Real Madrid signings ranked: The best and worst of Premier League buys from the Bernabeu

Date published: Saturday 27th August 2022 2:48 - Matthew Stead

Real Madrid's Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil

Casemiro is the 24th permanent signing a Premier League club has made from Real Madrid. Man Utd will be hoping he’s better than their first.


23) Angel di Maria (Manchester United, 2014, £59.7m)
The ‘complete fanny’
had obvious and understandable difficulties settling in England after his British record move. There was a tough transition for him and his family to the weather, food and “porcelain” women. An attempted burglary on his home was the final straw. And playing under the constraints of a Louis van Gaal team can’t have helped. Manchester United signed the man of the match from the most recent Champions League final and got four goals in return before selling Di Maria at a loss within the year.


22) Alvaro Arbeloa (West Ham, 2016, free)
A one-year contract granted Alvaro Arbeloa the unexpected opportunity to return to England with West Ham in 2016. His previous Premier League stint was spent as Liverpool’s starting right-back, man-marking Lionel Messi into anonymity at the Nou Camp and playing his part in an ill-fated title challenge. At West Ham he played four games, beating only Accrington, while providing back-up for Sam Byram before suffering a season-ending injury in December and being released into retirement upon the expiration of his deal.


21) James Rodriguez (Everton, 2020, free)
He joined to play under Carlo Ancelotti, who headed in the opposite direction a season into the Colombian’s two-year deal. He started with three goals and assists in the club’s first five games of the campaign. He suffered a couple of niggling injuries and began to wane as the weather turned. He took home £200,000 a week and joined for a fee initially reported to be £20m, then £12m and finally confusingly declared to be a free transfer. It’s a wonder that Everton have encountered financial problems.


20) Steve McManaman (Manchester City, 2003, free)
It was quite the summer for Steve McManaman in 2003. Sergio Garcia, the golfer, claimed that his friend was “talking to Arsenal”, while Everton also tried to tempt the midfielder back to Merseyside. Real Madrid, according to The Times, ‘cheekily offered’ to reduce their demands for Claude Makelele if Chelsea agreed to assume McManaman’s £3m-a-year wages. But it was Manchester City who pursued the European champion most keenly, even if supporters were soon made to regret that victory. Already 31 when he joined, he quickly gained a reputation for being too slow, injury prone and without that flair or sheen which brought him to the Bernabeu in the first place. With one off-pitch scandal further undermining his role as elder statesmen, McManaman’s time was done as soon as Kevin Keegan left in March 2005.


19) Alvaro Morata (Chelsea, 2017, £60m)
Sixteen Premier League goals in 47 games for Chelsea puts Alvaro Morata level with Moussa Sissoko, Neil Ruddock, Joseph-Desire Job and Joe Allen. That is some dinner party. The Blues somehow made almost all their money back – they always bloody do – but it was still another chapter in their doomed search to come close to Didier Drogba.


18) Antonio Nunez (Liverpool, 2004, part-exchange)
Currently the greatest Nunez to ever play for Liverpool, Antonio was a sweetener in the £8m Real Madrid purchase of Michael Owen. One of those fellas ended that 2004/05 season as a European champion. He is also the only Reds player whose solitary goal for the club came in a cup final.


17) Sergio Reguilon (Spurs, 2020, £25m)
It was all going so well at one point: Sergio Reguilon had reminded Tottenham fans what an attacking full-back looked like and all it cost Jose Mourinho was £500 and a leg of Spanish ham. But after starting eight of Antonio Conte’s first nine games as manager, the defender soon found himself out of the picture, has not even been named in a matchday squad this season and is being linked with Nottingham Forest. Perhaps he will embrace playing for an actual European champion again.


16) Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough, 2007, £7m)
After an initial loan spell with his hometown club, Middlesbrough made Jonathan Woodgate’s return to the north east permanent for £7m in April 2007. That infamously difficult time with Real Madrid had left a mark on the injury-prone centre-half but two seasons at the Riverside produced 52 games and two mid-table finishes before Tottenham came calling.


15) Fernando Morientes (Liverpool, 2005, £6.3m)
It felt like a transformative move for Liverpool at the time – Steven Gerrard described it as “good from a symbolic point of view that we’ve signed someone who’s so renowned as a world-class player” – but Fernando Morientes scored just 12 goals in 61 games. And he was cup-tied for the 2005 Champions League run.


14) Robinho (Manchester City, 2008, £32.5m)
That important first signing under the new owners was more Denis than Luis Suarez, even if Robinho did end on a relatively respectable 16 goals in 53 games before Manchester City shuffled him out of the door for less than half their initial outlay after two predictably tumultuous years.


13) Christian Karembeu (Middlesbrough, 2000, £2.1m)
Forty-two days after watching from the bench as Real Madrid beat Valencia in the Champions League final – and less than a week after watching from the bench as France beat Italy in the European Championship final – Christian Karembeu rocked up at Middlesbrough for one season of mid-table fun. The 1998 world champion ended up laying into the “amateurish” nature of the Premiership, in which the game was “played up in the air”. Such disrespect for Our League was not sanctioned by Steve McClaren, who sold him to Olympiacos within months of his appointment as manager.


12) Michel Salgado (Blackburn, 2009, free)
Having spent a month of his teenage years in Margate as part of a school student exchange arrangement, Michel Salgado always intended to return to England. Sam Allardyce offered him the chance when temporarily threatening to reignite his Bolton Galacticos half an hour down the road at Blackburn. The right-back was actually a regular starter at Ewood Park for a couple of campaigns in his mid-30s, with Rovers finishing 10th and 15th. But his time in the first team came to a stuttering end under Steve Kean, who explained how the club could not afford the new contract Salgado would earn if he played a certain number of games. Venky’s, that.


11) Michael Owen (Newcastle, 2005, £16m)
A brief sojourn in Madrid was enough for Michael Owen, who spent a year trying to acclimatise to the weather and food before sacking that off and doubling down the other way with a move to Newcastle. Their club-record signing until Miguel Almiron joined 14-and-a-half years later, the striker might have been content with a record of 30 goals in 79 games. But he was also a drain on their wages and left in acrimony upon their relegation, starting a bitter feud with interim manager Alan Shearer after accusations of putting himself before the club. “I don’t need to justify myself to f**king Newcastle fans,” probably sums it up.

Newcastle United Alan Shearer Michael Owen


10) Raphael Varane (Manchester United, 2021, £34m)
Once inexorably linked with Benjamin White, it is fairly tough to place Raphael Varane after one full Manchester United season. They have lost 14 Premier League games since he arrived to sort out their defence, but the centre-half’s injury problems mean he has only started four of those. It has been a frustrating period and it remains to be seen if the promise of that Liverpool win can be fulfilled for longer than a couple of weeks.


9) Davor Suker (Arsenal, 1999, £3.5m)
The first Premier League signing from Real Madrid was uncharacteristically of a relatively low profile. Davor Suker had won the World Cup Golden Boot a year earlier but the arrival of Nicolas Anelka pushed him down to fourth choice in the forward pecking order. The Croatian subsequently went in the opposite direction, moving to Arsenal as their fourth-choice striker behind Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Nwankwo Kanu. But Suker wanted to play in England ever since tasting the atmosphere during Euro ’96 and while there were no trophies to be won in north London, he cultivated the quite rare reputation as anti-super sub: 10 of his 11 goals came in his 14 starts, with only one scored from 25 matches from the bench.


8) Danilo (Manchester City, 2017, £26.5m)
During the Great Full-Back Changeover of summer 2017, Manchester City packed Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov off, with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo coming in. As the least expensive of the three recruits, Danilo played a bit-part role but did win two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup in a couple of years, before being sold at a technical profit to Juventus in the deal which saw Joao Cancelo effectively replace him.


7) Martin Odegaard (Arsenal, 2021, £30m)
It is only right to wait until Arsenal win their second golden Premier League trophy in May before launching Martin Odegaard further towards the top of this list. His move from Real Madrid to north London has been an undeniable success in any event, first as a taster on loan before eventually joining the revolutionary process for £30m. The 23-year-old has already been made captain and leapt above Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh in the list of all-time Arsenal top-flight league goalscorers.


6) Geremi (Chelsea, 2003, £6.9m)
“In my team I love to have Geremi on the bench because he’s a low-profile player who is ready to help, ready to fight for the team, ready to do the job I want him to do. If I need him to play right-back, he can play right-back. If I need him to play right-winger, he can play right-winger. If I need him to pick up a man and mark him out of the game, he does it.” The Cameroonian won two Premier League titles and, far more importantly, the heart of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.


5) Ivan Campo (Bolton, 2003, free)
Five years at the Bernabeu was enough for Ivan Campo, who joined Real Madrid in the summer after they won the Champions League in 1998, played the entirety of their 2000 final win over Valencia and didn’t even make the squad for the 2002 showpiece against Bayer Leverkusen. That setback came at the end of a season in which Campo played just five times, leading him to a loan at Bolton which was turned into a free transfer at the earliest possible chance. With the Spaniard at the base of their midfield, Bolton ventured into Europe and challenged their perception as long-ball merchants who couldn’t hang in more technical bouts.


4) Mesut Ozil (Arsenal, 2013, £42.4m)
As disastrously as it ended, with Mesut Ozil summarily ostracised, shifted off the wage bill, omitted from the club’s Premier and Europa League squads and making his last Arsenal appearance 10 months before his eventual exit, the beginning and middle was beautiful. The fan celebrations upon his club-record signing in 2013, the three FA Cups to stop a nine-year trophy drought, the Premier League assist records and that remarkable Ludogorets goal all contributed to almost a decade of service which shan’t be forgotten any time soon.


3) Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea, 2019, £40m)
An initial loan culminated in Europa League final glory against Arsenal in Baku. A first full season ended in him being named Chelsea Player of the Year. The next campaign concluded with a fourth Champions League winner’s medal. Other players more naturally dominate the headlines but there are precious few more important players to the Blues than Mateo Kovacic.


2) Rafael van der Vaart (Spurs, 2010, £8m)
Mind-numbingly frustrating as it surely can be, it is easy to see why Daniel Levy developed a habit for leaving his transfer business late. He engineered the last-gasp move for Rafael van der Vaart in 2010, with Tottenham swopping after Bayern Munich’s bid apparently fell through and Real Madrid had to depress their valuation of the Dutchman. It was a headline addition to the squad ahead of their first Champions League campaign, during which Van der Vaart scored twice en route to the quarter-final. His two full seasons in north London were fleeting but glorious, taking in 28 goals and 18 assists in 77 games.


1) Claude Makelele (Chelsea, 2003, £16m)
Zinedine Zidane’s “entire engine” became Claudio Ranieri’s “battery” and then a Mourinho “untouchable”. Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions over the past two decades but perhaps the most influential, important and metamorphic investment of all was on a 30-year-old European champion holding midfielder from Real Madrid.

Hold on…

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