DCL next? The six British players to sign for Real Madrid and how they fared

Quick Reads

Not many British players have had the opportunity to represent Real Madrid, but those that do usually leave their mark. 

Returning manager Carlo Ancelotti has reportedly set his sights on reuniting with Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The chance to play for Real remains incredibly prestigious and some of British football’s biggest names have strutted their stuff at the Bernabeu.

We’ve taken a look at how the six British players to play for Real fared in the Spanish capital.

Gareth Bale

He may have salted the earth at Real Madrid with his perceived reluctance to embrace Spanish culture and his love of golf, but Bale has experienced immense success in Spain.

After completing a move from Tottenham in 2013 for a then-world record transfer fee, Bale picked up the habit of scoring crucial goals while never fully winning over the Madrid fans.

His highlights included that goal in Kyiv and four Champions League trophies, but it’d be a surprise if Bale played a starring role for the club again.

Jonathan Woodgate

One of the great bad debuts and not much else – Woodgate’s time at Real Madrid was disastrous.

The centre-back had to wait a year to make an appearance following injury problems and proceeded to mark the occasion with an own goal and red card.

That’s where the story usually ends, but Woodgate did establish himself in the first team during the 2005-06 season, only for injuries to strike again, and he moved to boyhood club Middlesbrough in 2006.

In 2007, he was voted the worst signing of the 21st century by readers of Marca, Spain’s leading sports daily newspaper.

READ: Remembering Jonathan Woodgate’s calamitous Real Madrid debut

Michael Owen

It never really happened for Owen at Real, but he was more effective than is usually remembered.

Signed at the peak of the club’s Galacticos era, Owen was competing with the likes of Raul and Ronaldo for a starting spot.

Sixteen goals in 45 appearances doesn’t sound too bad in that context, but the England striker was frustrated with the lack of opportunities and moved to Newcastle in 2005.

In his autobiography Reboot – My Life, My Time, Owen said: “As strange and perhaps defeatist as this might sound, almost as soon as we arrived in Spain, I instinctively had this sense that my time there was going to be short.

“From mid-August, the club put us up in a hotel while we tried to find a house. The two of us existing in one room, with a young daughter who was at the age where she needed to be entertained, would have been difficult enough for one month. But one month became two, and then two became four.”

David Beckham

The Galacticos’ Galactico, Beckham was signed for £25million from directly underneath Barcelona’s noses in the summer of 2003.

His arrival definitely boosted shirt sales, but the England captain didn’t win any silverware in his first three seasons in Spain as various managers failed to get the best out of the numerous extraordinary attacking talents.

Fabio Capello marginalised Beckham in 2006-07, but the midfielder successfully fought his way back into the first team as Real won the La Liga title that season.

Beckham scored 20 goals in 155 appearances before departing for LA Galaxy in 2007.

Steve McManaman

McManaman’s time at Real Madrid underlines the sense that his talent as a player goes somewhat overlooked these days.

Having impressed for Liverpool and England, McManaman moved to Spain on a free transfer in 1999 and won the Champions League in his first season, winning man of the match during the 3-0 win over Valencia in the final.

The arrival of Luis Figo reduced his game time, and Real made McManaman surplus to requirements. But he stuck around and remained a crucial squad member, scoring in a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2002.

His tenacity and attitude won plenty of people over and McManaman is fondly remembered by the Madrid fans to this day.

READ: Liverpool’s bittersweet thrill of Steve McManaman thriving at Real Madrid

Laurie Cunningham

Cunningham became the first English player to represent Real Madrid after signing from West Brom in 1979.

An exciting winger with pace to burn and an eye for goal, Cunningham scored twice on his debut and helped the Spanish giants win the league and cup Double in his first season.

Known as the ‘Black Pearl’ in Madrid, Cunningham impressed the fans with his flamboyance but injuries and a commitment to sampling Madrid’s nightlife limited his overall impact.

Cunningham left the club in 1983 and was sadly killed in a car accident six years later. He was only 33 at the time of his death.


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