The 10 players to play for both Man Utd and Real Madrid

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Rapahel Varane and Casemiro celebrate a Real Madrid goal. Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. May 2020.

Manchester United and Real Madrid are two of the biggest clubs in the world, meaning only a few players have both of them on their CV. 

Not many have turned out for both of the historic clubs, although in recent seasons that’s changed, with United making some marquee signings direct from the Spanish capital.

We’ve taken a look at the 10 players that have represented both clubs.

Laurie Cunningham

Having swapped the Hawthorns for the Bernabeu in the summer of 1979, Cunningham became the first English player to represent Real Madrid.

The winger won La Liga and the Copa del Rey in his debut season and famously received a standing ovation from Barcelona fans following a standout performance at the Camp Nou in February 1980.

“I don’t think his qualities were any less than Cristiano Ronaldo,” former Madrid team-mate Vicente Del Bosque said in 2013. “Madrid viewed him as one of the most distinguished footballers in Europe.

“It was a period when there weren’t many international signings and the club made a special effort financially to sign Laurie, to sign a star, because almost all the rest of us were from the youth team.”

After a series of injury problems hampered his progress, he returned to England in 1983 and joined Manchester United on loan, reuniting with former West Brom manager Ron Atkinson.

Cunningham only had a brief spell at Old Trafford, scoring one goal in five appearances. He left Madrid in 1984 and was sadly killed in a car accident five years later.

David Beckham

Part of the famous Class of ’92, Beckham came through the ranks at United and announced himself to the world with that goal against Wimbledon.

He then played a starring role in United’s historic treble success in 1998-99 before a flying boot signalled the end of his Old Trafford career four years later.

Despite appearing set for a move to Barcelona, the former England international ultimately joined Madrid in a £24.5million deal. 

He couldn’t have joined Los Blancos at a worse time, though, as the star-studded side went three seasons without winning a major trophy. 

The midfielder still produced regular moments of magic and signed off with a La Liga title before departing for MLS side LA Galaxy in 2007.

READ: 17 of the best quotes on David Beckham: ‘True winners are relentless’

Ruud van Nistelrooy

One of the most prolific goalscorers in United’s history, Van Nistelrooy netted 150 goals in 219 appearances during his five years at the club.

But the striker decided to leave Old Trafford following an explosive bust-up with Sir Alex Ferguson on the final day of the 2005-06 season.

Madrid swooped in, and he went on to score 53 goals in his first two seasons in Spain, winning back-to-back La Liga titles. After injuries began to take their toll during his third season, Van Nistelrooy moved to Bundesliga side Hamburg in 2010. 

“I never regretted it because it was finished, it was time to move on for me and the club,” Van Nistelrooy said when reflecting on his United career in 2015. “If I would have stayed, it would not have been the same. Real Madrid was a good move.

“Subconsciously, I was one or two per cent less hungry than I needed to be in the end at United. I was in a comfort zone, the fans loved me and I was taking it a little bit too easy. I can see that now.

“At Real Madrid, you arrive and they are saying ‘who are you?’ and you are just one of a number of names.”

READ: A tribute to Ruud van Nistelrooy and the playground art of goalhanging

Gabriel Heinze

Heinze joined United from PSG in 2004 and enjoyed a promising debut season, winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.

After falling behind Patrice Evra in the pecking order, he then angered United fans by trying to force a move to arch-rivals Liverpool in 2007.

Both sides brought in lawyers but Ferguson still refused to sanction the deal and accepted an £8million bid from Real Madrid instead. 

The former Argentina international won one La Liga title and made 58 appearances during his two years in Spain before moving to Marseille in 2009.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Signed as a direct replacement for Beckham in 2003, Ronaldo inherited the No.7 shirt and developed into one of the best players in the world.

But the forward wanted to follow in Beckham’s footsteps for a second time and went public with his desire to move to the Bernabeu.

Despite Ferguson insisting that he wouldn’t sell Madrid a virus, United eventually accepted an £80million bid for the Portugal international in 2009.

In Spain, Ronaldo’s game went to a whole new level as he scored 438 goals in 450 appearances and won two La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues in nine years.

The icon eventually returned to Old Trafford, at the age of 36, after three years at Juventus. The romantic reunion hasn’t quite worked out as he envisaged.

Michael Owen

The only player on this list who didn’t move directly between the two clubs, Owen started his career at Liverpool before joining Madrid in 2004.

“I had to go and sample it – the Galacticos, that white kit, where everyone prances about like an angel, that amazing stadium, a different culture,” Owen told FourFourTwo in 2019. 

He was overshadowed by the likes of Ronaldo and Raul and returned to England with Newcastle United in 2005, having scored 16 goals in 45 appearances for Real.

The Liverpool academy graduate joined Manchester United on a free transfer in 2009 after Ferguson was clearly impressed by his brochure.

While his time at Old Trafford was hampered by a series of injury problems, it was worth it for that 96th-minute winner against Manchester City.

Angel Di Maria

Having earned plenty of admirers during his time at Benfica, Di Maria became Jose Mourinho’s first signing at Madrid in 2010 and starred alongside Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.

Despite producing a man-of-the-match performance in the 2014 Champions League final, he was allowed to leave following James Rodriguez’s arrival.

The Argentina international joined Manchester United in a £59.7million deal and hit the ground running with three goals in his first five Premier League games, including a fabulous chipped effort against Leicester City.

But everything went downhill from there, and he was shipped out to Paris Saint Germain for around £44million in 2015. 

“I only stayed one year. It wasn’t the best period of my career, or they didn’t let me have my best time there,” Di Maria told France Bleu in February 2019.

“There were problems with the coach at the time. But thanks to God, I was able to come to PSG and be myself again.”

READ: An ode to Angel Di Maria at Real & the best assist you’ve never seen

Javier Hernandez

While Hernandez was never the main man at United, he still managed to score 59 goals in all competitions across four seasons as a regular first-team player.

After being deemed surplus to requirements by Louis van Gaal, Chicharito completed a surprise loan move to Real Madrid in August 2014.

The striker failed to establish himself as a regular in the team and Los Blancos unsurprisingly chose not to take up their option to buy at the end of the season. 

One memorable moment did come of Hernandez’s time at Real, with him scoring the winner in the Champions League quarter-final against bitter rivals Atletico.

Raphael Varane

The Frenchman was billed as a transformative signing for Manchester United when he was signed from Real Madrid in the summer of 2021.

There was no questioning his pedigree, with four Champions League titles with Los Blancos as well as the World Cup with Les Bleus. But he struggled for form and fitness during his debut season with the Red Devils, who registered their lowest-ever Premier League points tally in 2021-22.

There are some encouraging signs that Varane may be back to his Madrid best following the arrival of new boss Erik ten Hag and new centre-back partner Lisandro Martinez. Watch this space.


Like Varane and Ronaldo, there’s no questioning Casemiro’s credentials as a proven winner.

The Brazil international formed part of an era-defining midfield alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric at Real Madrid. He won the Champions League five times, made over 300 appearances, and waved farewell as a La Liga champion.

Casemiro is a very different profile of midfielder to Ten Hag’s top target Frenkie de Jong, and so far the Dutch coach is practising patience with the marquee signing. His only start to date was in a Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad, but we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before he’s bossing midfield battles in the Premier League.

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