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Why Díaz can help fill the post-Ronaldo void

By Matt Gault, Football Whispers

It's official: Brahim Díaz is Real Madrid's latest signing.

The European champions on Monday confirmed the 19-year-old has signed a six-and-a-half-year contract in a deal worth an initial $19.7million, potentially rising to $28million with add-ons.

Díaz, whose move to the Spanish capital sees him realise a boyhood dream, joins from Manchester City having been with the Premier League champions since 2015.

While Díaz's fee pales in comparison to some of Madrid's outlays over the years, his price is considerable enough given that he only ever made five league appearances for City.

So, why have Los Blancos decided to make him their second major signing following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo? We delve into the youngster's career to date to find out.

Jewel of City's academy

Díaz joined City in 2015 from Málaga's youth academy, a move which saw him leave his hometown club.

The Citizens paid approximately $255,000 for the fresh-faced 16-year-old, who was fast-tracked into the club's U18 set-up.

From there, the playmaker starred as City reached the FA Youth Cup final in April 2016, losing out on the silverware to Chelsea.

A few months later, in September, Díaz made his senior debut when replaced Kelechi Iheanacho in the 80th-minute of City's EFL Cup win over Swansea City.

Less than a week later, he signed his first professional contract with City, admitting that it was a 'dream' to represent a club of their stature and that it was 'amazing' to have Pep Guardiola as his coach.

However, despite his undoubted natural ability and determination to learn from his compatriot David Silva – arguably City's greatest-ever player – regular first-team opportunities proved elusive.

International Champions Cup starlet

However, the Spaniard earned plaudits at the 2017 International Champions Cup, scoring a stunning individual goal in a 4-1 win for City over future employers Real Madrid in front of 93,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

That goal clearly had a lasting impact on Real, who have spent much of the proceeding 18 months trying to lure the gifted midfielder to the Bernabéu.

Díaz went on to make ten appearances during City's record-breaking 2017/18 season, but only one came from the start – again in the Carabao Cup.

Recognising the depth of talent ahead of him in Guardiola's ranks, the Spaniard decided to return home.

But make no mistake, what he lacks in experience he makes up for in immense natural talent.

Primarily a creative midfielder, Díaz possesses great vision and passing, with the ability to open up the opposition's defence, boasting an 80 per cent success rate with passes into the final third during last season's UEFA Youth League campaign.

Standing at just 1.70m, he is the same height as David Silva and is of a similar build to his esteemed countryman.

There are clear stylistic similarities between the two, specifically the way in which they move with the ball and how they find space in between the lines.

Díaz's quick change of pace and low centre of gravity make him an astute dribbler, too, averaging 9.4 successful take-ons in his three UEFA Youth League appearances in the 2017/18 season.

With his combination of creativity, pace and vision, Díaz is capable of operating either centrally or on the wing.

In the 2-0 EFL Cup win over Fulham in November, in which the 19-year-old scored twice, he started on the right flank of Guardiola's 4-3-3 with Leroy Sané on the opposite wing and Gabriel Jesus through the middle.

Both of Díaz's goals involved the midfielder making a late darting run into the box and finishing off a move, offering a glimpse into his ability to sense when a chance may come his way.

For December's trip to Leicester City in the same competition, Díaz started on the left with Riyad Mahrez on the right and he is likely to be deployed on the flanks for Los Blancos. 

Where does he fit at Real?

Santiago Solari's preferred system has been a 4-3-3, with Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić and Casemiro as the midfield three. Díaz is likely to be deployed higher up the pitch, either left or right of the main striker, Karim Benzema.

It means Díaz will compete with Gareth Bale, Lucas Vázquez, Vinícius Júnior and Marco Asensio for a regular starting berth. With Bale recently joining Asensio on the injury list and Vázquez suspended following his red card in Sunday's defeat to Real Sociedad, Díaz can expect to be given chances from the outset.

The young midfielder's arrival is a sign of the times. Recently, the most decorated club in European soccer have departed from their galácticos policy and invested in shown faith in youth talent.

Although Vinícius Júnior still cost $51million, that is a far cry from the $104million spent on Bale in 2013. But the club's future seems heavily shaped by their young players, with Asensio, Dani Ceballos, Marcos Llorente and Andriy Lunin all tipped for big futures.

With teenage Brazilian forward Rodrygo set to join from Santos in June, Díaz arrives at an exciting time for Real Madrid's youngsters. While the club will have to wait for Rodrygo, they are hoping that, after a sticky start to 2019, the incoming Spaniard can have an immediate impact.

 
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