COMMENT: Are we seeing a quiet transformation of transfer policy at Real Madrid?
In the early hours of the morning, Casemiro checked into the Melbourne Hyatt officially as a Real Madrid player. Barely hours earlier, Real had upped their offer to Espanyol for goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.
Both former Castilla players. Both who left the club to excel elsewhere and now, with Rafa Benitez in charge, are being welcomed back into the fold.
On the training pitch in Melbourne, Casilla's former Espanyol teammate Lucas Vazquez has been a ball of energy. And Denis Cheryshev, back from his loan with Villarreal, is also on tour. Again, both former stars with the Castilla who have returned this summer on the request of Benitez.
This is no coincidence. Benitez is shaking up the club's approach to its local talent.
Just consider Dani Carvajal's case.
Going into the summer market, intermediaries were alerted to Carvajal's potential availability. The fullback had expressed concern to his management about Real's midseason swoop for Porto fullback Danilo. At €36 million, Danilo would arrive this summer as the richest defensive signing in the club's history. How could local lad Carvajal compete with that? And in a Euros year?
Convinced price-tag and politics would influence selection, Carvajal seriously considered slapping in a transfer request. But everything changed upon Benitez's appointment. A chat with the new coach left Carvajal assured and before flying out from Madrid, he put pen to paper on a new contract.
Carvajal isn't an isolated case.
Jese Rodriguez complained openly last season over the way he was treated by former coach Carlo Ancelotti. A couple of token injury-time substitute appearances were the final straw. Like Carvajal, Jese instructed his agents to circulate his name around Europe. He wanted out.
But during the week of his appointment, Benitez put in a call to Jese. The new Real coach assured the striker. He wanted him to stay and if he put in the effort at training, he will play. Jese was thrilled and dropped planned summer holidays to work with his personal fitness coach. This week, in Melbourne, the young striker has been flying.
Benitez loves a big-name signing. And he's not made his name as a coach who backs youth. But unlike his recent predecessors at Real Madrid, Benitez knows the club's youth system inside-out. He's worked as Real Madrid C head coach and also assistant with the Castilla. He knows the talent that exists inside Valdebebas, but, more importantly, is aware of the passion and desire of the club's youth players - and what that can add to a locker room of Galacticos.
At today's media conference in Melbourne, Benitez was circumspect when pressed about his transfer plans. "We're looking," he admitted, recognising that senior signings had to be made because Real Madrid "is a club that must always win".
However, in the same breath, he also name-checked Marcos Asensio and Borja Mayoral, who have both been starring for Spain this past fortnight at the U19 Euros. "We have some great kids below this level" Benitez was quick to add.
So does this mean Florentino Perez, the Real president, keeps his chequebook closed? Not quite. As Benitez stated, there's still major weaknesses in his squad that must be addressed.
However, one returning player who will save Real a fortune is Luka Modric. After missing almost the entire of last season, the Croatian has been the most impressive trainer this week. Real's fitness staff can't believe what they're seeing. Modric has never been in better shape and is showing all the signs of establishing himself as the general of Real's midfield.
Even off the pitch, Modric has come more into his own, organising chats between players and media. With Iker Casillas now gone, Modric is stepping up and is ready to become a real locker room leader.
The dressing room is changing at Real. Spanish, both from the players and staff, is again the dominant language. A new leadership group is forming and the young players at Real haven't felt as valued in years.
During his first reign as president, Florentino, defending his Galacticos policy, coined the phrase 'Zidanes y Pavones'. But during this second spell in charge, there's been very few 'Francisco Pavones'.
However, with an old Real Madrid C coach now calling the shots, that all could change.