With Gareth Bale’s exit from the Santiago Benerbau now obvious, Spanish-born Nigerian winger, Marvin Akinlabi, has been drafted to Real Madrid’s first team as a replacement for the Welsh man. Can he convince Zinadine Zidane for a first-team shirt?
Marvin Akinlabi’s performance on his non-competitive debut for Real Madrid’s first team against Getafe on Tuesday must have impressed manager Zinedine Zidane.
The French football tactician continues to run the rule over Akinlabi with a view to a potential debut in Real Madrid’s La Liga opener against Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena today.
According to training photos published by the official website of Real Madrid, Akinlabi took part in Thursday’s workout held at Real Madrid City.
With Gareth Bale set for a return to Tottenham Hotspur, the Nigerian youngster who plays the same role as the Welsh winger could climb up the pecking order at Los Blancos.
In the fourth training session of the week, the Welshman worked out indoors, a clear signal that his return to Spurs is on the cards.
Akinlabi started the first half of Real Madrid’s win against Getafe, helping the Spanish champions take a 6-0 lead into the break.
Should he feature against Real Sociedad today, he will become the first Nigeria-eligible player to make an appearance for Real Madrid’s first team.
Last year, Los Blancos informed via their official website that Akinlabi will represent their reserve team, Real Madrid Castilla as from the 2019-2020 season, which was a step up in the career of the attacking midfielder as he was a player of Real Madrid’s U-19 team penultimate season.
The 20-year-old was an influential member of Real Madrid Juvenil A squad in the 2018-2019 campaign, starring as they won all their group matches in the UEFA Youth League and helped the team finish second in Group V of the Division de Honor and reach the semifinal of the Copa del Rey.
Zidane has been known to monitor the outstanding players at Real Madrid Castilla and Akinlabi had always hoped to catch his eye.
The likes of Mutiu Adepoju, Christopher Ohenhen and Derik Osede represented Real Madrid Castilla in the past but departed the club without making their first team debuts.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), First Vice President, Seyi Akinwunmi, had before now said Akinlabi would soon get to play for the Super Eagles despite interest in the Los Blancos youth team kid from South Korea and Spain.
Akinwunmi revealed: “Akinlabi is in our plans. We are monitoring every single Nigerian kid out there, the ones that are good enough and who are willing to play for Nigeria. We are speaking with everybody, but it is not everybody that wants to play for Nigeria. It is not everybody that their parents want them to play for Nigeria; (but) we are speaking to all of them, even those who are not willing.”
Born in Palma de Mallorca to a Nigerian father and South Korean mother 18 years ago, Akinlabi is spoilt for choice as he is eligible to represent Nigeria and South Korea based on the grandfather rule, and can also turn out for his country of birth, Spain.
In the Spanish naming customs, footballers have two surnames, the paternal goes first and then the maternal one, so he has to be referred to as Akinlabi, not as Park, but he is called Marvin by the football community in Spain.
Akinlabi has been described by the official website of Real Madrid as a two-footed pacy and physical attacking-minded midfielder who is a danger when he joins the attack, and his ability in one-on-one situations also makes him a threat.
He had stops at Sporting Ciudad de Palma, Tranmere Rovers, La Salle and Es Jonquet Penya Arrabal prior to joining the European champions in July 2016.
Should he pledge his international future to Nigeria, he would follow in the footsteps of Madrid-born Real Madrid product Derik Osede, who switched allegiance to the Super Eagles in 2015.
A statement on the Real Madrid website, last year confirmed his inclusion in the Real Madrid youth set up.
It reads, “An attacking-minded midfielder who is a danger when he joins the attack, his ability in one-on-one situations also makes him a threat. He took his first steps in the game in his native Balearic Islands and possesses a very direct style, which fully exploits his pace and power. He also has fine ability with both feet.”
Before he moved to the famed Real Madrid Castilla in 2016, Akinlabi had his development at various clubs sides such as Sporting Ciudad de Palma, Tranmere Rovers, Sporting Ciudad de Palma, La Salle, and Es Jonquet Penya Arrabal.
Based on the potential of Marvin, the undefined will aim to integrate him to the national team as they have done for youngsters born abroad.
However, they should expect to face stiff competition from the Royal Spanish Football Federation and Korea Football Association who will want a talent such as Akinlabi in their ranks.