With los Blancos poised to get rid of €31.5 million flop Danilo, Goal looks back at other players who failed dismally at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real took a massive gamble when they signed a talented but temperamental French striker who had already earned himself the nickname ‘ Le Sulk ‘ in the English press. It did not pay off. Nicolas Anelka lasted just one season in Spain – but it was an eventful campaign.
His first goal came in the Clasico, while he netted twice in the Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich. However, there were just seven goals altogether, not least due to the fact that the forward was suspended for 45 days at one point for refusing to train, with Anelka accusing his Spanish employers of treating him “like a dog”.
“Something does not turn around properly in his head,” Real president Lorenzo Sanz countered, shortly before selling his enfant terrible to PSG.
Real have John Toshack to blame for the waste of money that was Elvir Baljic, as it was the Welshman had been impressed by the Bosnian during his time working in Turkey and, consequently, persuaded Real president to pay a shockingly large fee for the forward.
Baljic’s hopes of making an impact in Spain were hardly helped by a knee injury shortly after his arrival but even when fit, he did not look like he belonged at the highest level and he was loaned back to Fenerbahce after just one season, and one goal, in La Liga. He later mused: “It doesn’t hurt me to see media listing me among Real’s biggest flops; I don’t see myself that way.” Unfortunately, Real’s fans do.
The fee may have been small but Antonio Cassano was a colossal waste of money. His goal return was dismal (just one in seven appearances), his attitude dreadful and his diet even worse.
“In Madrid, I had a friend who was a hotel waiter,” the enigmatic Italian later revealed. “His job was to bring me three or four pastries after I had sex. He would bring the pastries up the stairs, I would escort the woman to him and we would make an exchange: he would take the girl and I would take the pastries. Sex and then food, a perfect night.”
Danilo has openly admitted that it is difficult to deal with the amount of scrutiny players are subjected to by the media in Madrid. “An error, no matter how small, goes viral,” he lamented. “A mistake becomes very great even if it is small. But, of course, when you do something good, it is also very great.”
Unfortunately, the Brazilian has rarely done anything good since joining from Porto two years ago – he played every minute of every defeat Real suffered during the 2015-16 campaign – and is now set to be sold, with both Chelsea and Juventus inexplicably interested in signing Dani Carvajal’s understudy.
Whether a character like Royston Drenthe ever had the requisite discipline to succeed at the highest level is open to debate. What we do know, though, is that his hopes of making it at Real Madrid effectively ended the moment he was mercilessly booed by the Bernabeu crowd during a game against Deportivo La Coruna.
It left him “suffering from anxiety”, as then coach Juande Ramos revealed, “As his coach I will do all I can to help him because he has a lot of potential.” It was never realised, though, with the former teen star eventually departing for Hercules, where he made further headlines for going on strike. The Dutch winger ultimately retired at the age of 29 to focus on his rap career.
It was not in the least bit surprising that Jose Mourinho took Michael Essien on loan for the 2012-13 season. The Ghanaian was still struggling to rediscover his best form after a knee injury but the Portuguese coach didn’t just adore the midfielder as a player, he loved him as a person. Mourinho was, thus, bitterly unimpressed when only a handful of Essien’s Real team-mates turned up for the former Lyon ace’s 30th birthday party.
“Mourinho [told Essien] it was simply because they were more interested in themselves and not others,” according to the Biography, ‘Jose Mourinho: Up Close and Personal’. Both Mourinho and Essien left at the end of the season. Neither were missed, either by the fans or the players they had left behind.
Perhaps not the worst transfer in Madrid’s history but certainly the strangest. The entire football world was stunned when Real took Julien Faubert on loan from West Ham during the January transfer window. There was an option to buy but it was never taken up, not least because the Frenchman missed one training session as he mistakenly thought he had the day off, and also appeared to nod off during a game against Villarreal.
The versatile right-back denied it – “I didn’t fall asleep on the bench; I prefer beds” – but it adequately summed up the rather dream-like absurdity of his short spell in the Spanish capital.
Thomas Gravesen was signed to add some much-needed aggression to Madrid’s star-studded squad, so, in that sense, his signing could be viewed as a success. However, nobody was safe from the tough-tackling Danish defensive midfielder, who even sparked a pre-season training-ground dust-up due to one particularly robust challenge on Robinho.
It was at that point that coach Fabio Capello decided that enough was enough. “I don’t like his behaviour,” the Italian confessed. “Everything has to be done like he wants it to be done.” Gravesen departed for Celtic just days later.
It’s easy to understand why Real Madrid broke the transfer world record to sign Kaka. When he joined from Milan, he was 27 and at the peak of his powers, the reigning Ballon d’Or holder. At the time, there was no better sight in football than the Brazilian trequartista with the ball at his feet: he didn’t run; he glided. Unfortunately, he was grounded for the majority of his time in Spain.
Injuries ruined what should have been a sensational partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo, while the arrivals of Jose Mourinho and Mesut Ozil also hindered his hopes of playing regular football. There were highlights, not to mention a Liga title triumph, but as he himself admitted, “I lost the joy of playing football a bit [in Madrid].”
“I felt humiliated at Madrid,” Pedro Leon admitted in 2011. “I am not aware of doing anything wrong. I did all I could, I was professional, I worked hard.” Jose Mourinho disagreed. The Portuguese coach was disgusted by the winger’s allegedly poor work ethic and eventually snapped at journalists after repeated questions over his ongoing refusal to give the €10m signing more game time.
“You talk of Pedro Leon as if he is Zidane or Maradona or Di Stefano. Last year he was playing for Getafe! I don’t have to justify his absence.” Unsurprisingly, Pedro Leon was sent back to where he came from after just one, controversy-ridden season at the Bernabeu.
Robert Prosinecki recently admitted, “My time at Madrid could certainly have been better. But I established myself there at a time when foreign players were limited, and I discovered a different type of football.” However, even he acknowledges that his spell is better remembered for “injuries and lost titles”.
Big things had been expected of one of the finest talents ever to come out of the Balkans, a gifted midfielder who had just helped Red Star Belgrade win the European Cup. The highlight of his three-year Real career, though, was a goal against Barcelona in the Clasico and even that was well and truly overshadowed by the fact that he departed for Catalunya in 1995. That he also flopped there was of little consolation to Real’s frustrated fans.
Even at €25m, Walter Samuel looked like an excellent signing for a Real side crying out for a dominant, ruthless centre-half. However, the Argentine never looked anything remotely like the player who had earned the nickname ‘The Wall’ during his time at Roma, much to the bemusement of former coach Fabio Capello.
“The fact that he did not make a name for himself at Real Madrid still surprises me,” the Italian later admitted. “Perhaps it was the wrong time.” It certainly seemed that way because as soon as Samuel returned to Italy in 2005, to join Inter, he went back to being one of the finest defenders on the planet, becoming a legend at San Siro.
“Looking back,” Javier Saviola said, reflecting on his time in Spain, “I do wish I’d played more.” The Argentine attacker had impressed during his early years at Barcelona but by the time he joined Real, it was clear that he was not going to live up to the hype that had once surrounded the former South American Player of the Year.
Indeed, Madrid’s decision to sign Saviola did little more than annoy their Clasico rivals, as ‘The Little Rabbit’ never looked remotely capable of nailing down a regular starting berth in a side boasting the likes of Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain, Raul, Robinho and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Saviola moved on to Benfica after just five goals for Real.
The worst debut in history? It’s hard to look past Jonathan Woodgate’s first outing for Madrid – even though it was extremely tough to watch. The centre-half had joined in 2004 but a spent a year out injured with a thigh problem that Real’s doctors had failed to detect.
“I thought, ‘Right, you’re back. Show them what you can do,” he later recalled of his appearance in a Liga game against Athletic Bilbao. He scored an own goal and was sent off. A forgiving Bernabeu gave him a standing ovation nonetheless but nobody complained when Woodgate was sent back to England in 2006 after just eight further Liga outings.
Ze Roberto is adamant that he could have been a success at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, as he admits himself, playing at the 1998 World Cup was more important to him than proving himself worthy of a place in the Real first team. “[Brazil coach Mario] Zagallo told me that he saw me as part of the squad but only if I were playing regularly,” the winger later revealed.
Given the fierce competition for places at Real, Ze Roberto elected to leave midway through what would prove to be a Champions League-winning campaign in order to secure regular game time at Flamengo. He would go on to prove an excellent player in Germany, most notably with Bayern Munich.