Able I Was Ere I Saw The Bernabeu

A scary place, indeed.

Forgive the awful bastardization of the famous Napoleon quote, but it perfectly illustrates an observation I’ve noted for some time now but never put it to pen (or keyboard, natch). In a nutshell, have you ever noticed how many star players who sign for Real Madrid never quite recover from the experience? It seems to happen an awful lot. Some suffer serious injuries and never regain the form they showed before signing with the Spanish giants. Others enjoy a brief spell of success before succumbing to the intense pressure of competing for a spot on the squad. Then they get loaned out or transferred somewhere but they’re never as good as they were before they put on the famous white kit. Below the jump, a brief list of guys who, crystal ball in hand, never would have signed for Los Merengues.

1. Michael James Owen.

Perhaps the posterboy for this yet-to-be named phenomenon, Owen had already achieved legendary status at Liverpool when he signed for Madrid in 2004, and he had also started to show signs of an injury-prone future that would plague him. Despite a decent year in which he scored 18 goals in 41 games, Owen spent more than half those games on the bench, and was promptly sold to Newcastle the following summer. He’s never been the same since. More than a hundred goals over 8 years with the Reds, barely 31 goals in the 7 years since leaving the Bernabeu. And now he plays for Stoke. I rest my case.

2. Javier Pedro Saviola Fernández.

You could probably argue that it was really Real’s Catalan rivals who derailed Saviola’s future, since he signed from Barsa after two seasons on loan. However, signing for Real was supposed to revitalize the career of a dynamic player who was only 25 at the time. Back when he left River Plate for La Liga, the Little Mouse was drawing the old Maradona comparisons, and a lot of the praise was deserved. He won a U20 World Cup with Argentina and scored goals seemingly at will with River. When he signed for Real, I thought he would get his career back on track after being hosed by Barcelona. It didn’t play out that way, and Saviola left Madrid for Benfica after two seasons mostly on the bench. He’s had a lot of success with the Portuguese club and just signed for Málaga (scored in a CL match, even!), but this was a kid who was destined for bigger things than winning the Portuguese league cup. Was it all Real’s fault? No, but they didn’t help, either.

Real’s worst signing ever?

3. Jonathan Simon Woodgate.

You’ve been waiting for this one. Woodgate’s impressive early years at Leeds got him signed to Newcastle, which afforded him a spot in the European shop window. Despite injury problems in his one year at Newcastle, he drew attention by shutting down Drogba in Newcastle’s UEFA Cup semi against Marseille (remember when Drogba played for Marseille? Me neither.). Despite being injured at the time, Real signed him in 2004. Stupid choice I guess, but maybe they thought they could bring him back around. Not so much. He played less than 10 games in two seasons there, had some lousy games when he did play, and pretty soon found himself on loan at Middlesborough. He managed to turn that into a spell at Tottenham where he was, you guessed it, injured most of the time. He’s back at Middlesborough these days, but one wonders how things would have been different for him had he never set foot at the Bernabeu.

4. Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite (Kaká).

Kaká has had some good times at Madrid, hasn’t he? Yet there’s no denying he looked much more dangerous back in his Milan days, and lately he can’t even get off the bench for something as trivial as an early round Copa del Rey match (maybe I’m exaggerating). The point is, when Kaká signed for Real, he seemed destined for even greater heights of soccer glory. Instead, he’s spent a lot of time playing second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo and just about any other attacking player who joins the club. His struggles to compete for a spot at Madrid have also cost him face time with the Brazilian national team, where he is no longer viewed as a key player.

What say you, beloved readers/spambots? Am I way off-base here? Can you name another player whose trajectory to the halls of soccer Valhalla was derailed by Madrid (Redondo, Gago, Robinho, maybe)? Do you have a clever name for this disease? Who will be the next to suffer from it (*cough*Modric*cough*)? Let us know.

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