Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Surviving a slogan

Back in October 2001, Real Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque was in trouble. After 6 league games, the team had notched up a miserly 5 points and was languishing in 14th spot in the table. Early days yet, but this was Florentino's Real Madrid, who had just that summer signed the world's most expensive player, Zinedine Zidane, from Juventus for a mind-boggling 75 million euros. Athletic Bilbao were visiting the Bernabéu and a number of the top players - Roberto Carlos, Zidane, Makélélé (remember him?), Figo - were away on international duty.

Three players from the cantera, the youth team, made their debuts that day: Raúl Bravo started in Roberto Carlos's left wing, Valdo came on for Geremi just before half time, and Pavón substituted Bravo himself on 71 minutes. The final score was 2-0 to Real Madrid with goals from Raúl and Solari (remember him?). The youngsters impressed both the coach and the faithful so much that both they and a number of their colleagues (Borja, Rubén, Miñambres, Portillo) made several appearances for the club in that Champions League-winning season. Florentino Pérez then coined the now-infamous term Zidanes y Pavones to describe the club's transfer policy.

Del Bosque was uniquely placed to take advantage of the "Pavones"; after all, he had been involved with the youth teams at Real Madrid for a number of years and had seen a lot of the players grow up and develop. When his contract was not renewed after he won the league in 2003, none of the canteranos, other than Pavón himself, made any kind of lasting impression on the first team. Subsequent managers overlooked them in favour of new galáctico signings.

As an aside, the Zidanes y Pavones policy began to show its flaws at that point: it did not give the squad strength in depth because not enough players were being bought or coming up through the ranks to "do the dirty work" that the starry galacticos couldn't or, in some cases, wouldn't. In his Guardian blog, Rob Smyth traces it all to the departure of Claude Makélélé to Chelsea and "replacing" him with David Beckham. It is perhaps not the only reason for the team's decline, but it's a compelling one nonetheless.

For Pavón, however, the departure of Florentino also meant the end of his playing days at Real Madrid. He did not play a single minute in the whole of the 2005-2006 league championship under Capello, and had only a couple of run-outs in the Cup. Capello preferred to use Cannavaro, the rehabilitated Helguera, Sergio Ramos, Miguel Torres, and even Raúl Bravo as central defenders. While not necessarily prejudiced against cantera players (after all, Torres was a starter for nearly half of the games last season), Pavón just did not cut the mustard with Capello.

His contract expired on June 30th and yesterday, Real Zaragoza announced that he had decided to join them as a free agent for the next four seasons. He will pair up in the centre of defence with Zaragoza's other recent surprise signing, Roberto Ayala, who left Valencia to join Villareal, and, 16 days later, bought out his contract and signed for Zaragoza.

Real Madrid has now left that fateful Zidanes y Pavones slogan behind. Let's hope that its less illustrious component can do the same and make a new name for himself. Good luck, Paco

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