Behind the scenes at Real Madrid's training ground with Sky Sports
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 20/04/17 10:05pm
What's life like for a Real Madrid player? Sky Sports were given behind-the-scenes access to the stunning training ground where Cristiano Ronaldo and company are preparing for Sunday's Clasico - and where hundreds of youth academy hopefuls are moulded for future success…
It is a sunny morning in Spain and out on the lush first-team training pitch at Real Madrid's Valdebebas headquarters, Zinedine Zidane's booming instructions are echoing through the air. "Toque! Toque!" Touch! Touch! "Ataque el balón!" Attack the ball!
The Real Madrid coach is overseeing a two-touch possession game between two teams of 10. Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos lead the green side. Gareth Bale and Marcelo are with the blues. It is fast and frantic, but Zidane is demanding more. A flying tackle from Isco on Toni Kroos halts proceedings momentarily. There are yelps of frustration as the ball spins out of play.
After 15 minutes or so, Zidane blows his whistle and gathers his squad together to explain the next drill. Sprinklers immediately come on in the area that has been vacated, and as the players move over to the far end of the pitch for the rest of their session, it is time for us to continue our tour.
We are in Ciudad Real Madrid, the sprawling training complex which has been home to the club's first-team and academy for over a decade. It is located on a dusty strip of land in the north-eastern outskirts of the city, but its manicured facilities, enclosed by a perimeter fence and patrolled by security guards, are among the best in the world.
Everything is geared towards breeding success. The training pitches are built on different levels to reflect the hierarchy from academy to first team. Most of them are measured to the exact dimensions of the playing surface at the Bernabeu. They even use the same natural grass imported from Holland.
For us, however, the pitches themselves are just the start. We leave the balcony overlooking training through the press conference room where Zidane holds his media briefings. Then it's downstairs, past the state-of-the-art gym and medical facilities, and through a narrow corridor to the entrance of the adjoining first-team residence, where access is normally restricted to senior players and officials.
It is here that Zidane and his squad will spend the night before Sunday's Clasico with Barcelona - just as they do before every home game. The building overlooks training pitches on either side, but it is not intended for work. On the contrary. "The idea of this place is to relax," says our guide.
It's about ensuring every player's needs are met. Past the reception area, there are sofas and drinks fridges opposite a 30-foot display of Real Madrid memorabilia. A large white door opens up into a cinema room, where the players watch films or football matches on a giant screen.
Next door, past the wall of photographs, replica kits and trophies, is the games room. There is snooker, table football and a pair of Formula One simulators, but the players prefer the ping pong table. Ronaldo is an avid player. It is no surprise to learn that when he is involved, the games tend to be competitive.
There is a large, heated swimming pool at the far end of the ground floor, and a nearby staircase leads us to the players' bedrooms. Half of the 57 named and numbered rooms belong to Real Madrid's basketball team, with the footballers grouped separately down one long corridor.
Each room is accessed using a fingerprint recognition system. They come with ensuite bathrooms, king-sized beds and shared balconies. Ronaldo is next to his good friend Fabio Coentrao. Bale not far from Luka Modric. Karim Benzema, Madrid's No 9, has room 109. "He is superstitious," explains our guide.
At the end of the corridor, past the adjacent bedrooms of centre-back partners Sergio Ramos and Pepe, we reach the first-team dining room. The players eat together on evenings before home games and they can choose whether to stay for lunch every day after training - for which they arrive at 10.15am for an 11am start.
It is a bright, spacious room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a well-stocked buffet counter. Real Madrid's TV channel plays on large screens, and on one side, a long dining table overlooks the players' car park. Sponsorship rules require each player to report to training in their own Audi. The Lamborghinis and Ferraris are left at home.
From there, we make the short trip over to La Fabrica, the famous youth academy which currently caters for 277 players - 59 of whom live permanently in the residence. From the U8s to the Real Madrid B team - who play their home games in the 6,000-capacity Alfredo di Stefano Stadium at the opposite end of the complex - this is where the club attempt to sculpt the stars of tomorrow.
The building is pristine and modern, but in keeping with the hierarchical system in place at Valdebebas, it is not luxurious like the first-team residence. The bedrooms are shared between two, and the dining room is like a school canteen. The busy classrooms are a reminder that at La Fabrica, the education extends beyond the pitch.
Only a fraction of the young players here will go on to crack the Real Madrid first-team, but La Fabrica is one of the world's leading academies for producing top-level players and there are notable success stories. From Emilio Butragueno to Raul, the walls are adorned with images of illustrious graduates who became club legends.
Perhaps the best inspiration for today's youngsters, however, comes with a slightly less prominent image showing a 12-year-old academy player who was randomly selected to lay the first stone at Valdebebas back in 2004. It is Dani Caravajal, the two-time Champions League-winning right-back who first enrolled at La Fabrica at the age of 10.
Caravajal is not the only academy graduate with his name now printed on one of the doors in the first-team residence. There is also Alvaro Morata, Lucas Vasquez, Nacho and back-up goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. Even Brazilian midfielder Casemiro spent time in the B team Zidane used to coach. Making that step up is not easy, but the pathway is there.
We leave the academy building for one final wander around the facilities. The morning sessions are over and the pitches are empty now, but tomorrow it starts again. The young hopefuls continue their mission to rise to the top, and Zidane's first-team stars resume their preparations for Sunday's Clasico. If they beat Barcelona, the result will owe a lot to the foundations in place here at Valdebebas.