Football Features

Players you (probably) forgot played for Real Madrid

By Mohamed Moallim

Players you (probably) forgot played for Real Madrid

Published: 14:45, 8 January 2024

Since the turn of the millennium Real Madrid have become synonymous with star power.

In fairness, it has been that way for decades, but they’ve really taken it to new levels throughout the last 23 years.

No period exemplifies this more than during the first presidency of Florentino Pérez, between 2000 and 2007, also known as the Galácticos era.

A host of celebrated names turned out for Los Blancos including Ballon d’Or winners — Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo — as well as signature purchases in the form of David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

And since returning for a second stint as president in 2009, Perez has signed Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale for world-record fees.

However, in amongst those huge personalities and star names are some forgettable faces. Players that are just lost within all the glitz and glamour of the Bernabeu.

So with that in mind, check out the 17 players that you probably forgot played for Real Madrid.

1. Borja Valero

Years: 2006-07

Appearances: 2

Current club: Unattached

Valero joined Real Madrid’s youth set-up in 1995, before turning professional in 2004, though stiff competition in midfield meant moving to pastures new and it was with Fiorentina that he made his name before joining Inter Milan in 2017, whom he helped return to the Champions League. However, he quickly fell down the pecking order at the San Siro before rejoining La Viola in 2020. Now, the 38-year-old is enjoying the dotage years of his career. After briefly retiring in 2021 he turned out for amateur club Centro Storico Lebowski in Italy but is currently a free agent.

2. Geremi

Years: 1999-2003

Appearances: 75

Honours: Champions League (2000, 2002), La Liga (2000-01), Supercopa de España (2001)

Current club: Retired

Before ultimately relocating to Stamford Bridge, the Cameroonian defender-cum-midfielder was a utility player at Real Madrid where he celebrated two European Cup titles.

3. Hamit Altıntop

Years: 2011-12

Appearances: 12

Honours: La Liga (2011–12)

Current club: Retired

A string of notable performances for Bayern Munich was enough for Real Madrid to sign the Turkish midfielder but he – like so many before him – struggled in the Spanish capital. Altintop returned to the Bundesliga with Darmstadt 98 in January 2017 but could not help them stave off relegation. He left the club a year later and is now retired.

4. Emerson

Years: 2006-07

Appearances: 34

Honours: La Liga (2006–07)

Current club: Retired

A world-class defensive midfielder in his day, Emerson joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2006 following Juventus’ involvement in the calciopoli scandal. However, the Brazilian struggled to impose himself in Spain and was sold to AC Milan a year later. More recently he turned out for US side Miami Dade in the American Premier Soccer League as a player/board member and even helped the club win the APSL title undefeated in 2017.

5. Samuel Eto’o

Years: 1997-2000

Appearances: 2

Current club: Retired

Yes, one of the greatest centre-forwards in the past couple of decades was once on the books at the Santiago Bernabeu. Eto’o joined Real Madrid’s youth set-up in 1997 but spent most of his time gaining experience elsewhere across Spain.

He eventually left after making a grand total of two league appearances for Los Blancos. Their loss proved to be Barcelona as well as Inter Milan’s gain as he won back-to-back trebles with both clubs between 2009 and 2010. After spells with Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea, Everton, Sampdoria, Antalyaspor and Konyaspor, the striker is now retired, last turning out for Qatar Sports Club.

6. Juanfran

Years: 2004-06

Appearances: 11

Current club: Retired

A crowd favourite at Atlético Madrid, the full-back actually began his professional career at neighbours Real Madrid where opportunities, as he found, were limited. Juanfran ended his eight-year association with Atletico in the summer of 2019, relocating to Brazilian giants São Paulo, and eventually bowing out in 2021.

7. Ze Roberto

Years: 1997 – 1998

Appearances: 15

Current club: Retired

The answer to many a pub quiz question – Ze Roberto started his career in European football with the Spanish giants at the age of 23. The versatile defender-cum-midfielder made 84 appearances for Brazil and played for Palmeiras until the age of 43 before retiring in November 2017.

8. Marcos Alonso

Years: 2010

Appearances: 1

Current club: Barcelona

Another youth player who never tasted regular action, Alonso – who left for Bolton before joining Fiorentina – has since become an integral fixture for Chelsea, winning the Premier League title as a wing-back under former Blues coach Antonio Conte. After playing his part last season while Ben Chilwell was out injured, Alonso left Chelsea in the summer to join Real Madrid’s rivals Barcelona.

But this isn’t as controversial as it may seem for a former Real Madrid man, as his dad also played for both Los Blancos and the Blaugrana. Like father like son?

9. Nuri Şahin

Years: 2011-14

Appearances: 10

Honours: La Liga (2011–12)

Current club: Retired

A star for Borussia Dortmund, it was natural one of Europe’s other powerhouses would come in for his services in the end but it turned out that Real Madrid wasn’t the right choice for his career. In a top-five European league, he was most recently back in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen — who released him at the end of the 2019/20 season — after a spell at Liverpool and a return to his boyhood club.

His time on the pitch was consistently blighted by injuries but in April 2018 he was accepted into Harvard Business School, and recently he hunged up his boots at the age of 32 to take charge of Antalyaspor, with whom he concluded his playing career.

10. Ezequiel Garay

Years: 2008-11

Appearances: 31

Honours: Copa del Rey (2010–11)

Current club: Retired

A lot was expected when Garay eventually joined Real Madrid but the move proved to be one step too far and he’s since rekindled his career with Benfica, then Zenit St. Petersburg and most recently at Valencia. The Argentine retired in July 2021.

11. Fabinho

Years: 2012-13

Appearances: 1

Current club: Al-Ittihad

A loan signing for the Real Madrid B team in June 2012, Fabinho impressed enough to earn a call-up to the senior side towards the end of the 2012/13 season and was given a debut by Jose Mourinho in the 6-2 win over Malaga – even registering an assist for Angel di Maria.

However, he didn’t do enough to earn a permanent deal and returned to Rio Ave before finding his way to Monaco where he helped wrestle the Ligue 1 title away from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016/17.

The midfielder moved to Liverpool in 2018 and has been a key part of the club’s success under Jurgen Klopp, winning the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup during his time at Anfield. An irreplaceable cog in Klopp’s well-oiled, high-octane system, the midfielder left Anfield this summer for Al-Ittihad.

12. Filipe Luis

Years: 2005-06

Appearances: 0 (37 for Real Madrid Castilla)

Current club: Retired

Prior to becoming a fan favourite at Atletico Madrid, the Brazilian full-back spent a season on loan at the Santiago Bernabeu. However, he spent the entire 2005/06 campaign in the B team and was denied a permanent move because Los Blancos were priced out of a deal by his then-club Rentistas. Luis ended his playing career in Brazil with Flamengo, winning the Copa Libertadores twice as well as two league titles.

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13. Willian José

Years: 2014

Appearances: 1

Current club: Real Betis

Willian José never made a single league appearance for Uruguayan club Deportivo Maldonado who loaned him out to no fewer than six teams before he joined Real Sociedad permanently in 2016. Among those clubs he temporarily joined was Real Madrid but that six-month loan in 2014 saw him play just one game for Los Blancos. José is still in Spain, signing for Real Betis last summer having spent the 2021/22 on loan there.

14. Juan Mata

Years: 2003-2007

Appearances: 0 (39 for Real Madrid Castilla)

Current club: Unattached

Although his time in Spain will be remembered for being part of Valencia’s exciting side, Juan Mata did spend four years with Real Madrid – joining the academy as a 15-year-old. However, the furthest he would go with Los Blancos was their Castilla side, eventually signing for Valencia in 2007.

Mata spent a further two-and-a-half years with Chelsea, in which he won the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup before adding another FA Cup, Europa League and League Cup with Manchester United. Not to mention his achievements with the Spanish national team, being just one of two players to hold the Champions League, Europa League, World Cup and European Championship at the same time — alongside former Chelsea teammate Fernando Torres.

In the span of a few months, he’s added Süper Lig and J1 League crowns to his collection.

15. Alvaro Negredo 

Years: 2005-2007

Appearances: 0 (65 for Real Madrid Castilla)

Current club: Cadiz

Best known for his ruthless spell with Sevilla, where he scored 85 goals in 182 appearances between 2009 and 2013, Alvaro Negredo’s career has nosedived somewhat since he left Los Nervionenses for Manchester City, finding himself bouncing around various clubs, from Middlesbrough to Besiktas, with a spell at Al-Nasr in the United Arab Emirates along the way.

His spell at the Etihad wasn’t the first time he struggled to make the grade at an elite European club, with Negredo scoring a respectable 22 goals in two seasons with Real Madrid Castilla after joining from Rayo Vallecano in 2005, but never receiving a call from the senior side.

Negredo is now back in Spain with Cadiz, albeit as more of a bit-part player.

16. Esteban Cambiasso

Years: 2002-2004

Appearances: 65

Current club: Retired

Esteban Cambiasso won four trophies in two seasons at Real Madrid — including the 2002/03 La Liga title — but never quite managed to hold down a consistent place in Los Blancos‘ starting XI.

That, combined with the fact he spent 10 years at Inter, winning five Serie A titles and a Uefa Champions League, makes it quite easy to forget he ever stopped off at the Bernabeu from River Plate at all.

English fans might remember him even better for his year with Leicester City in 2014/15, where he rolled back the clock and turned in a superhuman effort to help the Foxes avoid relegation just a year before they lifted the Premier League title.

17. Diego Llorente

Years: 2013-2017

Appearances: 3

Current club: Roma

A graduate of Real Madrid’s academy, Diego Llorente was under no illusion regarding cementing a regular starting berth in their first team considering the level of competition, but he did manage to make three appearances in all competitions — including a five-minute cameo under Jose Mourinho — before moving onto pastures new. He’s thrived at Real Sociedad but struggled in the Premier League with Leeds United and is now on loan at AS Roma.