7 former Real Madrid players we can’t believe are still playing in 2023
Real Madrid have an army of ex-players across the football world – including some who are continuing to defy the passage of time by playing deep into their 30s.
While some such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric are well-known, others have taken a different path, either playing for Spanish teams with a lower profile or winding down their careers with their hometown clubs.
We’ve picked out seven former Madrid stars it’s hard to believe are still playing football in a professional capacity in 2023.
You’ve forgotten about Pepe haven’t you? Half of that imperious centre-back partnership with Ramos that hoovered up Champions League trophies in the 2010s. Sh*thouse supreme, both of them.
More learned readers may be aware that Pepe is still turning out for Porto at the age of 40 and scored at last year’s World Cup for Portugal. He’s the club captain, for heaven’s sake. And he played 36 games last season.
In fairness, he did always have a Terminator vibe about him.
Incredible record for Pepe!
Pepe is now the oldest outfield player ever to play in the Portuguese top flight!
40 years & 183 days old
— Football World (@FOOTBALL_WURLD) August 29, 2023
Another former Madrid centre-back, and one of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning squad members that’ll leave you stumped at a pub quiz, Albiol remains the reliably beating heart of Villarreal’s backline.
Aged 38, Albiol is the club captain of Spain’s perennial over-achievers and made 27 appearances in 2022-23 as El Submarino Amarillo finished fifth in La Liga.
During his four years at Madrid, between 2009 and 2013, the centre-back was a bit-part player who covered injuries and suspensions to Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho.
But he still made 119 appearances for the club and won three major honours. No esta mal.
Negredo came through the ranks at Rayo Vallecano before moving across the Spanish capital to join Real Madrid Castilla in 2005.
But the striker never got on the pitch and moved to Almeria in 2007. He’s probably best remembered for his prolific spell at Sevilla and his underrated spell at Manchester City in the mid-2010s.
After spells at Middlesbrough and in the UAE and Turkey, the 38-year-old striker is now plying his trade for La Liga side Cadiz.
✍️ Álvaro Negredo
🆚 Atlético de Madrid
🗓️ 20/21 pic.twitter.com/RnXVPwRUFl
— Cádiz Club de Fútbol (@Cadiz_CF) September 5, 2023
Having developed at Real Sociedad, helping them to qualify for the Champions League in 2013, Illarramendi moved to Real Madrid for €32.2 million – the most they had ever paid for a Spanish player.
But the move was a disaster for the player; Illarramendi struggled to break into Madrid’s first XI and moved back to San Sebastian for half the original fee just two years later.
A solid defensive midfielder, Illarramendi helped Sociedad qualify for the Champions League last season before moving to the MLS and FC Dallas. A nice symmetry.
English fans probably remember Drenthe as one of Everton’s many, many failed transfer punts, but the winger was once considered one of Europe’s most exciting young players.
After an outstanding European Under-21 Championships with the Netherlands in 2007, Drenthe was snapped up by Madrid in a €14million deal and joined compatriots Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben at the Bernabeu.
But he never lived up to those high expectations and has spent his career in exotic locations like Abu Dhabi, Reading, Vladikavkaz and Murcia.
Now in his mid-30s, Drenthe is back in the Netherlands and turning out for Kozakken Boys. The side compete in Tweede Divisie, the highest amateur league of Dutch football.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Leon ever played for Real Madrid – but we doubt the player himself forgets his time working under Jose Mourinho.
After impressing at Getafe, Madrid splashed out €10million for his signature and proceeded not to play him much. In fact, we suspect Leon was bought solely to become a sacrificial lamb in Mourinho’s political manoeuvring.
After dropping Leon for a Champions League tie with Auxerre, the prickly Portuguese was asked why by the Spanish press and replied: “You talk of Pedro Leon as if he was [Zinedine] Zidane, [Diego] Maradona or [Alfredo] Di Stefano. I don’t have to justify his absence.”
A product of the Real Madrid academy, Adan largely acted as back-up goalkeeper to Iker Casillas during his three seasons as a first-team player.
Leaving the club in 2013, the Spaniard enjoyed a successful spell at Real Betis and slightly less successful periods at Cagliari and Atletico Madrid.
Now 36, Adan has spent the last three years in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon and his 100 appearances reflects his status as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.