Long Reads

Brahim Diaz – Spain & Real Madrid’s Next Superstar

Brahim Diaz - future Real Madrid star
Credit: EFE

When the news broke at the end of 2018 that Brahim Diaz would not be renewing his contract at Manchester City, many expected him to go the Sancho route. Jadon Sancho had famously left Man City as he wasn’t enough game time with the first team. He decided to go to Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund before taking the league by storm and earning an England call-up. But Brahim shocked everyone at City when he decided to join Spanish giants Real Madrid. People found it hard to understand why Diaz who left to avoid competition for places in Manchester City for the exact same conditions at Real Madrid. But such brave decisions are reflective of the confidence of Diaz, who has long been billed the next big thing in Spanish football.

Brahim Abdelkader Diaz was born on August 3, 1999, in Malaga. His grandfather moved from Morocco to Spain, seeking a better life. It was evident from an early age that Brahim had a natural talent for football. Having watched him play on the local pitches of Tiro Pichon, Malaga quickly moved to sign Brahim for their youth academy. The news of the talented kid from the ports of Malaga soon spread as scouts from all over Spain came to watch him play. Big clubs invited him over to their academies to win him over. At the age of 10, he was personally shown around Camp Nou by none other than Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi. The deal was almost finalised between the two clubs before Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani of Qatar took over Malaga and vetoed the deal. And so Brahim stayed and academy director Manel Casanova promised a first team debut at the age of 16. But the attention Diaz received only magnified in the years that followed as videos of his skills, vision and technique circulated online.

In 2013, then Man City manager Manuel Pelligrini asked the club to do whatever it took to snap up Diaz. Pelligrini previously had managed Malaga and had seen the Spanish wonderkid come up through the ranks. Brahim signed for City for a reported fee of £300,000 upfront, with add-ons potentially raising the price tag to £2.4m. He soon set the youth league on fire with his goals in FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League alongside Phil Foden and Sancho. Guardiola gave him his debut on 21 September 2016 with Diaz coming on as an 80th minute substitute in an EFL Cup tie. Three days later he penned his first professional contract until 2019.

Opportunities were hard to come by for the youngster in a City team with packed with elite youngsters in nearly every position. Brahim hardly got any opportunities and if he did play it was him mostly as a substitute in the dying minutes.

Real Madrid took advantage of the Brahim’s situation at the Etihad. Keeping in line with the recent shift of policy from signing Galacticos to snapping up the brightest young talents, Florentino Perez made a £15m offer in January 2019. City who faced the prospect of losing their prized asset in the summer for nothing eventually caved despite Guardiola repeatedly saying that the club would ‘do everything necessary’ to keep him at the club.

Clearly impressed with Brahim’s potential, during his presentation, Florentino Perez said “This player has a special talent. He has quality, magic and dreams of succeeding at this club. He chose it above others and that energy will help.” Meanwhile, Diaz insisted Madrid were his ‘first, second and third choice’ which showed the belief he had in his ability to make it at the club. After barely getting a look in under Santiago Solari, he soon won over Zinedine Zidane who took over the club in crisis. In the final few games of the season, Diaz was the only bright star in what was an abysmal campaign.

It didn’t take long for the Spaniard to become a more prominent figure as Zidane tried out different players in the final La Liga games. A player of guile and finesse during his playing career, the Frenchman is someone who knows a thing or two about elegant gifted players. He was impressed by Diaz’s close control, explosive pace with the ball and ability to play quick vertical passes that break the opposition’s defensive structure. Brahim provided an assist against Villareal but the true example of his talent was displayed against Real Sociedad. Receiving the ball halfway through the opposition half, he turned one defender before gilding past another. He took the ball to the byline before a beautiful cut back had the Real Sociedad defender sliding into next week and then finished by placing the ball under the keeper.

With the arrival of Eden Hazard, Takefusa Kubo and Rodrygo Goes this summer, it was widely expected that Brahim would take up Real Madrid’s successful loan option much like Martin Odegaard and Kubo. In a curious twist, he decided not to leave, instead choosing to fight for his place. It was an interesting decision to stay considering the return of James Rodriguez meant Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Rodrygo Goes, Lucas Vasquez, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez were all fighting a spot in midfield. If the huge competition wasn’t enough, Brahim got injured during pre-season which meant he missed the first month and a half of the new season in addition to the preseason.

Real Madrid have had a fine start to the 2019-20 season, which means Brahim may have to wait his turn for his first appearance of this season. Despite this, Zidane has a history of utilising his whole squad to the fullest like the 2016-17 season with his infamous ‘B’ team as he juggled the demands of three competitions. Early signs point to the same policy for the upcoming season as Real Madrid look to rebuild after a disastrous 2018-19 season.

In January people questioned Brahim’s decision to leave Manchester only to move to Madrid where the competition and demands were arguably higher. But with Florentino’s move away from the Galacticos policy towards the signing biggest young talents, Brahim has a better chance of fulfilling his promise of leading the next great Spanish generation. If the first few months at Madrid are anything to go by, he might just be on the road to do that.