Scouting Real Madrid's Rising Star Borja Mayoral

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2016

Real Madrid's Borja Mayoral controls the ball during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Paul White/Associated Press

One defender, two defenders. Three. Borja Mayoral skipped past them all with breathtaking ease—a step over, a shimmy and a rapid shift from his right boot to his left seeing him scorch through Manchester City's bewildered defence before hammering his shot into the top-left corner. 

It was a strike that gave Real Madrid a two-goal cushion over City in the UEFA Youth League and the strike that sent the Madrid press into a frenzy. 

"Mayoral strikes Man City down 'a la Messi,'" said Marca with one headline. "Mayoral, the future of Real Madrid," ran another

"Reminiscent of a young Cristiano Ronaldo," chirped AS

Two days after his wonderful goal, Mayoral was pictured on the cover of AS along with a headline "knocking at the door" ahead of the Madrid derby. When the derby arrived, Mayoral was in the squad. Halfway through it, at just 18 years of age, he was on the pitch. 

Have Real Madrid found their latest homegrown star?

Maybe. 

Though Mayoral's ascent to prominence with his appearance against Atletico Madrid on Saturday might feel as though it's arrived from nowhere; it hasn't. 

The striker has been the hottest prospect in the club's youth academy for some time. Last season, the promising forward netted 50 goals across all competitions to take his three-season tally at Madrid's cantera to 128, according to AS

Last summer, after leading all scorers at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship with title-winning Spain, Mayoral was being discussed as a possible back-up to Karim Benzema in Real Madrid's first team, according to Marca.

On Saturday against Atletico, that's exactly what he was. And though his impact was minimal in his first major opportunity—the teenager actually made his first-team debut in the dying minutes of last October's meeting with Las Palmas—there's plenty to be excited about in relation to Mayoral, who's already scored 11 goals in Real Madrid Castilla's strong push for promotion from the Segunda Division B this season. 

What's encouraging about Mayoral is the sense of his game being very well-rounded.

Already in his short career, the Real Madrid academy product has shown he possesses the raw tools to be an elite centre-forward. Balanced, agile and the owner of quick feet, he's capable of running at defenders. A similar size to, say, Luis Suarez, he's also comfortable playing as a focal point with his back to goal. 

But the excitement also goes beyond that dual threat. 

Though Mayoral is naturally right-footed, he's almost equally adept at finishing with his left as well, just as his wonderful strike against Manchester City showed. With both feet he can shoot powerfully and accurately—his smoothness in front of goal eye-catching. And he's capable in the air, too, even if it is the area in which he can make the most immediate improvements. 

None of this is what stands out most, however. 

To be an elite forward, you must have the instinct for it—that innate understanding of where to be, when to be there and how to get there. Mayoral looks like he has it. Similar to Borja Baston, another young striker who's excelling on loan at Eibar from Atletico Madrid this season, Mayoral arrives in the penalty area with presence and timing. His trailing runs are exacting. He works the channels. He's regularly on hand to put away rebounds. He often only needs one touch to finish. 

In La Liga, a division of technical quality and tactical excellence where raw attributes aren't enough, such qualities as a forward are invaluable. Those who know Mayoral suggest he possesses the necessary work ethic, too. 

"He's very focused," said Real Madrid youth coach Santiago Solari to Deportes COPE (h/t Marca). "He lives for football and enjoys himself, too. He's a good listener who's keen to learn and develop his talent. The fact that he's so focused increases his chances. If he keeps it up, he'll get his opportunity at the Bernabeu."

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