MADRID - Real Madrid extended their new policy of snapping up promising home-grown talent by paying 38 million euros (S$62.7 million) to buy Spain Under-21 midfielder Asier Illarramendi out of his contract with La Liga rivals Real Sociedad on Friday.
Big-spending Real president Florentino Perez is known for luring "galacticos" like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu but Illarramendi's capture follows hard on the heels of the purchase of playmaker Isco from Malaga and the return of fullback Daniel Carvajal from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.
The trio were in the Spain squad that won the Under-21 Euro championships in Israel last month and Isco and Illarramendi were both named in UEFA's team of the tournament.
Real sealed the deal for Illarramendi when they deposited the 23-year-old's buyout fee with Spain's professional league (LFP), Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay, flanked by the player, told a news conference.
The Basque club, who qualified for the Champions League playoffs last season, did not want Illarramendi to leave but Real's move automatically triggered his exit, he added.
"We would have preferred to hold on to Asier Illarramendi than get the money but life goes on," he said.
Illarramendi is seen as a long-term replacement for Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, another former Sociedad player who will be 32 in November, and he will also compete for a place with Germany's Sami Khedira and Croatia's Luka Modric.
He has agreed a six-year contract and will be presented at the Bernabeu stadium on Saturday after undergoing a medical, Real said on their website (www.realmadrid.com).
Real are looking to bounce back from a poor season under former coach Jose Mourinho, who quit and returned to Chelsea after failing to win any major silverware.
Portuguese Mourinho was replaced by Italian Carlo Ancelotti, whom Real bought out of his contract with French champions Paris St Germain.
Under construction magnate Perez, Real have spent hundreds of millions of euros on players but have failed to win the 10th European crown they have been chasing since their last continental triumph in 2002.
They are the world's richest club by income ahead of Spanish rivals Barcelona in second, according to accounting firm Deloitte.
Illarramendi's move is another reminder that it is increasingly the case that only the two heavyweights can afford the nation's best players and those who do not play for Real or Barca are seeking top wages abroad.