No team in football history has had a more high-profile approach to the transfer market than Real Madrid, especially in the modern era. The 'Galacticos' policy implemented by club president Florentino Perez gave Real's approach to the transfer market even greater notoriety, and their sheer spending power is emphasized by the fact that the last 5 world record fees were all set by Real Madrid. You have to go back 16 years to 2000 when Lazio signed Hernan Crespo for the last record fee not set by Los Blancos.
Despite the huge fees forked out by the Spanish giants, they have still often been considered shrewd pieces of business, securing some of the finest players on the planet come to the club. Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo are all examples of enormous but justified Real Madrid transfers.
We have previously compiled a list of the worst ever Real Madrid players, but there are only three players who have managed to make both lists. Some of the players on this list were/are exceptional footballers, but either commanded hugely inflated fees, flopped massively at Real or had some other negative impact at the club. Here are the top 15 worst Real Madrid signings:
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15 Thomas Gravesen
A solid enough player for any middle of the road team, but never a Real Madrid player. Thomas Gravesen was always decent in his five years at Everton that immediately preceded his move to the Spanish capital, but not exactly exceptional, and it certainly raised a few eyebrows when Real came in for the player. Gravesen did not command a massive transfer fee like many on this list, costing the club around $5 million, however he had a torrid time in Madrid. Benched early on, he had a training ground scuffle with Robinho, was unpopular with the fans and was publicly criticized by manager Fabio Capello. He left the club for Celtic after a single season.
A World Cup winner who arrived at Real Madrid with more than 70 caps for Brazil to his name, Emerson seemed like a sensible enough signing by Los Blancos. He joined the club from Juventus, following their enforced relegation to Serie B as a consequence of the calciopoli scandal, for a fee of over $20 million. It was the third time Emerson had followed manager Fabio Capello, but for the first time it was not to be a happy marriage.
Emerson played poorly and by January he was requesting a return to Juventus. He left Real after just one season, having played 28 games, joining AC Milan. Real Madrid took a €10 million hit on Emerson in just 12 months.
13 Perica Ognjenovic
Truly one of the worst players to ever don the famous white shirt of Real Madrid, Perica Ognjenovic had an absolute nightmare during his two years in La Liga. He joined the club at the age of 22, considered one of Serbia's brightest prospects, having become a full international at 18 and having more than 100 appearance for Red Star to his name when he made the transfer in 1999. He was not overly expensive, costing the club just over $3 million, but he was dreadful in the 12 games he played and released on a free after just two years at the Bernabeu.
12 Julien Faubert
The fact that Julien Faubert was only ever on-loan to Real Madrid, and therefore never made any serious financial damage to the club (a $2 million loan fee) is why he fails to trouble the upper reaches of this list. Were it a list of the most bizarre Real Madrid transfers, no-one would get close to Faubert. A bit-part player at West Ham when Real came calling, the football world all had to double take when they saw the France one-cap wonder had joined the club on-loan until the end of the season. He made only two appearances whilst at Real, and being pictured asleep on the bench during a game was probably the highlight of his move.
11 Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka was a big-money move for Real Madrid, when they snapped up the then 20-year-old forward from Arsenal for a fee of almost $40 million in 1999. Anelka, who broke into the PSG team at 17 and won his first France cap at 19 was very highly-rated as a youngster, but his time in Spain was not particularly memorable. He lasted only a single season, scoring twice in 19 appearances before returning to his first club PSG. Despite being an expensive flop, Anelka also doesn't trouble the top spots of this list as Real recovered almost ever penny they spent on the Frenchman with his sale, losing only $500,000.
10 Pedro Munitis
Far cheaper than Anelka but resulting in a far bigger loss for Real, Pedro Munitis was a terrible signing whichever why you look at it. The diminutive forward, standing at just 5 feet and 5 inches, joined Real having impressed for Racing Santander. He spent three seasons in the capital, one of which was spent out on loan, and played 53 games in that time, scoring a measly 4 goals. Having signed for $8 million, Los Blancos sold Munitis for less than $1 million three years later, back to Racing Santander, where he went on to form an almost comical little and large strike partnership with 6 foot 8 inch striker Nikola Zigic.
9 Javier Saviola
Unusual for this list in that Javier Saviola was in fact a free transfer for Real Madrid, his large pay packet ensures that his place on this list is well-justified. Undoubtedly talented, huge things were expected of Saviola early in his career, when he was labelled as the 'next Maradona'.
Given a lucrative three-year deal by Los Blancos, Saviola lasted only two, in which time he scored 5 goals in 29 games, before being sold to Benfica. Saviola found some form in Portugal, but has ultimately never lived up to the early promise he showed. Now aged 34, he is currently at River Plate, where he has failed to score in his first five games.
8 Asier Illarramendi
The most recent signing on this list, Asier Illarramendi joined Real Madrid as Xabi Alonso's time at the club was coming to an end. Illarramendi arrived at the Bernabeu off the back of three mightily impressive years at Real Sociedad, but it wasn't to be in the capital. Although he featured regularly, 90 appearances in two years, many were off the bench, and he failed to convince coaches and supporters alike that he was capable of playing at the highest level.
The defensive midfielder cost Real Madrid over $35 million, the most they have ever spent on a Spanish player, and returned to Real Sociedad 24 months later for half that price.
7 Walter Smauel
If there is one position in which Real Madrid have struggled over the last couple of decades it is without doubt in central defence. Walter Samuel was one of many players who arrived with the intention of remedying these woes and failed, but what sets Samuel apart was his price tag. He joined Real from Roma in 2004, for a fee well in excess of $30 million.
The then 26-year-old Argentine arrived at the club with a wealth of experience, having played around 150 games in both Argentina and Europe, and having won almost 50 caps for his country already. After just a year, Real were not impressed, and he returned to Serie A, joining Inter Milan, where he would spend the next nine years. As was the case with Emerson, Real took a €10 million hit on Samuel in 12 months
6 Flavio Conceicao
Flavio Conceicao was an utterly dreadful piece of business by Real Madrid. The Brazilian midfielder joined the club in 2000 from Deportivo La Coruna for a fee of $35 million, making him one of the most expensive players in the world at that time. Los Blancos forked out that amount of money, yet were happy to use the Brazilian international sparingly, often coming on off the bench. In four years at the club, Conceicao played only 45 league games, spending one season out on loan, before leaving for Galatasaray on a free transfer.
5 Antonio Cassano
An incredibly gifted footballer, Antonio Cassano could have been one of the stars of his generation, but he is now approaching the end of his career being better known for his short temper and controversy than his ability. The Italian playmaker's move to Real was a poor one for both player and club. Under the disciplinarian Fabio Capello it was a match made in hell.
Cassano wasn't given the freedom he had been at Roma, and therefore failed to impress at the Bernabeu; making headlines for the wrong reasons more often than not. Having signed for only $7.5 million, but on a lucrative deal, Cassano left after two years and 19 games, joining Sampdoria, although Real still had to pay around three quarters of his wages.
4 Elvir Baljic
Two-time Bosnian Footballer of the Year Elvir Baljic was another player who certainly had talent aplenty, but proved a woeful Real Madrid signing. For Baljic, it was injuries as much as anything that prevented him from impressing in the Spanish capital. He, like Conceicao, cost Real a fee in the region of $35 million, which would stand as a record fee for a player from ex-Yugoslavia for more than a decade, until Edin Dzeko joined Man City in 2011.
Baljic looked okay in his first few matches, before rupturing the cruciate ligaments in his left knee. He never bounced back, and made a total of 11 appearances in three years at the club, before leaving for nothing.
3 Royston Drenthe
Conversely to the likes of Flavio Conceicao and Elvir Baljic on this list, there were no raised eyebrows when Real Madrid forked out a princely fee in excess of $20 million for then 20-year-old Royston Drenthe. The youngster had been chased by many of Europe's big boys after impressing at the European U-21 Championships, and it was Real who eventually signed the Dutchman up. His promise never materialized though, and his decline over the last half decade or so has been remarkable.
Drenthe left Real Madrid in 2012 after a series of failed loan moves, and now plays for Abu Dhabi side Baniyas in the UAE Pro League.
A World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d'Or winner, Kaka is without doubt the most talented player on this list. When he joined Real Madrid from AC Milan in 2009, Kaka was seen as a modern Galacticos. The last man since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d'Or, Kaka cost Real Madrid an eye-watering $85 million, setting a world record transfer fee at that time, which was soon smashed by Real's signing of Ronaldo from Manchester United the same year.
Whilst Ronaldo has been a roaring success at the Bernabeu, Kaka was not. 29 goals and 32 assists from attacking midfield in the 120 games he played for the club shows that Kaka hadn't lost his class, but he failed to show the scintillating form of his years in Serie A which had led to his incredible price tag. After four years at Real he returned to AC Milan on a free transfer, and is well worthy of second place due to the incredible loss Real made on the player.
1 Jonathan Woodgate
Far cheaper than Kaka but far more disastrous than Kaka, Jonathan Woodgate simply had to top this list. There were some complaints when Woodgate missed out on our list of the worst ever Real Madrid players, but that is because the Englishman was in fact a very talented footballer, but that doesn't change the fact that he was a disastrous signing. Much of Woodgate's career has been plagued by injuries, and none more so than his time in Madrid. He joined Real from Newcastle in 2004 for $25 million, a fee that was considered generous by most given his injury troubles in the North East.
Injured upon arrival, there was more than a year between Woodgate signing for Real and Woodgate making his debut for the club. When his debut did arrive it was as comical as it was dreadful, as the England international scored an own goal before being sent off. He did find some form in 2005, becoming a regular starter in the Real defence, before injury struck once more. He failed to recover from this second blow, and left Real for Middlesbrough in 2007, for half what they had paid for him. He was named the worst signing of the 21st century by Spanish newspaper Marca, securing 37% of the votes.
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