Real Madrid told Zinedine Zidane that Paul Pogba was not worth the money Manchester United were asking for him in the summer – on Saturday, for the first time this season, it looked like they had called it absolutely right. The reason was a young Uruguayan midfielder by the name of Fede Valverde.
Zidane took a few gambles in the summer. He sent Dani Ceballos to Arsenal and Marcos Llorente to Atletico Madrid leaving himself with just four midfielders. Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro plus a player who until this season has not been anywhere near a first team regular.
With Modric injured the burden has been cranked up on the other three but Valverde has responded in a way that has meant even now that Modric is fit again the Uruguayan gets in the team ahead of him.
Young Uruguayan midfielder Fede Valverde has stepped up to the plate for Real Madrid
After taking a gamble in the summer, his emergence will come as a relief to Zinedine Zidane
He was quietly impressive in the Madrid derby the week before last and at the weekend he was majestic in the win over Granada. It was a performance that had El Pais likening him to Steven Gerrard and Marca splashing one page with the bold headline: ‘Zidane finds his Pogba’.
There are similarities with the young Gerrard. Valverde has that distinctive long stride that enables him to get up and down the pitch with ease, even tear away from defenders like a middle distance runner kicking for home on the last bend.
But it’s the Pogba likenesses that they like at Madrid – because it proves them right in terms of not spending big on the French midfielder in the summer.
No one is suggesting that Valverde is already the new Pogba or the new Gerrard but Zidane has a real talent and someone who could also allow him to prove something that so far he has not been able to do – show that he is capable not just of getting the perfect tune out of top players, but improving players with less experience who need coaching.
Zidane missed out on Paul Pogba as Madrid told Zidane he was not worth the big money
Spanish newspaper El Pais recently likened Valverde to Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard
Valverde also looks good news for Uruguay – that country of three million that seems to produce more players of quality than most other football nations 10 times its size.
He came through at Penarol in Uruguay after having stood out in the country’s legendary ‘baby football’ starter matches from 6-years of age. He was nicknamed El Pajarito (the little bird) for the way he was capable of flying forward and he was already established for his club and in the full Uruguay side when he was just 17.
He was spotted by Real Madrid’s top South American scout Juni Calafat when he was 19 and he was persuaded to move to a Spanish-speaking country as opposed to England where Arsenal and Chelsea were among the clubs rumoured to be promising him a fast-track route to the first team.
They loaned him out to Deportivo for a season. Now back under the tutelage of Zidane he has taken another huge stride forward.
Valverde was quietly impressive for Zidane’s side in the derby against Atletico Madrid
He won the ball back nine times on Saturday and he surged through and cleverly prodded the pass into Eden Hazard’s path for him to score his first goal for Real Madrid.
‘He always wants the ball and was key in two of the goals,’ said a beaming Zidane after his contribution at the weekend.
‘He is a modern player who plays a big part in defence and attack. He deserves to be in the team.’
His parents Julio and Doris are keeping his feet on the ground. They moved to La Coruna with him and now live with him in Madrid.
But the little bird is flying and as Zidane’s midfield star he could be hard to stop now.
The 21-year-old spent the 2017-18 season on loan at fellow Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna