He knows, though, that the correct answer is likely to be the simplest one. Navarra’s success has its roots in two things that are not mysteries at all: system and structure.
“There is a culture of soccer in Navarra,” Alcalde said. “But it is a region with just one club: Osasuna. We work with 150 affiliated youth teams. We have 20,000 players in our orbit. We have a very well-developed scouting network. We look for talent under every rock.”
Osasuna does not, of course, have a free run at those players. Part of the reason Navarra as a whole has proved so productive over the years is that the major teams in the neighboring Basque Country — Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad — have long regarded the province’s players as fair game. More recently, Barcelona and Villarreal have identified it as fertile ground, too.
Osasuna cannot pay quite as generously as any of those teams. It certainly cannot match the glamor of Barcelona. What it can offer, though, is a sure path from youth soccer to a professional career, from potential to fulfillment. “Our job is to generate a flow of players for the first team, and to make sure they are ready to jump from Disneyland into Jurassic Park,” Alcalde said. “If you want to become a player, then I am certain this is the best place to do it .”
He is keenly aware, though, that most of those hopefuls who come under his charge will fall by the wayside. “Becoming a player is complicated,” he said. “There are only very few who make it.” To offset that, the emphasis at Tajonar, Osasuna’s youth academy, is as much on health, psychology and emotional development as it is on soccer. “We want to make sure the sport does not do them any damage,” he said. “We do not want to leave broken eggs on the road.”
There will, on Saturday night, be plenty of players on the field whom Alcalde and his staff might point to as validation and vindication, players with, if not a Navarra gene, then certainly what Alcalde calls “Tajonar DNA.”