Real Madrid is arguably the most decorated soccer club in Europe and a dream destination for every budding soccer star. Not only have they won the La Liga title 33 times, but Real Madrid’s historic Champions League success is almost untouchable. The club has attained a glorious reputation and kept on signing world-class players to try and improve themselves. While there have been legends to come and go from the club, there have also been talented players the club didn't put enough faith in.
There has been a flurry of player movement from Real Madrid over the decades, but the club has surprised people by foolishly releasing talented players in the past. For a player to succeed in Real Madrid, they have to start firing from the get-go, as players barely get time to settle in. It’s this kind of cut-throat approach which has prematurely ended the careers of many potential stars over the years. These players went on to become highly successful for other clubs, leaving Madrid to ponder over their mistakes. But there have also been players they clung onto for too long, despite them being undeserving of a spot in Madrid’s plans.
Let's look at the 10 Players Real Madrid gave up on too easily, and 10 they kept for too long.
20 Kept For Too Long: Mahamadou Diarra
One of Fabio Capello's much-wanted signings at Real Madrid, Mahamadou Diarra came to the club when he was in high-demand among many top European clubs. Diarra had proven himself to be a strong midfielder who protected his defense from exposure against attacks. He initially thrived under Real Madrid’s system and played a key role in Real Madrid’s La Liga success in the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons. But Diarra suffered a horrible injury early on in the 2008/09 season, which sidelined him for the entirety of the season. The unfortunate injury completely nullified his game, making Diarra lose his spot at Madrid. He only made eight appearances after recovering and was fortunate that Madrid kept him for so long after that injury ruined his game.
19 Gave Up On Easily: Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria’s sale in 2014 perplexed many Real Madrid fans, who questioned the decision after the Argentine’s pivotal work in winning the Champions League with Madrid. The dazzling winger was a dangerous force for Real Madrid, scoring 22 goals in 120 appearances and creating much more. Di Maria’s man-of-the-match performance at the 2014 Champions League final proved him to be an asset for Madrid. But Madrid thought he was on the decline and sold him to Manchester United. While he didn’t thrive at United, Di Maria has gone onto excel for Paris Saint-Germain. Di Maria has already scored 30 goals in under 100 appearances, proving it to be a mistake on Madrid’s part to let him go so easily.
18 Kept For Too Long: Esteban Granero
A Real Madrid academy graduate, Esteban Granero was initially sold off to Spanish side Getafe after failing to impress for Los Blancos’ reserve side. But Granero’s excellent work in La Liga compelled Madrid to sign him back in 2009 to help solidify their midfield. Granero was given his opportunities to shine in his debut season, but poor performances and sloppiness in his game cost him. He was soon reduced to make appearances from the bench, with his error-prone nature not being risked throughout the entirety of games. Towards the end, Granero became a full-time bench-warmer at Madrid because of his poor showing. Los Blancos retained him for almost four frustrating years and wasted much of their wage-revenue on Granero’s ineffective services.
17 Gave Up On Easily: Juan Mata
Many might be surprised to learn that Juan Mata is actually a Real Madrid product and played for their “Castilla” aka reserve team for a season as well. Mata was excellent for Real Madrid Castilla in the 2006/07 season, scoring 10 goals from attacking midfield. But he was surprisingly sold off by Madrid the next season, opting to sign for Valencia after Los Blancos showed no interest in retaining him. The Spaniard has gone onto enjoy a glittering career after leaving Madrid, scoring more than 80 goals and creating so much more. Mata’s proved to be a creative magician in attacking midfield and left Los Blancos ruing on letting the dazzling Spaniard leave the club so easily.
16 Kept For Too Long: Fernando Gago
Fernando Gago was signed by Madrid because of his creativity and steel at the center of the park, which helped him succeed for Argentinian club Boca Juniors. Gago was quite the star initially in Real Madrid’s midfield, giving some strong performances and often providing decent assists in his deep-lying playmaker role. But as the years wore on, Gago’s influence in midfield withered and some injuries didn’t help his case either. When Jose Mourinho arrived, Gago would completely lose his place in the team, with Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira preferred ahead of him. In reality, Gago was kept at the club for too long and should’ve been sold way earlier after signs of decline were noticed in his performances.
15 Gave Up On Easily: Esteban Cambiasso
Real Madrid signed Esteban Cambiasso with an eye for the future, with the energetic Argentine impressing his early years at Argentina. But it was due to the overwhelming number of stars at Madrid back then which didn’t allow Cambiasso to get many starts. Cambiasso gave some impressive performances for Los Blancos but would be reduced to the bench mostly because of the “Galacticos” in Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and David Beckham comprising Madrid's midfield. Cambiasso only made around 40 appearances for Real Madrid, who allowed him to sign for Inter Milan on a free in 2004. That would be one of their biggest mistakes ever, as Cambiasso went onto become a legend for Inter and made Madrid regret their decision of letting him go prematurely.
14 Kept For Too Long: Pepe
Despite his impact in defense, Pepe was an extremely unpredictable defender for Real Madrid throughout his long-stretched stint. Madrid paid FC Porto more than $30 million in 2007 for his services, something which didn’t go to waste. He might’ve been a rash defender, but Pepe was strong defensively and kept a pretty good record for Los Blancos. While he did get involved in an awful lot of controversy after being sent off numerous times in his Madrid career, Pepe’s game started to regress after around 2014. He started to react slowly to attacking threats and didn’t look as fit and agile as he once was. Madrid retained Pepe’s services for a decade, which seemed too much knowing his regression halfway through the stint.
13 Gave Up On Easily: Gonzalo Higuain
It was at Real Madrid where Gonzalo Higuain started to thrive as a striker and after arriving from Boca Juniors, he became a terrorizing goal-scoring threat. Higuain turned out to be a menace for defenses in La Liga, scoring goals consistently and helping earn some valuable wins for Los Blancos. Higuain scored more than 100 goals and was an extremely clinical striking option for Madrid. But his underwhelming work in European competitions forced Madrid to sell him off to Napoli. This decision has haunted them since, as Higuain has since gone onto creating a storm in Serie A and scored more than 100 goals in it. Higuain had aged like fine wine and is making Los Blancos regret letting him go so easily.
12 Kept For Too Long: Raul Albiol
Raul Albiol had his topsy-turvy moments in Real Madrid but struggled to maintain consistency in his game throughout his stint with Los Blancos. Albiol started many games for Madrid in his debut season, mainly due to their shortcomings in the defensive end. But he made too many defensive errors which caused problems for Los Blancos and was benched the next season. Jose Mourinho mostly used him in Cup Competitions, but Albiol’s poor performances consistently frustrated the fans. Despite his poor showing, Albiol was handed a contract renewal in 2012 which proved his understanding with the club. Albiol was kept for way too long by Los Blancos, who suffered a lot of trouble because of his poor defensive skills.
11 Gave Up On Easily: Mesut Ozil
After his FIFA World Cup heroics, Real Madrid capitalized on the hype on Mesut Ozil to sign up the German playmaker to bring back the missing spark in their game. Ozil blended into Madrid’s system like fish to water and helped them regain the reputation as one of European soccer’s best. Ozil was an absolute machine in creating goals for Madrid, assisting 60 goals and making 17 assists on two separate occasions for them. He made more than 100 appearances for Los Blancos and scored more than 20 goals, but was sold off surprisingly in 2013. Ozil’s amazing work as the creative genius of Arsenal has made selling him look even more stupid, and Los Blancos must be ruining letting him go so easily.
10 Kept For Too Long: Alvaro Arbeloa
Alvaro Arbeloa was a long-serving player for Real Madrid and had multiple stints with the club, as he was initially released after failing to impress. After an impressive stint with Liverpool, Madrid signed him back in 2009 to give him another chance. Arbeloa was quite solid defensively in his first few years at Madrid, making the right-back spot his own with impressive work in defense. Despite making more than 150 appearances for Madrid, age caught up to him and affected his performances after a point. Arbeloa became a fringe player for Madrid in his final years, making only sporadic appearances. Arbeloa was held onto for too long by Los Blancos and should’ve been sold off earlier to try and resuscitate his career elsewhere.
9 Gave Up On Easily: Arjen Robben
There were many expectations from Arjen Robben when he signed with Real Madrid in 2007, but they never really gave him the breathing room he needed. Robben was required to score or create something for Madrid almost every game and was unnecessarily criticized if he failed to do so. He had a decent stint in Madrid, scoring 11 goals in 50+ appearances for the club. Robben was unlucky to be with the club during a dark phase for them and was shipped off in 2009. But that decision came back to bite Real Madrid, as Robben has gone on to become a legend at Bayern Munich. He’s won many titles and created special moments with them and made Madrid regret leaving him so prematurely.
8 Kept For Too Long: Alfonso Perez
Alfonso Perez was brought into the Real Madrid team at a very young age when he signed with Los Blancos at 18 years old. Perez was one of the standout performers in Madrid’s youth academy and was brought up to become a world-class striker. But having played too long as an understudy to their starting strikers, Perez lost his grip and couldn’t really show much improvement. He mostly played as a substitute and scored only 13 goals in around 88 appearances for the club. Perez showed little signs of development in his years at Madrid and was lucky to retain a place on their bench. Perez was kept for too long by Madrid, who retained him for four years before selling him.
7 Gave Up On Easily: Wesley Sneijder
Wesley Sneijder’s fine work at Ajax sparked the interest of Real Madrid, who signed him in 2007 to add more dutch flavor to their squad. Sneijder was known to be a really creative, hard-working attacker but needed time to reach his best after making a big move to Madrid. But Los Blancos didn’t have any time to spare for him and after he started pegging down on goals and assists, they started losing faith in him. Sneijder was sold in 2009 after making about 50 appearances for Madrid, a decision which turned out to be bad for the club. Sneijder reached his absolute peak at Inter, winning the Champions League the next season and making Madrid rue their decision at of selling him prematurely.
6 Kept For Too Long: Peter Dubovsky
Peter Dubovsky was a promising striker when Real Madrid snapped him up in 1993, hoping to put an end to their striking issues. Dubovsky had earned the reputation of a potent goalscorer whilst playing at Slovakia, but he crumbled under the spotlight at Madrid. Dubovsky made 26 appearances in his first season for the club, scoring only two goals at that. His horrible work in his debut season was itself enough for Madrid to ship him off, but he was retained for another year. But then-manager Jorge Valdano didn’t want the inefficient striker anywhere near his team and reduced him to the bench. Dubovsky was finally sold in 1995, with his two years itself seeming like he was retained for too long.
5 Gave Up On Easily: Claude Makelele
Claude Makelele was one of Real Madrid’s most underappreciated players during his stint with the club during the early 2000s. Makelele was considered among the world’s best holding midfielders during his time at Real, where his steel and energy in midfield made him an omnipresent figure in midfield. Despite making close to 100 appearances for Real and being key to their success, Makelele wasn’t really valued that high as the “Galacticos”. Real nonchalantly sold him to Chelsea in 2003 after he asked for a salary-raise, something which came back to haunt them badly as Makelele soared at Chelsea. He won the Premier League twice and gained the reputation as the world’s best midfield, leaving Los Blancos to regret their decision for giving him up so soon.
4 Kept For Too Long: Fabio Coentrao
It is still a mystery why Real Madrid retained Fabio Coentrao for a prolonged period despite the left-back doing nothing of note for years. Coentrao was signed in 2011 to help with their left-back problems but found stiff competition from Marcelo. He was often switched with Marcelo and used as a center-midfielder at times to accommodate Madrid’s system. Despite impressing in his initial years, injuries tore apart Coentrao’s promising career. Madrid showed valuable loyalty in keeping him for many years, despite him making only a handful of appearances. Two loan moves didn’t help Coentrao either, as he made only 60 appearances in seven years with Madrid. Coentrao ended up having to himself terminate his contract with Madrid to free them of his presence last year.
3 Gave Up On Easily: Samuel Eto’o
Samuel Eto’o's amazing work for Barcelona has made almost everyone almost forget that he was actually a product of the Real Madrid academy. The striker from Cameroon had started his career in Madrid, but never got the attention he deserved. Eto’o played many games for Real Madrid’s youth team and only made three appearances for the senior team. Madrid was apparently not happy with his development at the club and thinking him as an average player, sold him off in 2000. That would turn out to be a bad decision, as Eto’o came back to haunt them many times as a Barca player. Madrid made a significant error in judging Eto’o’s talents and sold off a world-class player like him too early.
2 Gave Up On Easily: Clarence Seedorf
Having the reputation of being one of the most hard-working midfielders of his time, Real Madrid couldn’t really make the most use of Clarence Seedorf’s talents. Los Blancos opted to sell him off prematurely and at a time when he was started to rise into the prime form of his career. Seedorf was a highly energetic figure for Madrid, making more than 100 appearances for them. But he hadn’t reached his prime form during his stint at Madrid. He was sold off at the age of 23 and hit top gear after moving to Italy. Seedorf became an AC Milan legend, winning the Champions League and Serie A title multiples times with them and making Madrid rue giving up on him so easily.
1 Kept For Too Long: Savio Bortolini
Savio Bortolini showed signs of the Brazilian flair in his game, which enticed Real Madrid to sign up the dazzling winger in 1998. While it wasn’t a bad signing by Los Blancos, Savio’s contribution to Madrid was only in patches. He made more than 100 appearances for the club, but scored only around 16 goals and gave a similar number of assists. Savio’s pace and trickery was a menace for Spanish clubs initially, but his style became too predictable after the first few seasons. He shouldn’t have managed to stay almost five years at the club with his underwhelming work towards the end. Madrid kept Savio associated with them for way too long, as he should’ve made way for better plays much sooner.