At Real Madrid, there are no guarantees young players will make it.
The 14-time European champions boast one of the most prolific academies in world football, yet many of their youth graduates end up plying their trade elsewhere before sometimes returning, such as in the case of Dani Carvajal. Then there are the young talents signed from elsewhere, who find their path to the starting XI blocked and who go on to flourish at teams around Spain or Europe.
Even so, Madrid continue to keep a close eye on these players and have a say in their futures. Whether it is through loan deals or retaining a percentage of youngsters’ rights when they permanently join another club (effectively inserting a buy-back/sell-on clause in their contract), life beyond Madrid does not mean they are completely forgotten.
So which players to have left in recent years are still linked to Madrid and who could return? The Athletic explains.
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Kubo left for Real Sociedad permanently last year after four loan spells away from the Santiago Bernabeu.
The Japanese winger, who spent time at Barcelona’s academy, joined Madrid as a free agent from FC Tokyo in 2019. He was then sent out to Real Mallorca (twice), Villarreal and Getafe before he made the move to La Real without having made his official debut for Madrid.
The Basque club paid €6million (£5.3m; $6.5m) for 50 per cent of Kubo’s rights (meaning Madrid can either buy him back for 50 per cent of the fee they sold him for or will receive half of the profit Real Sociedad make if they sell Kubo). He signed for five seasons and his release clause is set at €60m.
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Kubo shone in his first season at the club, scoring nine goals and providing nine assists as he helped Real Sociedad qualify for the Champions League for the first time in nine years. This campaign, he has continued to grow and has already been involved in eight goals in 16 games (five goals, three assists) for a side who are well on course to qualify for the Champions League last 16.
Despite following him closely, Madrid have not been in contact with Kubo during his time in San Sebastian, which may count against them in the future. Several Premier League clubs have shown interest and, should any of them decide to pay Kubo’s clause, Madrid would have to decide whether or not to exercise their right of first refusal. To do that, they would have to match the fee offered to Real Sociedad and the player.
Gutierrez joined Girona last year and has been a key player in their unlikely title charge — they are top of La Liga, two points above Madrid and the left-back has played the second-most minutes of any outfield player (1,118).
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Gutierrez was one of the outstanding players of the generation that won Madrid’s only UEFA Youth League title, in 2020, before he left the Bernabeu. At that stage, he had played 10 games for the first team and contributed two assists but had been unable to force his way into the starting XI.
Many teams were interested in him, but he opted for Girona because of their City Football Group ownership, their faith in their coaches and their style of play. The club’s manager, Michel, and sporting director, Quique Carcel, have known Gutierrez since he was a teenager in Madrid’s youth system.
Gutierrez signed a deal until 2027 and Madrid received €4m for 40 per cent of his rights. Girona would pay a further €1m if they stayed in La Liga — which they did — in return for an additional 10 per cent of his rights.
Gutierrez’s release clause is €35m, but Madrid have first refusal and could re-sign him for €8m next summer. If a club make an offer to Girona, Madrid have to be informed within a specific period and would need to match the fee and salary offered.
While the team need reinforcements at left-back, their main plan next summer is to sign Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, while they will also look to sell Ferland Mendy. Gutierrez would also have to contend with Fran Garcia, which makes his signing unlikely.
Reinier (21 years old, on loan at Frosinone, attacking midfielder)
Reinier experienced a long summer following last season’s loan at Girona — his second after two years at Borussia Dortmund from 2020-2022. The Brazilian was close to going back out on loan to the Catalan side, but they pulled the plug on the deal as they preferred to explore other options to fill their quota of non-European Union players (La Liga clubs are only allowed three players from outside the EU in their first-team squad).
With Madrid’s first team in the United States for pre-season, Reinier agreed not to train with Raul’s Real Madrid Castilla youth side because it did not make sense given his imminent departure.
But that departure was delayed and delayed. Reinier, who signed for €30m from Flamengo in 2020, wanted to stay in Spain because of the style of football played in La Liga with a view to becoming a Spanish citizen in 2024 (so he would not have to occupy a non-EU spot in any team). There were two problems, however: many clubs did not have space for more non-European players and others could not afford his wages.
Instead, Reiner was sent on loan to Frosinone in Serie A. He valued the confidence shown in him by their sporting directors, the resurgence of the league in recent years and the possibility of developing his game tactically and physically.
So far, things have gone well for him in Italy. He missed the first four games after being unable to join his team for pre-season, but he has started five of the following six matches, scoring twice and providing two assists.
Despite having a contract until 2026, Reinier’s chances of making his official Real Madrid debut appear slim — but he may be able to turn things around at Frosinone.
Sergio Arribas (22 years old, Almeria, attacking midfielder)
Arribas was widely regarded as the jewel of Madrid’s youth academy before his departure to Almeria this year.
The playmaker was part of the academy from 2012-2023, helping Los Blancos win the 2020 Youth League and making his debut with the first team in September of that year. He left the Bernabeu having made 14 appearances, scoring once in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Al Ahly in February.
The 22-year-old received many offers, but most clubs could not afford the figure Madrid were asking for – around €10m for 50 per cent of his rights. That priced out Girona, along with other clubs in Germany and the Netherlands.
Eventually, Madrid accepted a bid from Almeria for €6m with a further €1m in add-ons. Arribas signed a six-year deal with a €40m release clause, while his old team have a 50 per cent sell-on clause and a right of first refusal.
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Arribas is looking to adapt to the physical and psychological demands of La Liga while playing for the first time outside of the Spanish capital. Almeria are bottom of the table, but he has responded to the challenge. He is their top scorer with five goals, four of which have come from inside the box — something he learned from Raul, the legendary Madrid forward who was his coach at Castilla.
Arribas could return to the club in the medium or long term, according to club sources who asked to remain anonymous to protect their position, but it depends on his development and role in the squad.
Rafa Marin (21 years old, on loan at Deportivo Alaves, centre-back)
Madrid considered multiple options this summer for Marin, whose contract was set to expire in 2024. The now 21-year-old signed from Sevilla’s youth system in 2016 and was a highly rated member of Madrid’s academy.
Ultimately, he was sent on a season-long loan to Alaves and his Madrid contract was renewed until 2026. The aim was to test him defensively so that, if he was up to the task, he could join the first team next summer.
Alaves’ previous experience with young talent was key, with various former Madrid players such as Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Antonio Blanco having cut their teeth there. Marin also had a greater chance of starting, with just three central defenders in a squad that expected to be fighting for survival.
Marin has been regularly involved for Alaves, making 11 appearances across all competitions. His prominence with them has led to call-ups to the Spain Under-21s team and he is a contender for his country’s Olympic squad next summer — although his chances would be greatly reduced if he returned to Madrid given the club tend to hold on to their players.
The centre-back’s goal is to play around 25 games and get used to the pace and intensity of La Liga. He is working with Alaves’ specialists to improve physically by gaining muscle mass so he can win more duels.
After eight years in Real Madrid’s academy, Dotor left for Celta last summer. They paid €3m for 50 per cent of the midfielder’s rights.
Compared to Nacho Fernandez and often called the “heart of Castilla” by academy sources before his move away, Dotor agreed to a five-year deal with a €50m release clause. One of his main reasons for choosing Celta was their new coach, Rafa Benitez.
Benitez knows Madrid well, having coached them from 2015 to 2016 after several spells in their youth system. He was considered to be an ideal coach for Dotor as he looks to become a more positional defensive midfielder while not losing his qualities as a box-to-box player.
Dotor has played in eight of Celta’s 14 games this season but has often had to come off the bench, with Benitez’s side struggling in 18th place. While nothing can be ruled out, the club do not consider him as a future Madrid player at present.
(Top photos: Getty Images)