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Two eyes on the future: Real Madrid’s right-back master plan

Usually at a top football club, it’s one eye on the present and one eye on the future. But in a certain position in particular, the powerhouse that is Real Madrid may just have both eyes fixated on the latter. Somewhere among their long list of players currently out on loan – which includes the youthful talents of Martin Odegaard and Takefusa Kubo – can be found two of the most promising right-backs in football.

Coincidentally or not, both Achraf Hakimi and Alvaro Odriozola have been spending time away from the Spanish capital to gain some experience in the Bundesliga, with the former having joined champions Bayern Munich in January, and the latter currently on a two-year deal at Borussia Dortmund. Whether or not both typical modern-day full-backs will return to the Bernabeu this summer remains to be seen.

Despite their distinctive personal progressions, the dynamic duo do boast many similarities. With their hunger for going forward and their appetite for assists, it’s evident that both prefer attacking over defending. It’s also a possibility that they may just be having their own personal battle for the fastest player in the German top-flight. Spanish international Odriozola undoubtedly left his mark in La Liga, clocking a speed of 34.99 km/h in a meeting with Deportivo not so long ago. But he finds himself behind Morrocan Hakimi, who set a new all-time speed record in the Bundesliga last December when he reached 36.20 km/h against RB Leipzig.

It is, however, Hakimi who is seemingly leading the race to Madrid stardom, if indeed there is one. At 21, the youngster is three years the junior of Odriozola, and that could make all the difference in the thoughts of the Bernabeu decision makers. Even with youthfulness aside, it’s undeniably the Dortmund man who is leaving more of a lasting impact on German football, regardless of the fact he has been there much longer than his fellow right-back. 

The Morocco international is a huge hit in the black and yellow at Signal Iduna Park, and claims one of the first spots on Lucien Favre’s team-sheet week in week out. His versatility as a right-back, left-back and right-winger has been demonstrated on countless occasions, most notably when Dortmund thrashed Atletico Madrid 4-0 in 2018, where a fresh-faced Hakimi set European football alight with three assists from the left on his first Champions League outing for the club. And with ten assists for the current Bundesliga campaign, he has once again formed a deadly partnership with Jadon Sancho going forward on the right-hand side.

Unfortunately for Odriozola, however, things haven’t quite gone to plan. Having caught the attention of several top clubs with his outstanding performances for Real Sociedad – where the defender was rewarded with a call-up to the national team – it was Madrid who came calling. The Spaniard has even picked up more appearances for Los Blancos than his fellow loanee but, through no fault of his own, it hasn’t worked out for the Spaniard at Allianz Arena.

Brought in at the turn of the year due to the long-term injuries to Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez, Odriozola may be forgiven for thinking that he would clinch a starting position in the months to come. To follow in the footsteps of former Galacticos Arjen Robben and Xabi Alonso was an added bonus, while linking up with compatriot Thiago seemed the perfect confidence booster.

His excitement only grew with Joshua Kimmich moving into a defensive midfield role, but any possibility of a starting berth was always going to be difficult with the presence of World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard. The Frenchman filled the gap, with boss Hansi Flick playing him alongside Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and the boundless talent of Alphonso Davies in a back four. Frustratingly for Odriozola – who has featured just twice for the Bavarians – is that the side haven’t lost in 2020, and have conceded a league-low of 26 goals all season.

For those reasons alone, it’s a difficult decision that Madrid boss Zidane may have to make in the near future, but such a choice may be aided or indeed hindered by the two German outfits. Unsurprisingly in both situations, Dortmund are trying to do all they can to keep hold of their rising star for as long as possible, with Bayern reportedly ready to allow their temporary man to leave at the end of the season. But both Hakimi and Odriozola could find themselves out of favour back in the Spanish capital next year, simply because of the consistency of Madrid mainstay Dani Carvajal. 

Having seemingly been at the top for so long, it’s worth remembering that the first-choice right-back is just 28-years-old, and could well be at the club for several more years. A highly-decorated individual, the senior Spaniard may be provided with competition for a starting role from his two apprentices, but it’s hard to see either knocking him off his perch immediately. The young duo do, however, have the perfect basis for a future career at the Spanish giants, with Carvajal benefiting from a spell at Bayer Leverkusen prior to his Madrid success.

But when the time does inevitably come, there will be big shoes to fill. Madrid have more than likely already made their decision, but whatever promising talent they choose, they do so in the knowledge that a more than able back-up will be waiting from the wings.

About the author

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Peter Lynch

Sports Journalism graduate from the University of Stirling, huge Liverpool and Northern Ireland fan, currently working as a freelancer.

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