Where are they now? Real Madrid’s XI from Gareth Bale’s La Liga debut

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Gareth Bale playing for Real Madrid in La Liga, Madrid, Santiago Bernabeu, 9 November 2013

Gareth Bale has called time on his wonderful career, one in which he won three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, a Copa del Rey whilst at Real Madrid. But what’s happened to the Los Blancos starting XI from his debut back in 2013?

Long before the moaning, the criticism and ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid,’ Bale was signed for €100million from Tottenham as one of the world’s most exciting players. He’d lit up the Premier League with wondergoals and match-winning displays and looked every bit as good as that transfer fee suggested.

He made his competitive Madrid debut against Villarreal in a La Liga game on September 14, scoring before being taken off for Angel Di Maria as Madrid drew 2-2 away from home.

We’ve had a look back at the team that started that game, lined up in a 4-2-3-1, and what they’ve done since.

GK: Diego Lopez

Lopez arrived for a second stint at boyhood club Real Madrid in January 2013 and as a short-term replacement for the injured Iker Casillas.

One imagines he expected to go straight onto the bench when Casillas was fit again. Instead, his arrival was the start of a wild saga.

After a string of good performances, manager Jose Mourinho insisted that Lopez was the better of the two ‘keepers and kept him in the team, even when San Iker had recovered.

It was the final straw for many of Madrid’s senior players, who told Florentino Perez that either Mourinho left in the summer or they would.

Mourinho was given the boot but Lopez retained his place for La Liga matches even after the arrival of Mourinho’s successor Carlo Ancelotti, with Casillas used in cup and European games.

Lopez left in 2014, however, moving to AC Milan. He’s now back in the Spanish capital, as a back-up at Rayo Vallecano, still going at the age of 41.

RB: Dani Carvajal

Carvajal was making just his fourth Real Madrid start in the game against Villarreal having returned to the club when Madrid activated their €6.5million buyback clause to repatriate him from Bayer Leverkusen.

He has since gone on to play over 300 more games, making himself one of the most reliable full-backs in the world and winning five European Cups.

A club legend and a stalwart of one of the most successful eras in Madrid’s history.

CB: Pepe

Pepe became the second oldest outfielder to play at a World Cup at Qatar 2022. He’s still going strong at the age of 39 with Portuguese giants Porto.

One half of the ultimate shithouse centre-back pairing.

READ: An ode to Pepe, the original shithouse who warmed up the throne for Ramos

CB: Sergio Ramos

The other half of the ultimate shithouse centre-back pairing.

Ramos is now playing alongside old foe Lionel Messi at PSG, featuring regularly for the Ligue 1 champions after an injury-hit debut season in Paris. The 36-year-old’s contract expires at the end of the season and he’s been rumoured to reunite with Cristiano Ronaldo at Saudi Arabian outfit Al Nassr this summer.

LB: Nacho

Nacho. He’s always there, isn’t he? Like Artie Bucco in the Sopranos. Never the main character but present in almost every episode of every season of the Real Madrid series of successes over the past decade.

He’s still there now, almost 300 appearances under his belt over 13 seasons as a pro. Twenty-two caps for Spain as well, without anyone really noticing.

He’s still only 32, remarkably, which means Nacho will likely be a part of Real Madrid’s squad that wins a 16th European in the 2029-30 season, still lurking in the background, still ready to step in when any of the first-choice back four are injured.

CM: Luka Modric

Another signing from Spurs, Modric was coming off the back of a terrible debut season at Madrid when Bale made his debut.

Things have taken a slight turn for the better since then though, eh?

Real Madrid's Luka Modric during the Champions League semi against Borussia Dortmund at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, 30 April 2013.

READ: Remembering when Luka Modric was voted La Liga’s worst signing

CM: Asier Illariamendi (Sami Khedira, ’62)

Illaramendi was meant to be the dog’s bollocks when he arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in July 2013. He’d had a terrific season with Real Sociedad and looked ready for his big move.

In fact, many thought he’d get in the team ahead of Modric. Instead, while Modric went on to achieve greatness, Illaramendi struggled.

He started just 25 league games across his two seasons at Madrid and was even forced to issue an apology after running around in front of a bull dressed as Batman at a festival in his native Basque Country.

“We have an internal rule designed to prevent players going skiing and other dangerous things but I have never known it applied to bullfighting,” said Ancelotti at the time, doubtless raising an eyebrow as he did.

Illaramendi left come the end of the 2014-15 season and has spent the rest of his career back at his boyhood club.

Khedira, meanwhile, came off the bench to replace Illaramendi and would take his position for much of the rest of the campaign, including a start in the Champions League final as Madrid won La Decima.

He also played in the World Cup final as Germany won football’s ultimate prize in Rio de Janeiro later that year. Not a bad few months.

After a long spell at Juventus and a short one at Hertha Berlin, Khedira retired in 2021.

RW: Gareth Bale (Angel Di Maria, ’61)

Bale’s Madrid career is hard to assess in the aftermath of his exit. All the controversy and disappointment of the past couple of years are a big, dark cloud in the way of making a clear judgement.

But his contribution to a glittering epoch will likely be more fondly remembered in time.

After that debut goal against Villarreal, he went on to score a further 105 in another 257 games and make huge contributions at vital times.

He scored and was Man of the Match in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. He scored the goal that put Madrid in the lead against Atletico in the Champions League final in the same year.

He assisted Sergio Ramos’ opener against the same opposition in the 2016 European Cup final and converted his penalty in the shootout while injured. He also scored one of the great Champions League final goals with that bicycle kick against Liverpool two years later.

Not a bad record if you ask us. And he continued with the odd heroics in his final stint at LAFC. Just a shame Qatar 2022 seemed to be one tournament too many.

The man who replaced him in that game, Di Maria was another vital cog in the team that went on to win La Decima, providing the link between midfield and attack. He left for Manchester United at the end of that campaign, before moving to PSG following an unhappy year in the North West.

Di Maria is now a World Cup winner, having scored in the final, and is now at Juventus.

READ: Gareth Bale’s late MLS header proves he’s Britain’s greatest ever footballer

CAM: Isco

Isco was supposed to set the world alight at Real Madrid – and, for a while, he looked like he would, featuring heavily and winning piles of silverware under Ancelotti and Zidane.

But Isco’s influence waned in recent years. In fact, his only contribution to Madrid’s 2022 Champions League success was getting dropped by his team-mates as they celebrated after the final.

The playmaker reunited with former Madrid and Spain boss Julen Lopetegui at Sevilla in the summer, but the move failed to reignite his career. Lopetegui was sacked in October and a couple of months later he terminated his contract.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer is now earning head-spinning amounts of money out in Saudi Arabia.

ST: Karim Benzema (Alvaro Morata, ’73)

The sub, first. Morata has had a weird career so far, bouncing around between elite clubs but never truly establishing himself as the go-to forward at any of them. He’s now back at Atletico Madrid after a couple of loan moves back to

Benzema, meanwhile, has only gone from strength to strength since the mid-2010s.

He first excelled as a beautiful and criminally underrated foil for Ronaldo and since Ronaldo’s departure has become the main man, enjoying a career-best season in 2021-22 as Madrid won the league and Champions League double.

Karim Benzema celebrates after Real Madrid win the Champions League final. Stade de France, 28th May, 2022.

READ: 14 crazy stats that show why Karim Benzema deserved his Ballon d’Or


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