Making the grade at Real Madrid is an intimidating task for youth-team graduates; there are no shortage of top-quality teenage stars being churned out by the capital city side but progression to the first-team squad is a daunting prospect.
It appears that the days of Raúl and Guti coming through the Spanish outfit’s youth ranks to become club legends are all but over, with Iker Casillas the last in a breed of homegrown stars.
The likes of Álvaro Morata, Esteban Granero and countless others have been recognised as substantial talents but struggled to tie down regular action at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu – and as such been forced to leave Los Blancos.
Of the current crop, Jesé Rodríguez is highly rated but rarely started, while Álvaro Medrán is on the cusp of first-team inclusion but lives in the shadows of a glut of world-class stars.
Another player in the same boat is Lucas Vázquez, who has proven this season that he is more than good enough for top-flight football but will most likely have to leave the capital to get it regularly.
The 23-year-old is a product of the club’s youth system and made his initial steps in senior football with a season in Real Madrid’s C team, before three campaigns in the historic club’s reserve ranks.
Although it took him time to nail down a regular starting berth, last term Vázquez was an impressive member of the Castilla, putting in excellent individual performances and scoring goals from midfield.
However, it was his delivery that caught the eye and remains arguably the most impressive part of the flying winger’s game.
On loan at Espanyol this season, Vázquez has become a fans’ favourite at the Barcelona-based club for his willingness to get the ball down and play, with his fearless attack of opposition full-backs capturing the imagination.
Strikers Sergio García and Felipe Caicedo have benefited from Vázquez’s delivery, with the winger a key member of the Cornella de Llobregat side.
Looking ahead to next season, Vázquez will have key decisions to make over his future.
The Curtis-born midfielder could potentially be a star for parent club Madrid, but with the world’s most expensive player and current Ballon d’Or holder on the flanks for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, first-team football at the Bernabéu would surely be non-existent.
Moving to Espanyol on a permanent basis would be quite the coup for the modest La Liga side, but financial constraints could act as a barrier to any potential deal.
The British and Spanish press have both reported an interest in Vázquez from Liverpool over recent months.
The direct wideman would fit into the mould of a Brendan Rodgers’ addition given his profile and technical and physical attributes, while the Merseyside outfit has a recent tradition of bringing Vázquez’s compatriots to Anfield – with mixed levels of success.
Wherever Vázquez ends up, his rise to prominence this season has been a refreshing throwback to wingers of yesteryear.
With the popular craze of inverted wingers, who play on their opposite flanks and cut in-field onto their preferred foot, plenty of teams across Europe have lost width in their play.
With Vázquez able to stretch opponents by his presence on the touchline, pace and impressive delivery, the late-blooming Spaniard offers a unique skillset and has an exciting future in the game – wherever he ends up.