Following on from part one’s jaunt through Real Madrid memories and recalling watching brilliant Los Merengues sides on Real Madrid TV, this week we take off the rose tinted glasses. That’s right. In the corridors of the memory we must sweep, passing parlours of footballing greats. Ignore the picture frames adorned with Zidane, Raúl and Guti. We’re delving right to the back.
In this second, and final part, it is time to cast our eye at the players, who despite adorning the iconic strip of the capital club – were barely even lowercase. Players who, although pulled on the bright white shirt of Real, were left with a dark blot on their playing CV. In a nostalgic haze, these are the few players I thought (as a child) were good, simply because they played for Real. Yet in reality, their time at the Bernabéu was far from it. This is the rogues’ gallery, a veritable seven-a-side squad of ifs and buts. The stars that could’ve shone, but for whatever reason, didn’t.
GK: Jerzy Dudek
Like most pre-game line ups, let’s start from the back. Between the sticks. Jerzy Dudek was a cult keeper on his day. The most notorious stints of his career came with a YNWA link – with Feyenoord Rotterdam and Liverpool. The Pole’s career is embodied by the heroics he displayed against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final. However, after Liverpool failed to beat the same opponents in the ’07 edition, and a new number one making waves, Dudek called time on his stay on Merseyside. Seemingly with one big move left in him, he joined Real Madrid aged 34.
Now, towards the back end of his career, it would seem that Spanish goalkeepers were the bane of Jerzy Dudek’s footballing life. First, a young Pepe Reina had Dudek sidelined at Liverpool. Then, the greatness of Iker Casillas saw the veteran keeper make extremely limited appearances. Despite coming up against this favoured homegrown player, Dudek somehow still managed to build a rapport with Real fans. His attitude and work ethic shone through in training and culminated in a handful of great outings when he was in the XI. Often, these came in European dead rubbers or cup games, yet still, he impressed.
There were glimmers of his ability. However, for a European final defining goalkeeper – a meagre two La Liga appearances amongst a slew of somewhat novelty games in four years was simply not enough. Additionally, what was worse was that Dudek had turned down a chance to return to Feyenoord. There, he had amassed a more considerable 139 games, yet he turned down this beautifully cyclic end to his career waiting for chances that sadly never came.
Defender: Jonathan Woodgate
Our sorry seven continues into defence. Jonathan Woodgate was simply unlucky. Well, up until 2004 the centre-back had been a steady Premier League defender with Leeds and Newcastle. Relatively middle of the road and extremely injury prone, his move to Spain was a shock.
One can’t be sure that even Woodgate himself expected to be sold to Madrid. Yet in fairness, if you receive that offer, you’re unlikely to say no. For Real, the Middlesbrough native wasn’t the first choice defensive move. Florentino Pérez had in fact been in pursuit of Milan’s Alessandro Nesta. Secondary targets of Fabio Cannavaro and Sami Hypiä were lost too, so to the football world’s amazement, Woodgate was somehow Los Merengues’ man.
Sadly, he was made of glass. Woodgate arrived injured with a torn thigh muscle in 2004 and with a poor and bumpy road back to full fitness, it took a staggering 516 days before he made his full debut. It should’ve been an eventual day of happiness, but alas, you’ve likely heard otherwise. Against Bilbao, his first outing was marred by an own goal and a red card. After this catastrophic beginning, more injuries capped any progress before he returned home, his (likely broken) tail tucked between his legs. In total, he played just nine La Liga games. In 2007, Marca readers voted him the worst signing of the 21st century. Ouch.
Defender: Royston Drenthe
The next member of the rose tinted rogues’ gallery slots nicely into defence with Woodgate. Initially bought from Feyenoord in 2007, arriving alongside fellow Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, Royston Drenthe would tot up nearly 50 La Liga appearances. Granted, things started brightly for the Rotterdam-born wing-back.
He actually made his debut as a midfielder in Spanish Supercup action and announced himself with a superb 40-yard strike. Despite losing this specific game to Sevilla (as well as on aggregate), the performance led to consistent chances in the first team in his debut season.
Unfortunately for Drenthe, in a similar fashion to Dudek, he was competing with a dominant force in his position. As one Marcelo developed rapidly, Drenthe slowly saw less action and by the time the 2008/09 season rolled around, eyes were on the exit door. He featured in the opening section of Real’s season, but he suffered severe anxiety after his own side’s fans booed him in a 1-0 win against Deportivo La Coruña. Drenthe was at this point a reticent shell of his former energetic self. He asked boss Juande Ramos that he not be selected.
In 2010, after further isolation from the squad, Drenthe went on loan to Hércules where the team was relegated. Another sub-par loan followed with Everton before the Madrid magic finally ended with a rather obscure Russian retreat to Alania Vladikavkaz. With just 46 league games under his belt in three years, Drenthe had succumbed to a talented up and comer as much as he had the baying Bernabéu regulars.
Tying defence and attack together in this feature, comes Fabinho. Yes, that one. But in the same sentiment no, not that one. This version is young – slinkier and inexperienced. Yet to be truly weathered by European football, he’s not ready yet.
That’s right, before his exhausting prowess in Liverpool’s Klopp-press trophy machine (at its height) Fabinho was a fresh face in Real’s ranks. His impressive ability had seen him flourish at Fluminese before a move to Portugal and Rio Ave pricked up the Presidential ears of Florentino Pérez. A six year deal for some kid from Brazil? He must be good. Further notice showed he was good. Raw and tireless. After one month at Rio Ave, Castilla (or Real B effectively) was the next destination with a year’s loan.
Fabinho made progress, but would only be rewarded with one appearance with Real’s first team. It seemed that Madrid just wasn’t to be. The timing wasn’t right apparently and showed as he blazed onto the scene with Monaco in the following five seasons.
Midfielder: Julien Faubert
If Fabinho is holding, let’s have this next man just out of position in front of him. To be fair, Julien Faubert should be used to being out of place. The French-born ex-Martinique winger is perhaps Real Madrid’s most obscure transfer.
It was just bizarre. Faubert joined West Ham United in 2007 for what was a reported fee of €6.5 million from Bordeaux. In his debut season, he was not only injury ridden, but also highly unremarkable. He made just eight outings in both the league and FA Cup. Somehow though, the following season, he moved to Real on loan. The most memorable moment of the winger’s time in the capital you ask? Mistakenly missing training because he thought he had a day off. His loan finished with only two appearances before he limped back to east London.
Attacker: Javier Saviola
Now, we conclude this selection with where the action typically ends. We’ve worked our way up the pitch and now it’s time to score. Or maybe not. Onto the forwards.
On the face of it, Javier Saviola’s move from bitter rivals Barcelona in 2007 could’ve put the Argentinian on the same course as Figo. Saviola, like Figo of Sporting, had also moved to Catalonia with a Portuguese club on his resume. Spooky. That’s where the comparisons end though. After perhaps believing they had picked up a bargain from Barca, a contract-less Saviola came on a three-year deal. He’d been prolific at Camp Nou – scoring 49 in 123 league games. At Real? Less so. He got four goals in 17 league games.
That said, the pacey forward was limited more to sporadic cup and European appearances. Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s fleeting signing all but ousted Saviola from the side and he moved on to Benfica. For lovers of a happy ending don’t worry. He recaptured his form before a farewell retirement run through Málaga, Olympiacos, Hellas Verona and River Plate bookended his career to where it began.
Attacker: Antonio Cassano
So far in this piece (if you’ve made it to this point) our rogues have been ousted by greats, baffled by somewhat random transfer tomfoolery, axed by anxiety or been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Until now, the factors at play have often been out of the player’s hands, but we end on the contrary with Antonio Cassano. Antonio Cassano was an excellent forward. Antonio Cassano also liked an easy life. He also liked to tell you about it too.
Great form over a number of terms at Roma saw the 5’9 striker join Real Madrid in January of 2006 – becoming only the second Italian player at the club after Christian Panucci. With a goal on his debut against Betis in the Copa del Rey, Madrid looked a perfect fit. Perhaps though, it was too perfect as Cassano liked to, shall we say, indulge. In every sense.
Even while he played for one of the biggest clubs in the world, football wasn’t at the front of his mind. Admittedly it was food, sex, and football. In that order. While this was fun, it didn’t help him on the pitch and he gained weight; earning the nickname ‘Gordito’.
In October, not even a year into his spell, Cassano fell out with fellow Italian Fabio Capello. Such was his sheer fury, he claimed he’d “walk all the way back to Roma” just to get a move. Somehow, for a man who loved to eat pastries in bed after sex (a body count he claimed was over 700), walking that far seemed impossible. Finally allowed to leave Madrid in 2007, Sampdoria snatched up the want-away who was claimed to have an “unsustainable” attitude by then-President Ramón Calderón. He scored just two goals in 19 La Liga games.
As said, the players selected went to Madrid with hope and potential on their backs. As we’ve seen, for various reasons, they failed. From the unlucky to the purely bizarre, the injured to the simply fat – the Real badge on the chest continually proves to be simply be too heavy for some to bear.