Football Features

Six of Real Madrid’s most bizarre modern-day signings

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:30, 12 January 2021

Real Madrid have made a number of excellent signings over the years. Just one mention of the Galacticos will bring back fond memories.

The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka among so many others have all made big-money moves to Real Madrid when the La Liga side have felt like making a statement signing.

But Los Blancos have also been guilty of making a few, slightly weirder signings, ones that had people scratching their heads at the time and continue to confuse now.

So we decided to take a look at some of Real Madrid’s most bizarre signings below.

1. Thomas Gravesen

Signed from: Everton
Fee: £2.5m

The 2004/05 season is not one many Real Madrid fans will look back on too fondly when it comes to transfers. One of two bizarre transfers from that season (and more on the other later) was Thomas Gravesen’s arrival from Everton.

After selling Claude Makelele, the best defensive midfielder in the world at the time, to Chelsea the previous season, Real Madrid lost a massive enforcer in their team.

Their search for a replacement, surprisingly, took them to Merseyside and resulted in Gravesen who was helping Everton chase a top-four finish in the Premier League alongside body double Lee Carsley.

Gravesen spent 18 months in Madrid making 51 appearances overall before leaving for Celtic. And although his spell can be seen as a decent one, the fact that it even happened still seems bizarre.

2. Julien Faubert

Signed from: West Ham
Fee: Loan

You can’t do a list about weird Real Madrid signings without Julien Faubert, perhaps the most bizarre transfer in the club’s history.

The 2008/09 campaign saw the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Rafael van der Vaart and Ezequiel Garay move to Real Madrid and they were joined in January 2009 by Faubert. The one-cap France international only joined on loan but there was an option for the move to be made permanent, though you don’t need us to tell you that didn’t happen.

Speaking years later about the deal, Faubert’s agent Yvan Le Mee recalled his surprise when Real Madrid got in touch.

“I called a friend in Spain. “I said: ‘Look, somebody from Real Madrid called me about Faubert. It’s so strange’,” he told the Guardian in 2020.

“He called the sports director to check and phoned me back. ‘Yvan, it’s true. They want to see you at 7am tomorrow at Heathrow airport’.

“He [Faubert] thought it was a joke. But the mercato can be crazy sometimes. Real Madrid wanted to sign Antonio Valencia but Wigan wanted £25m, which is like £80m in today’s market.

“The second option was Faubert, the manager’s choice. Juande Ramos had been at Tottenham the year before and Julien played two fantastic games against them for West Ham. That was the reason he got this chance – sometimes miracles can happen.”

Faubert, who hadn’t really impressed at West Ham, made just two appearances for Real Madrid and will be remembered more for what happened off the pitch. He once missed training thinking he had a day off and was also seen asleep on the bench during a La Liga game.

3. Hamit Altintop

Signed from: Bayern Munich
Fee: Free

Now, Hamit Altintop was not a bad player and his career in Germany will be remembered fondly by the clubs he represented. But his move to Real Madrid in 2011 was a strange one.

In the season prior to Altintop’s move, he had started just 14 games for Bayern Munich across all competitions including eight in the Bundesliga. He had to watch on as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery continued their legendary partnership on Bayern’s wings even with the club not yet dominating the Bundesliga, something that would happen in the coming years.

The normal scenario in cases of an ageing, out-of-favour player would be to move to a team slightly worse off to try and get more playing time. Not one of the biggest clubs in the world during the same window they sign Raphael Varane.

Altintop spent one season with Real Madrid, playing 604 minutes in total across all competitions before leaving for Galatasaray, and featured mostly as a utility right-back.

4. Elvir Baljic

Signed from: Fenerbahce
Fee: £17m

Elvir Baljic had a fine time with Fenerbache which understandably led to increased interest from around Europe but heads were turned by the transfer fee he commanded. Touted at €26m, at the time Baljic became the most expensive player from an ex-Yugoslavian state, a record he held until Edin Dzeko joined Manchester City from Wolfsburg in 2011.

Baljic’s Real Madrid tenure didn’t quite go to plan as a cruciate ligament injury combined with poor form meant he made just 19 appearances across all competitions, starting three of them.

He would return to Fenerbache on loan before moving back to Turkey full-time with Galatasaray three years after his initial Real Madrid move, via another temporary stay at Rayo Vallecano.

5. Jonathan Woodgate

Signed from: Newcastle United
Fee: £13.4m

Back to that bizarre transfer season of 2004/05 we go for another Premier League move to Real Madrid, this time in the form Jonathan Woodgate.

The centre-back was one of three summer signings for Real Madrid in 2004, joining at the same time as Water Samuel and Michael Owen. There’s no denying he was an impressive defender and had promise, but the Englishman was injury-prone and was carrying an injury when Real Madrid signed him.

Woodgate didn’t make any appearances in his first season and when he did finally debut for Real Madrid, the Englishman scored an own goal and was sent off. He lasted just two seasons in Spain before being loaned, and eventually sold, to Middlesbrough – whom he managed without too much success.

6. Royston Drenthe

Signed from: Feyenoord
Fee: £11.9m

Royston Drenthe had a wonderful tournament at the Under-21 European Championships in 2007, helping the Netherlands win the trophy. His performances were enough to persuade Real Madrid to sign Drenthe in the same year they brought in Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, but a bit of due diligence beforehand wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite his performance at the Euros, Drenthe had made just 36 first-team appearances for Feyenoord and failed to score a goal, adding just two assists. His 11 yellow cards would have also been something for Real Madrid to take into account.

And, as everyone now knows, Drenthe’s move to Real Madrid did not work out. Despite making 65 appearances, Drenthe failed to live up to high expectations due to a combination of stiff competition for places and questions surrounding his attitude. After loan spells at Hercules and Everton, Drenthe was released and has flitted around Europe while also taking an unsuccessful break to try himself as a rapper and actor. Bizarre.

Drenthe is now back in Spain with fourth-tier side Racing Murcia, who also boast Paul Pogba’s older brother Mathias among their ranks.