

Romero's work has been instrumental to the development of players in Spain; not just Real Madrid and RCD Espanyol, but the Spanish National Team, and other Liga Teams including FC Barcelona. 

And that shows that in the most hidden place there can be an elite player.  There may be a player like that because all over the world every kid has to start somewhere. Then youth players are acquired by bigger formative academies from the  more humble teams. And, when they reach these formative academies they are more visible to elite scouts, because that is where we usually find professional talent for our teams. In a way the process traditionally works like that.

The professional teams rely on those talent pools from formative academies that develop players well. In Spain there are many many, many non-professional teams that work very well with these talent pools that only compete in the youth categories until the age of 18. And, after that there are professional teams that acquire these players. 

The truth is that when you sign a player from  a more anonymous team, as in the case of Jarque, and that player becomes legendary the way he has become at Espanyol, it brings great satisfaction to the work that I do.

Host: we will continue talking about the Spanish development system with Romero after this.

Host: Welcome back to Rethinking Football. We are talking to Manuel Romero about what makes the Spanish player development system arguably the best system in the world.

Guest: But the process is always the same:

  • the child starts playing at school;
  • from school he goes to the team closest to his home;
  • when he stands out in his team, a stronger development academy signs him; and
  • when they are already in the formative academies that specialize in development, the scout appears to evaluate the child to try to sign him for elite teams .

And here at the beginning when I started my work in Real Madrid, the concept of the scout was not so widespread. But today, even other elite teams that aren't at the level of Barcelona or Real Madrid, have scouts all over the world. In Spain for example, now English Premier League teams have scouts throughout the country. It's rare a major club that does not have a scout in Spain. And it is common to go to different games and have a scout from Arsenal in Spain, or a scout of Liverpool in Spain because they have realized that we are a world power for players.  It also helps when a player leaves and succeeds as it happened in his day Fábregas with Arsenal. They took a boy from here in Spain and he played at Arsenal and has become one of the prominent figures of the club.

Well in short this is how the process of how a player can get from nowhere to the elite and become a professional and be on an important team. Then of course to get there he has to have met a series of conditionals. 

That is the purpose of scouts like me, to take a chance on players according to the conditions we see and the positions that we seek. Because of course in football there are 11 playing  and each position has its characteristics. Good luck is a factor too. Many times also in teams we do not move to sign a player because on a given day we need a midfielder and maybe we will go evaluate a midfielder and we find a forward that is very good. It has happened to me sometimes that I've gone to see a game to evaluate a particular boy and I liked another one that I did not even know existed.

Host: You talked about Dani Jarque. For our listeners, you can see pictures of Andres Iniesta and the memorial wall for Dani Jarque at RCD Espanyol stadium on our website. Romero, let’s talk about some of the contemporary players you have discovered, that some of our young listeners may be more familiar with. People like Aleix Vidal in FC Barcelona and Kiko Casilla and Real Madrid.

Guest: Well, for example now one player who is in the first team for Real Madrid, is Kiko Casillas, who is the substitute for Keylor Navas. Now his status is second keeper of the first team but has been the protagonist of all the successes of Madrid in recent years. He has gone from  winning the Champions League, to winning La Liga, and the Club World Cup. He is Keylor's substitute but he is always there and when he has his chance he has met expectations. 

Host: This concludes this episode of Rethinking Football. Join us for the next episode as we discuss the approach elite scouts use to identify talent in a country saturated with talent at every senior level with Manuel Romero.

Announcer:  To access the transcript of this podcast and other archives, please visit our website www.prospectsss.com and click on podcasts. That is prospect SSS.com. If you enjoyed the show, subscribe to get the latest episodes directly to your device. This episode is brought to you by the Cerdanya Cup, the most prestigious international tournament of the summer. For more information, visit cerdanyacup.com. That’s cerdanyacup.com. This episode is also brought to you by PSS international Academy. Research shows that in sports, the one thing that works and makes lower performing players better is immersion. To learn about our programs and how you can play federated football in Spain, visit prospectsSS.com and click on international academies. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @rethinking F. Rethinking Football’s theme song, Actionable, is courtesy of bensound.com.