11 players Real Madrid missed out on – and who they signed instead

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PSG's Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring against Juventus in their UEFA Champions League match at Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy, November 2022.

History has taught us that, if Real Madrid really want to sign a player, they’ll usually be successful.

However, there have been a handful of players with the balls to say no to Los Blancos, whether out of loyalty to their existing club or a simple desire to move elsewhere.

When you throw in the occasional decision from the Spanish club to suddenly switch targets in the midst of a transfer chase, you’re left with this list of 11 very big names who might have landed in Madrid if the stars had aligned differently.


Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’ transfer policy of the early 2000s wasn’t just about footballing ability – players had to look the part, too, and this was thought to be the reason why president Florentino Pérez passed on Ronaldinho when the Brazilian was available from PSG.

Dinho’s looks were said to go against the brand the club was trying to build, and Madrid instead went for the much more marketable David Beckham.

Beckham might have done the business on and off the pitch, but the Brazilian may have left the club regretting their decision when he helped lead Barcelona to the 2006 Champions League title. Not to mention when he took the p*ss to such an extent at the Bernabeu when even the home fans couldn’t help but applaud.

READ: A forensic analysis of the night Ronaldinho had Real fans on their feet

Francesco Totti

If you were wondering why Beckham ended up being Real’s only signing in 2003, it’s because they failed to get a move for Totti over the line.

The Italian would end up spending his whole career at Roma, but things could have been very different if he’d opted to trade one capital city for another.

“Many years ago I was really close to Real Madrid, I was pondering to leave Roma to go to Madrid,” he admitted years later. “I was really close. I would never sign for another Italian side out of respect for the people.”

One year later, the Spaniards bolstered their front-line with Michael Owen. Based on how things turned out for him, perhaps Totti will be a little more grateful he stayed at home.

Patrick Vieira

Madrid let Claude Makelele leave in the summer of 2003, and within a year they began to realise the problems with assembling such a top-heavy squad without the Frenchman to cover for them.

Vieira wasn’t quite as defensive-minded as his compatriot, but sporting director Emilio Butragueno said, “Patrick Vieira is a very interesting and important player for us and for our club,” and suggested a move was very close in 2004.

Instead, though, Vieira opted to give Arsenal another season before eventually joining Juventus. Real Madrid’s backup option? None other than Thomas Gravesen, obviously.

READ: Ranking Real Madrid’s 17 weirdest signings so far this millennium

Cesc Fabregas

Fabregas always seemed destined to rejoin Barcelona when he eventually left Arsenal, but that didn’t stop Real Madrid from trying to snatch the midfielder from their great rivals’ grasp.

“That you are wanted by Madrid, one of the biggest teams in history, is important,” the Spain international said in 2008, admitting he didn’t give then-president Ramon Calderon a firm ‘no’ but rather a ‘not now’.

Madrid instead turned their attention to another talented young central midfielder, paying Ajax €27million for Wesley Sneijder, but the Dutchman lasted just two years before moving to Internazionale.

Ashley Cole

Back in 2009, when Ashley Cole was going through a much-publicised divorce, he was offered an escape route from the UK with Real Madrid following Gabriel Heinze’s departure from the Spanish club.

“There were times when it was really hard,” the England defender admitted a few months later. “I did think about leaving but, of course, when I spoke to Ancelotti he made it clear he wanted me to stay and loved having me around.”

Madrid used that summer to strengthen their entire back-line, with Álvaro Arbeloa joining from Liverpool and centre-backs Raúl Albiol and Ezequiel Garay also arriving, but the 2009-10 season saw Marcelo cement his status as first-choice left-back.

Sergio Aguero

“If Real Madrid had been interested in me, then I would be here.” – That’s what Sergio Aguero said in September 2012, a little over a year after trading Atletico for Manchester City.

The Argentine rubbished claims he would have refused to play for Atleti’s neighbours, and it seems all it would have taken for him to move to the Bernabeu was a bid at the right time.

Instead, though, Real Madrid made do with ‘just’ Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. Seems like this one worked out alright for all concerned.

The Argentinian eventually ended up joining Barcelona – a decade after the links to their great rivals – and scored the final goal of his remarkable career against them, a late El Clasico consolation. Not long after he was forced to retire due to a heart issue.

David Silva

After watching City win the league with Aguero in attack, Real Madrid tried to cut him off at the source by removing his main supply-line.

However, Silva was two years into his City stint and had no plans of leaving, with his agent confirming the Spain international was happy in Manchester. He was proven right, too, with Silva set to bring up 10 years at the Etihad before moving on in 2020.

Real Madrid made one major signing in the summer of 2012, with Luka Modric arriving from Tottenham, but didn’t have a like-for-like alternative when it emerged Silva would not be making the move.

David Silva, Manchester City, Etihad Stadium, Manchester, 03 December 2017.

READ: David Silva: A man who deserves a Zidane-style portrait more than most

Steven Gerrard

Jose Mourinho’s pursuit of Gerrard while at Chelsea was no secret, and the Portuguese was thought to be interested in the England midfielder again when he moved from Inter to Real Madrid in 2010.

Frank Lampard was also reportedly on Mourinho’s shopping list that year, though the Liverpool man was higher in the pecking order, and the manager described the pair as “great players who always give everything”.

Of course, Mourinho ended up with neither in the end, but Real Madrid didn’t do too badly out of the window in question: fresh from their part in Germany’s World Cup run, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira both made their way to the Bernabeu.

Daniele De Rossi

After missing out on Totti a few years prior, 2011 was the year Real Madrid attempted to prise another Roman away from the Italian capital.

Reports in the spring of 2011 suggested the club would make a €25million summer move for Daniele De Rossi, with Roma destined to miss out on the Champions League, but the deal never materialised.

Mourinho instead went for the cheaper option of Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Şahin, but the Turkey international wasn’t really needed as the club saw off the challenge of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona to win the title.


In 2017, Florentino Perez revealed Neymar had undertaken a medical at Real Madrid in 2013 – that’s how close a move was.

The Brazilian was thought to always prefer a move to Barcelona when the time came to leave Santos, but Pérez claimed his club was in the box seat before deciding against the move at the last minute.

Perhaps unsure about Neymar’s commitment to the club, Madrid moved for a player who definitely wanted to be there. Would the Brazilian have done more than Gareth Bale? Depends how you want to measure success…

Kylian Mbappe

Nothing summed up the state of football in 2021 than the fact that Real Madrid had a €160million bid for Kylian Mbappe turned down by PSG – when he was into the final year of his contract.

Madrid ended up biding their time, not signing a forward, and investing in other areas of Carlo Ancelotti’s side, bringing in David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga in defence and midfield respectively.

They reportedly had a pre-contract agreement with Mbappe in 2022 but the France international stunned the world by signing a new three-year deal at PSG.

Madrid chose not to sign an alternative, perhaps hoping Mbappe can be enticed to Spain in the near future.

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