The 4 players Madrid signed along with Gareth Bale and how they fared
With Carlo Ancelotti in the Real Madrid dugout and Gareth Bale in the Spanish capital after a spell at Tottenham, there’s been a major sense of deja vu at the Bernabeu this season.
Last time, the arrival of the two men helped Madrid win a tenth European Cup in the 2013-14 season. Ancelotti has enjoyed a superb return to the club, though this time Bale isn’t one of his trusted lieutenants – the Welshman has barely featured and will surely wave goodbye when his contract expires at the end of the season.
In 2013, though, they were not the only arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu. Alongside Bale, 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.
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 help 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 in 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 four 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?
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 names 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.”
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 this year.
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…
Your reminder of how David Moyes pronounces Asier Illarramendi’s name pic.twitter.com/mSZbAyPXO7
— Scott Saunders (@_scottsaunders) February 18, 2021
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 has 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 in 2020-21.
There has been plenty of talk of Isco, now 30, moving on from the Bernabeu, with Arsenal mooted as a destination when his contract expires at the end of the season. He’s only made three starts this season, hasn’t featured at all in the Champions League, and appears surplus to requirements.