Real Madrid, more so than any other club on Earth, have a reputation for 'ruining' great players. The FIFA Club of the Twentieth Century and the most valuable sports team on the planet, Real are renowned for their high-profile transfer dealings. Always at the forefront of securing the world's top talents, going back as far as the 1950's, it has been most observable since the implementation of the 'Galacticos' policy by club president Florentino Perez, which began in 2000.
The theory is that every summer Real sign at least one high-profile and/or world class player. Some 'Galacticos' include the likes of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale and Kaka. The advantage of this policy is that Real recruit some of the most talented footballers in the world. The negative is that it often leads to players having huge pressure on them and being given very limited opportunities to prove their worth.
Most players find it difficult to turn down the lure of the Bernabeu and playing for one of the most illustrious and successful teams in sport. So many players have seen their careers go downhill at Real that it has its own term, the 'Bernabeu Bite'. By 'ruined' we mean the player was not the same in a Real shirt as previously. Some came back after their failure in the Spanish capital, others never recovered and were truly ruined.
Here are the top 15 soccer stars who were ruined by Real Madrid:
15 Asier Illaramendi
The most expensive Spaniard that Real Madrid have ever bought, Asier Illaramendi's time at the Bernabeu was rather forgettable. Having become a mainstay in Real Sociedad's midfield at the age of 20 and a member of Spain's U-21 Euro 2013 winning squad. In the summer of 2013, he joined Real Madrid. In two years at the club, starts were rare, and one of the best prospects in Spanish football became a forgotten man. He rejoined Sociedad in 2015, with Real making roughly a $25 million loss on the midfielder.
14 Fabio Cannavaro
13 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
12 Rafael van der Vaart
11 Javier Saviola
10 Walter Samuel
9 Michael Owen
8 Esteban Cambiasso and Fernando Gago
7 David Beckham
6 Nuri Sahin
5 Antonio Cassano
Anyone who is a fan of Serie A and saw Antonio Cassano turn out for either Bari or Roma between 1999 and 2006 won't need reminding just how good a player Cassano was. Gifted with incredible technique and vision, Cassano could well have gone down as one of the finest players of his generation, instead he went down as a talented but tainted star, better known for his poor attitude and short temper than beguiling defenders and making supporters jaws drop.
4 Wesley Sneijder
3 Nicolas Anelka
2 Arjen Robben
Of all the players 'ruined' by Real Madrid, none come close to Kaka. The Samba star arrived at the Bernabeu as one of, if not the, best player on the planet, and left a broken man. A World Cup, Champions League, Serie A, Ballon d'Or and World Player of the Year winner prior to joining Real. His only honors since leaving the club are being an MLS All-Star and an MLS All-Star MVP, rather lesser achievements, with all due respect to North American soccer, especially for a player of Kaka's caliber, who was only 31 when he left the club.
The 2002 World Cup winner became the second most expensive footballer in history when he joined Real Madrid in 2009 from AC Milan. The combination of pressure, injuries and the introduction of Mesut Ozil made the move a major flop. In the four years Kaka spent at Real, Barcelona reigned supreme. He made a total of 120 appearances, scoring 29 goals, and left to return to Milan in 2013, but failed to reignite his career. Kaka is now playing in the MLS for Orlando City.
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