One of the newest and most expensive stars of Real Madrid will never be seen by most of the clubs adoring fans. The hope is that this new young star will help the club reach even higher plateaus than have already been achieved by the storied organization. The pressure on this star will be great.
‘Who?’ is this star you might be asking. The answer is not ‘who’, but ‘what’. I am writing about Real Madrid’s new training facility. Officially known as ‘Ciudad Real Madrid’, or in English: ‘Real Madrid City’, it is located about 6 miles Northeast of the city center, near Barajas Airport. The complex has been nicknamed, and is known to the players, trainers and club staff as ‘Valdebebas’ (val-dee-bay-bahs), and is named after the district of the city where the complex is located.
YPT was recently given nearly unrestricted access to the facility and we are quite proud to give the world a previously unseen, behind the scenes glimpses of this quite unbelievable training ground. YPT’s focus is always about the training, so for us to be allowed to see, first hand, a facility the likes Valdebebas has been a highlight of the organizations existence.
Officially opened in 2005, the new facility encompasses 1,200,000 square meters but to date just about one third has been completed at the cost of about 101 million dollars.
Valdebebas has 13 and one-third fields that breakdown as follows:
For the youth there are 3 full size synthetic turf fields approximately 115 x 75 yards, 2 full size natural grass fields about the same size. There are 2 small-sided synthetic grass fields, approximately 70 x 45 yards, for the youngest age groups.
The first team gets 5 and one-third fields all for themselves: 2 full size natural grass fields, and 1 synthetic grass, each approximately 115 by 75 yards. Also, a small-sided, synthetic turf field measuring about 55 x 30 yards and a small-sided, natural-grass field measuring 60 by 35. As for the ‘one-third’ remaining, interestingly, there is a full-dimension ‘final-third only’ synthetic area measuring about 35 yards long by 70 yards wide complete with a full size goal, as well as, lines marking the penalty area, end line, and touchlines. This area is used primarily for finishing exercises, as well as, practicing free kicks and corners.
The qualities of both the synthetic and natural surfaces are so high that they can easily be confused for the other.
Even cooler is a sand-pit measuring 20 by 35 yards with two side-by-side volley ball nets set up. We were told these pits were built for Real Madrid’s Brazilian players as a place to play volleyball or ‘Brazilian volleyball’ which is volleyball with no hands.
Surrounded by all of these fields is a large building that serves as the spine of the complex and, for all intent and purposes, the organization itself. Looking down from the sky, the building resembles the letter T. The vertical part of the T are facilities for the youth teams and the horizontal part, at the top, is for the first team.
The main entrance for the building is at the ‘base’ of the T, near where the youngest youth teams will find their changing rooms with the older youth teams finding their team rooms closer to the ‘top’ of the T. This was by design as a way to give the youth team players a sense of working their way ‘up’ to the first team.
Each year, if a young player has worked hard and has progressed as a player, he will be asked to return to the academy for the following season. Each year his team room will be a little closer to the first teams. Needless to say, the longer you stay at the academy, the harder it becomes to make it to the next team room. The ultimate goal is getting that call to join the First team in their team room.
Once at Valdebebas, it doesn’t take you long to realize that the club takes the security and privacy of its players very seriously. Although not quite in the middle of nowhere, Valdebebas does sit off on its own and away from the traffic of Spain’s largest city. About one third of a mile off the closest highway, and down a private access road you come to the first manned and gated security checkpoint. It doesn’t matter if you are Ruud van Nistelrooy or a visitor such as myself, you must stop and show identification before you will be allowed to enter the complex. If your name is not on the list, you won’t be getting in. On the first day of my week-long visit, even though I was with a Real Madrid trainer, a call still had to be made to the main security office before being allowed to enter the complex. Once inside, I was provided with credentials that would permit me to move around the complex unaccompanied.
The security of the facility is impressive in its own right. A private security company is responsible for monitoring and patrolling the facility from both inside and out. From the outside, Valdebebas might resemble a light security prison. The entire complex is fenced in with a road encircling the facility which is primarily for security vehicles that will make regular rounds. There are 2 manned security towers at each end of the complex. It is not long before you see the first of several uniformed security personnel on patrol.
The actual training fields can only be accessed by first entering the building’s main entrance. Once through the main entrance you will come to the first security / information desk. It is only after you show identification at a second security desk that you can reach the academy offices, team rooms, and other team related facilities.
It is interesting to note that parents are not permitted beyond the first security checkpoint. Once past this checkpoint, you will only find players, trainers, and club officials. In fact, the only reason a parent has to enter the building is to get to a spacious cantina, just inside the main entrance, where something can be had to eat or drink while training or matches are going on. The cantina also has a large balcony, with tables and chairs, where from it some of the fields can be seen.
Each of the youth team’s fields has its own spectator seating, like you would find in any stadium, just on a smaller scale, where parents can watch training or games. These grandstands, however, can only be accessed from the outer perimeter of the facility. They are elevated about 10 feet above the fields and there is no access to field level from these stands. The club has done a good job of ensuring that parents and fans are kept a certain distance from the players once they arrive at the club for training and/or games.
During the week, parents who bring youth players to training can use the internal parking area but during the weekends, when matches are being played, they must use the external parking area, which is just outside the first guarded checkpoint, at the end of the access road.
For every Real Madrid academy team room, there is a visiting team room. Before games, visiting youth teams are escorted to their own private changing rooms which are part the main building but can only be accessed by outside doors. Visiting players and coaches cannot get into the main building form their team room.
As you begin to explore the facility you get a real sense of the power of football. Every detail has been well thought out and no expense as has been spared. This facility has the finest of everything.
Valdebebas has everything necessary to develop a player. Besides team rooms you will also find the academy offices, equipment rooms, audio-visual rooms, a strength and rehab center, and medical facilities.
There is a weight room/rehab center for the youth teams at Valdebebas that would be the envy of any American professional sports team. It includes free weights, weight machines, treadmills, elliptical, stationary bikes, etc. As with everything else at the facility, the equipment is the best money can buy.
The room itself is one of the many things at the complex where you just look at it and say to yourself, ‘how cool is that!?’. The room is the shape of a rectangle. The 2 end walls are mirrors from ceiling to floor and the 2 side walls are glass, also from floor to ceiling. The one wall looks out onto some of the training fields. The stationary bikes, for example, face this wall so the players can see other players train out onto the fields. The trainers see this as added motivation to work hard in injury rehab and return to training as quickly as possible.
This weight room has enough equipment to service 3 youth teams at once with no waiting for machines or equipment. Adjacent to the strength and rehab room is a small indoor synthetic turfed area where players on the mend can work with the ball or coordination exercises under the supervision of the medical staff.
The audio-visual rooms, mainly for the purpose of tactical classroom sessions for the youth teams, consist of large soccer-field dry erase boards, a projection video system, microphones and speaker system. Several small flat screen LCD monitors attached are mounted to the walls so there are no obstructed views to whatever is being shown.
The only area that is shared between the first and youth teams are the medical facilities. This part of the building is located where the two lines of the ‘T’ intersect. The medical facilities consist of examination rooms, treatment rooms, additional rehab facilities and equipment, and an amazing hydrotherapy center that includes hot and cool pools, a cold plunge, and a long but narrow resistance wave pool. I would have better photos of this room but at the time of my visit first team defender Rene Helguera was doing some rehab work ahead of the teams La Liga match against Valencia and wasn’t, let’s say, sufficiently dressed.
The medical area of the facility is pretty much the only part of the complex where youth players will have a chance to see first team players. To move from the medical area in to the first teams quarters is difficult as there uniformed security personnel on duty. Once through the medical area to the first team’s side you must take an elevator up one level.
Before you can get on the elevator you must be cleared by yet another a security officer. Once you get off the elevator you will be met by…you guessed it… another security officer. If you are not wearing the proper credentials you will not be allowed into the first teams domain.
The first team and the youth teams train at the same location but the boundaries are clear. Once cleared by security to enter the building, and therefore, the training areas, it is possible to move from field to field, including the first team’s, unless from some reason their training session is closed. Usually this happens because the coach of the first team demands it because of a major match coming up, or if the team is not playing well. During my visit, unfortunately, the first team was not playing well so head coach Fabio Capello had closed the first team session to everyone, including the media, which in itself was an unusual move as the media typically have regular access to the first team and its training sessions. This was disappointing because although I was primarily at Valdebebas to observe the youth teams, I always enjoy access to the first teams sessions to keep current with the type of training happening at that level.
I had proper credentials for the first team areas but because of Mr. Capello’s strict edict on the training session I was politely, and apologetically turned away.
Fortunately, some strings were pulled (thank you, Guti) and I was escorted into the to an area where I could view the session. Once off the elevator, I was escorted, to my surprise, to the first teams lounge. The brightly lit and modernly decorated lounge was spotted with comfortable seating, tables and chairs, and bar where the players, or their families, could enjoy a drink or espresso while training was going on. Although the lounge was empty, there was staff on hand for any players or family members who might come in.
The most unique feature of the lounge was the floor to ceiling wall of glass that looked out onto the training field. The lounge was at field level and the touchline of the training pitch was less than 10 feet from the glass. What was even more interesting was the button that would electronically, slowly lower a solid blind that would stop at the floor to keep anyone inside from seeing what was happening on the training pitch. As mentioned before, Real Madrid takes the training of all its players, and their privacy, very seriously. On this day I consider myself quite lucky to have seen what I did of the first team’s session as they prepared to play Valencia. I believe I was the only one to see the session outside the first team players at staff.