– Must have at least appeared on the bench for either Barcelona or Real Madrid in a La Liga El Clasico.
Simple. It is a little difficult to find confirmed starting XIs for historic fixtures between these two sides, so it will include any meeting since December 2003. Why? Deal with it, that’s why.
GOALKEEPER: Jerzy Dudek
When Jerzy Dudek drags his sorry carcass around his local town centre, wearing his best £50 suit from Debenhams and handing his CV into McDonald’s despite knowing full well he’s got absolutely no chance of getting the job because he can’t drive and has no friends, any prospective employer must be relatively impressed by his work experience. A Dutch title with Feyenoord, a Champions League, an FA Cup and a Super Cup with Liverpool, a La Liga crown with Real Madrid and international caps at a World Cup is undeniably impressive. Not quite as impressive as it was that the officials during the 2005 Champions League final didn’t spot him almost crossing the halfway line during his penalty shootout heroics, but impressive nonetheless.
Dudek will list Real Madrid among his previous clubs, and he spent four years in the Spanish capital. What he will not hasten to add is that he made just two league appearances for the club. He appeared on the bench in a number of Clasicos, but never came close to wrestling a spot away from Iker Casillas.
“When Roberto Carlos left, I was the main right-back, Sergio Ramos was central and sometimes on the right, and then Michel Salgado was the third-choice full-back. Then Casillas gave the second captaincy to Salgado so he could play. That’s where these little groups started. Julio Baptista told me about it.”
Julio Baptista, you bloody grass. Cicinho was explaining his lack of games at Real Madrid in an interview with ESPN Brasil in July earlier this year. The Brazilian was signed from Sao Paulo in 2006, and made just 26 La Liga appearances. He started one Clasico – a 1-1 draw in April 2006. Classic.
CENTRE-BACK: Alvaro Mejia
A Real Madrid academy graduate, Alvaro Mejia stood little chance of breaking into the first team. From Walter Samuel to Ivan Helguera to Fabio Cannavaro, there was always at least two Galactico-shaped obstacles in the way. Now 34, the defender is currently starring for Qatari club Al-Shahaniya, which is lovely. But his Clasico record is a little mixed. He was an unused substitute in three games from 2004 to 2006, with Real losing all three and conceding six goals. After a hat-trick of disappointments however, he came on in the 34th minute of the aforementioned April 2006 Clasico, in which Roberto Carlos was sent off early on. What a hero.
CENTRE-BACK: Dmytro Chygrynskiy
Ask Pep Guardiola to revolutionise football while simultaneously being a fraud, and he’ll try his damnedest. Ask Pep Guardiola to wear Stone Island jumpers every day, and he’ll somehow still be the most stylish man in the room. But ask Pep Guardiola to sign a defender, and you get Dmytro Chygrynskiy. One of Barcelona’s many failed attempts at doing the whole ‘signing good centre-halves’ thing, Chygrynskiy was a man capable of putting even Tony Pulis off. Still just 30, he is now on the books at AEK Athens. The Ukrainian was a €25million purchase for European champions Barca in summer 2009 however, and he lasted a mere season before leaving. He appeared on the bench in two Clasicos.
LEFT-BACK: Damia Abella
Just as Godwin’s Law dictates that any discussion on the internet will eventually include reference to Adolf Hitler, Juninho’s Law states that any conversation about football – any conversation about football – is no more than three steps away from mentioning Middlesbrough. And so it comes to pass that Boro alumnus Abella, who left the Premier League club upon their promotion in the summer, takes his rightful place in this side. He played six league games for Aitor Karanka’s team from 2014 to 2016; he made two El Clasico appearances for Barcelona from 2004 to 2006.
RIGHT-WINGER: Antonio Nunez
This XI doesn’t have quite enough former Liverpool Champions League winners, does it? Time to amend that, as Jerzy Dudek is joined by Anfield legend Antonio Nunez. The Spaniard arrived at the club in summer 2004, made five appearances in Djimi Traore’s fairytale charge to becoming a European champion, then left the following year. He moved from Real Madrid, Los Blancos having chucked him into an £8million deal to sign Michael Owen. Before he departed the Spanish capital however, he managed a six-minute appearance as a substitute in April 2004.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Pablo Gabriel Garcia
Perhaps the most Spanish-sounding Uruguayan man of all time, Garcia, or PGG as his friends call him, spent three years at Real Madrid. Now, most footballers who spend three years at Real Madrid can claim to have won at least one trophy during their spell. But Garcia managed to mix an opening debut campaign where he fought Thomas Gravesen for a starting spot in 2005 with a demotion to RM Castilla. It is here where his journey ended, but it did take in two Clasico defeats.
CENTRAL MIDFIELDER: Julien Faubert
God, this was weird. A player who struggled to truly establish himself at West Ham upon joining in 2007, Julien Faubert somehow found himself on Real Madrid’s transfer shortlist two years later. He moved to the Spanish side on loan in January 2009, making just two appearances in his short stay. His Wikipedia entry includes the following sentence: ‘His loan with Real Madrid was underwhelming.’
Excellent. That his solitary appearance in a matchday squad for an El Clasico came in Barca’s 6-2 win in May 2009 is obviously a massive coincidence.
LEFT-WINGER: Royston Drenthe
If you didn’t expect to see a former Middlesbrough player in this side, the chances are you did not foresee the inclusion of a Reading and Sheffield Wednesday legend. Royston Drenthe’s brief spell in England when he departed for the Turkish second division in 2015. The Dutchman’s descent from the top was hilariously rapid – he was at Real in 2012 and then played for Reading in 2013. A five-year stint with the Spanish giants from 2007 is comfortably his longest tenure at any one club, and it included a full 90-minute Clasico in December 2008.
STRIKER: Javier Portillo
One of 427 ‘next Rauls’, Javier Portillo enjoyed a fleeting period in the first team after breaking goalscoring records at youth level. The forward did not quite have the same success in a squad boasting the talents of his predecessor, as well as Ronaldo and the incomparable Julio Baptista. To his credit though, the 34-year-old did score five goals in ten games in his debut league campaign. He managed a 12-minute substitute appearance in a 2-1 Clasico win in December 2003, too.
STRIKER: Miguel Palanca
Who on earth is this chancer? Why, it’s Miguel Palanca. On the rebound from failing to land Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, Real settled for striker Palanca, who had scored 13 goals in 49 La Liga games for Espanyol. Still just 28, the forward made only three La Liga appearances for Real. He made his bloody debut in a Clasico. And we all remember that 2-0 Barcelona win so well.