The 4 players Madrid signed along with Gareth Bale and how they fared

Quick Reads

Gareth Bale’s legacy at Real Madrid is up for debate but one thing that’s indisputable is the great success he enjoyed across his nine years in Spanish capital.

The Wales international won no fewer than five Champions League titles during his time at the Bernabeu. He played a prominent role in four of those triumphs – who could forget that overhead kick against Liverpool in 2018? – before falling to the periphery in his final season.

A reluctance to engage in the Spanish language and that “Wales, Golf, Madrid” flag ensured that some Madridistas didn’t take Bale to their hearts, but nevertheless he left the club with his head held high.

In 2013, though, he was not the only arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. Alongside Bale, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid signed four other players to strengthen the Italian manager’s squad. Here, we take a look at how each of them have fared since.

Dani Carvajal

Carvajal wasn’t exactly a new face around the Valdebebas training ground when he turned up in 2013.

The young Spaniard was Madrid through and through. He’d been at the club since the age of 10, he’d helped lay the foundation stone of Valdebebas itself, he’d captained the club’s Real Madrid Castilla reserve side for two seasons. But, aged 20 and unable to break into Jose Mourinho’s first team, he’d been sold to Bayer Leverkusen in 2012 for €5million.

Yet aware of Carvajal’s potential, Los Blancos had inserted a buy-back clause into the contract. After a single season of the right-back proving himself in the Bundesliga, Madrid activated that clause and repatriated him for €6.5million. It’s proved a decent bit of business.

Carvajal got straight into the Madrid starting XI upon his return and has rarely been dislodged since, becoming a trusted lieutenant of Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.

After the third of his five Champions League successes with the club in 2017, Marca ran an article asking if he is the best right-back in Real Madrid history. We’d say yes. But they probably weren’t asking us, were they?

Casemiro

When Casemiro left Sao Paulo in 2012, a lot of the Brazilian club’s fans were glad to see the back of him. Sao Paulo fans are among the world’s least patient and had booed him for his perceived lack of fight while Casemiro was making his name as a teenage midfielder.

Still, Real saw enough potential to spend €6million on him in the summer of 2013 and, despite him taking a while to settle, it has proved the wisest of investments, with Casemiro going on to become one of the finest holding players in world football.

Since returning from a loan at Porto in 2014-15, Casemiro has been an indispensable part of the Madrid starting line-up, adored by Zidane for his discipline and ability to shield the defence, allowing Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to get forward and create.

In 2020, the Guardian asked Casemiro the key to his success. “It’s not the legs, it’s the mind that’s in charge,” he said. “You have to be strong, aggressive: I like challenges, contact. But you play with your head; I always thought the key was thinking: being better positioned, seeing the move before it happens.”

He’s since left for Manchester United – for a tidy profit, no less. We’re sure it’s only a matter of time before he starts showing his quality in the Premier League.

READ: Six signings that didn’t get enough credit for helping transform their clubs

Asier Illarramendi

In the first half of the last decade, Madrid’s plan was to snap up all of the best young Spanish players and mould them into superstars capable of winning league titles and European Cups. While not a complete failure, the plan was not really that successful either, as evidenced by the fact there are no Madrid players in the Spain squad for the Euros in 2021.

Illarramendi certainly falls into the ‘not-as-good-as-we’d-hoped’ category.

The then 23-year-old was signed from Real Sociedad for €32.2million, touted as a long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso and a future first-choice Spain midfielder. He really struggled to settle in the Spanish capital, however, and made just 25 league starts over two seasons before being sold back to Real Sociedad for half the fee Madrid had paid.

In 2020, he told Ibon Zugasti’s YouTube channel: “[Madrid] is a whole different world, it’s one of the world’s best clubs and is nothing like Real Sociedad.

“I arrived there and suffered two injuries during the pre-season, and then I struggled a bit when I started to play, I just didn’t do what I could do on a pitch, and that cost me.

“I was young and I had a different mentality, I lacked self-confidence in key moments, something you learn with experience. That was the key, I lacked self-confidence.”

Still, David Moyes was worried about him when Real Sociedad met Madrid in 2014. So worried Illarramendi’s name caused the current West Ham boss to short circuit…

Isco

Another one of the young Spaniards signed as part of the aforementioned transfer policy, Isco’s time at Real Madrid is quite difficult to define.

He arrived from Malaga for €30million dubbed the “most promising young player in Spanish football” by an expectant press pack, and at times his magical ability to manipulate the ball and twist and turn past defenders in tight spaces saw him become a vital cog in the Madrid machine, as he was when playing at the tip of Zidane’s midfield diamond during the run to the 2017 Champions League.

Over the last couple of years, though, his influence waned considerably when he should have been at his peak. He has proved incapable of filling the rather large Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped void and was shunned by Zidane and Ancelotti in the past couple of seasons.

Isco is now at Sevilla, looking to rekindle his career after drifting somewhat.


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