Some of the Managing Madrid crew wanted to pay tribute to former Real Madrid players who touched their hearts in some capacity. So here we are — a brief salute to our former legends, all of whom left their prints and helped build the prestigious image of Real Madrid and what it is today.
To truly understand the importance of Raul to Real Madrid, you’d have to rewind back to peak Raul — 1999-2002. He was, to be straightforward, incredible. Rarely can players be so great that they suck you in and give you a reason to watch the sport. That’s what separates the legends from the greats. Raul had that.
Fernando Hierro once said "He's not a 10 in any specific dimension, but at least an 8.5 in all that matter". I thought that was a great quote that still wasn’t flattering enough for Raul, who probably was a 10 in some things, and a 9-9.5 in others — intelligence, work rate, and finishing in particular. If ‘heart’ wasn’t such an intangible, he would’ve been a stellar 10/10 in that department too. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege to see Raul put the team on his back multiple times in el Clasico, blitz Manchester United in one of the most aesthetically-pleasing performances in Real Madrid’s history, and score buckets (and buckets and buckets) of goals.
Some might remember Raul for his fading act towards the end of his career, or steep drop from Mount Everest post-2003. But zoom out, and you’ll see a unique player that is synonymous with the Club’s identity just as much as Alfredo di Stefano and Cristiano Ronaldo. Peak-Raul was special, and to this day, he remains one of the most humble and genuinely lovable characters that European football has ever seen.
Now he’s back, as was always expected of him once he retired, at the club in a different capacity — for now as a pundit, and eventually someone involved in an administrative role. I have more respect for this man than I can express.
- Kiyan Sobhani
Sometimes I think Xabi Alonso isn’t truly appreciated; not only by Real Madrid’s fanbase, but by the larger footballing community. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insinuating that Real Madrid and football fans dislike Xabi, or consider him to be lacking in quality, I just don’t think that we hold him to a high enough level of esteem. That is because Alonso isn’t often regarded for what he is - Madrid’s greatest midfield solution since Makélélé.
Consider the conditions that Alonso was tasked with solving when he arrived at the Bernabeu. Madrid had a midfield that hadn’t seen proper defensive stability since the presence of Claude Makélélé, who had departed in 2003. That left a six year span where Madrid quickly developed a reputation for an offensively brilliant, yet leaky and incredibly unbalanced midfield. Not only did Alonso come to the Bernabeu as the man who had to fix all of that, but he did so with a group of teammates that were nowhere near the collective quality of today and who possessed little of the chemistry of the years of past or the years of present (mostly due to the influx of new signings). This meant that Alonso arrived at ground zero, tasked with commanding a midfield that once again had to compete with the best in Europe. And despite being nothing near what we consider a typical anchor (aka: Casemiro, Makélélé, or Kanté), Madrid all of a sudden found unprecedented balance.
Many recent fans (2012/13 onwards) remember Alonso as a slow old man who was vulnerable to counters and weak vs. presses, but prime Xabi was nothing like that. From 2009-2012, Alonso easily established himself as the best Los Blancos defensive midfielder since Fernando Redondo. His defensive intelligence was elite and his pure positioning was enough to snuff out attacks (he averaged 2.9 interceptions p90 in his first three seasons at Real) and negate entire passing sequences due to the compactness his tactical positioning provided. He survived as the unquestionable #1 in three different systems of three very different managers: Pellegrini, Mourinho, and Ancelotti (who labelled Xabi as “the key to all this,” in reference to Real’s tactical system), and despite being post-peak went on to become one of Guardiola’s most important pieces at Bayern. That speaks to his versatility across all systems and the universality of the balance that he provides.
And let’s not forget his passing. It’s no hyperbole to say that he arguably has the greatest passing range of all time.
And oh boy, did Mourinho capitalize on that shit. Half of our counter-attacking plan from 2011-2013 was just Alonso winning the ball back and spraying balls over bewildered defenses to Cristiano Ronaldo and co. In build-up, his influence was less visible, but he was just as crucial. Even in possession, Mourinho’s style of play centered around speed. He always wanted the opposition defense moving and shifting in order to create spaces. In that sense, Alonso was Mou’s dream player. No one could exploit open gaps faster than Xabi, as his long balls were struck in a way that arrowed them to their target at great velocity. Which reminds me, kids these days just play long balls when they’ve run out of ideas in possession. Alonso always did it to destabilize defenses and create 1v1 opportunities. That’s what made him king. Not only did he have superior technical qualities, but he used them judiciously.
But perhaps there’s personal bias here. Alonso was the player who made me value the role of the deep-lying playmaker and the genius behind that position. He made me rethink my conceptions of what a defensive midfielder could do, and in the process, allowed me to see football in a whole new way.
And for that, I am forever indebted to one of the greatest midfield legends of all time.
- Om Arvind
Alfredo di Stéfano
Come to think of it, my only memory was that of an old man that was always present during player presentations and official team photos of Real Madrid — standing side-by-side with every new 'Galactico' the club signed. We may not have had the chance to see him play live, but we at least have some videos to judge, and some articles to gauge our knowledge about the legend. It is safe to say, that Real Madrid, the Best Club of the 20th Century, is what it is today thanks to the immense contribution of a certain Argentinian football phenomenon, Alfredo di Stéfano Laulhé.
Alfredo was considered way ahead of his time during his playing career. He introduced and perfected a new dimension of playing the beautiful game, and changed the face of the footballing world and of Real Madrid. He gave ‘Los Blancos’ its identity.
Before joining Real Madrid, he was already a star for two clubs in two different countries — for River Plate in Argentina, and Millonarios in Colombia. After a very controversial football saga between Real Madrid and Barcelona acrimoniously fighting for his signature, Alfredo Di Stéfano, at 27 years of age, arrived in Madrid in 1953 as a bonafide superstar. He was the man with identifiable hair and explosive speed, and was nicknamed "Saeta Rubia" — or The Blonde Arrow.
Di Stefano catapulted Real Madrid to greatness, playing glorious, breathtaking football. On his Clasico debut he scored four goals en route to a 5-0 thrashing of Barcelona. He would go on to spearhead the team to five consecutive European Cup trophies while scoring in all five finals. Sometimes I would wonder, what if Santiago Bernabéu wasn’t able to get Di Stéfano out of Barca’s hands? Perhaps the face of football would be very different. Would Real Madrid be what it is today?
Football greats such as Pelé, Eusébio, Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer, among others, describe Di Stéfano as “the most complete all-around footballer in the history of the game”. Attack, defense, goal scoring, goal prevention, goal creation, connecting the midfield — The Blonde Arrow could do it all. His former team mate and later on manager Miguel Muñoz said: “The greatness of Alfredo is that, with him in your side, you have two players in every position,”.
During Florentino Pérez’s time of assembling his first 'Galacticos’, he said in an interview that his father told him that "Zidane is good, maybe very good, but Di Stéfano? He was amor." At times, we may have considered Raúl or Cristiano Ronaldo as the Icon of Real Madrid in the modern era, but the original ‘Galactico’ and Icon of Real Madrid will always be Alfredo di Stéfano.
- Francis Daryl Molo
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima
Numerous pages and articles have been written about Ronaldo. Usually, you can read writer’s adoration of his completeness or that he is one of the big what-ifs in world football. Those are all valid points and I agree with them. Ronaldo was an exceptional player and we are yet to see his heir. The combination of power, skill, and technique is legendary and he used his skill-set so well. Ronaldo combined his movement with physical power and skill, and as a result, he was gliding past his defenders. I strongly urge you to dig through the internet and watch some of his Inter games. However, that’s not the real reason why I admire Ronaldo. For me, Ronaldo is the example of the ‘never say die’ attitude.
Unfortunately, injuries are an inevitable part of the game, but very few players were tested like Ronaldo was. Yes, many players suffered various knee injuries such as ruptured ligaments, tendons, dislocation etc; but I’m not aware of any major football player who re-injured the same knee in the seventh minute of his first game after the injury. That is unimaginable and simply brutal. The images of Ronaldo lying on the stretchers in pain are heartbreaking.
Ronaldo was only 23 years old at that time and was wildly recognized as the best striker and best young talent in the world. He was entering his prime. But these two consecutive injuries kept him off the pitch for the next two years and a large part of the third year. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for him.
Despite all of that, Ronaldo showed incredible mental strength and came back as a top striker. He worked hard in isolation though he never reached his pre-injury levels, and carried Brazil to the 2002 World Cup Championship. This display of resilience, willingness to work hard and never give up is what truly stands out for me. He is an example to follow.
Oh, and he could also do things like this…
- Ondra Paul
José María Guti
Jose Maria Guti was quite simply a flawed genius. God, what I would give to see Guti play in his prime again. Inconsistent he may have been, but few players are unique like Guti. He came into his own late in his career and his final seasons at Madrid were his most impressive. Maybe players like Marcelo or Riquelme have a similar level of uniqueness, but Guti’s playing style simply cannot be replicated. He had a wand of a left-foot. His vision was unparalleled. Not Fabregas, not Ozil, and not Isco have the eye for a defensive splitting pass quite like Guti. Every time he picked up the ball, no matter where he was on the field, there was a chance he could slice open the opposition’s defense. Guti's style has not been matched since. Each pass brought a level of unpredictability and exploited even the smallest of gaps. He would shape his body in one direction, place his eyes in another, and then put the final ball in a third direction, deceiving everyone. In his peak, he had a serenity and confidence in his play that singlehandedly could pull Madrid out from a losing position.
For most of his career, Guti was not a regular starter. In La Liga, he played over 2000 minutes only twice in his 15 years with the club. He was forced to play a backseat role as guys like Zidane, Beckham, Raul, Ronaldo, Redondo, Seedorf, and the like all took the limelight. His temperament and off-field antics (often seen partying late in the night) did not help his cause. Though, despite the competition and the distractions, Guti always brought something special — he always had a bit of magic.
He had two “taconazo’s” (back-heel assists: one to Zidane and one for Benzema) which stole the hearts of fans and all of the Madrid media. Guti persisted and although he had been linked with moves away from the club summer after summer, he stayed with Madrid for the majority of his career. That loyalty and that persistence was rewarded as his trophy haul boasts an impressive 15 trophies, which included three Champions League and five La Liga titles.
I will never forget Guti’s ability to change a game. In the 2006-2007 season where Fabio Capello took charge of a Madrid team that miraculously clawed their way back into the La Liga title race, Guti was a standout performer. That team ultimately brought home the title after five agonizing years without silverware. For some reason, the Bernabeu fixture against Sevilla seemed to bring out the very best of Guti. In that 2007 season, Madrid was down 1-0 at half-time and on comes Guti. His influence singlehandedly won the game. He took all the plaudits and deserved all the plaudits. His passes to both Van Nisterooy and Robhino were, as Ray Hudson likes to say, magisterial. Without that performance, the title may very well have ended up in the hands of Barcelona or Sevilla. He was a game-changing player, and in that match, a title-deciding player. For me, it is matches like his second-half performance vs Sevilla that will forever be ingrained in my mind.
I admit, like most Madridistas, I have a soft spot towards players from the Cantera — for those players who grew up in Madrid and remained after all these years like la Raul, Iker, Ruben De La Red, Nacho, Carvajal and of course Guti himself.
He joined Madrid’s youth ranks at the tender age of eight and went on to appear in 542 games for his dream club. In total, he spent 24 years at Real Madrid. Homegrown players like Guti are different. You can feel their passion for the club — it runs deep in their soul. The former vice-captain will take on anyone who bad-mouths his beloved club and he has shown that in his many spats with Pique on twitter, and his bold claims on El Chiringuito. He has been a soldier for this club and a die-hard fan. Guti’s legend and his association with the club continues as he now coaches the under-19 team which he has led to an incredible domestic treble last season, grooming the likes of Oscar and Dani Gomez. There may very well be a path for him to the first team managerial position. Time will tell.
When I think of Real Madrid legends and men that helped guide the club to the next level, I think of Iker Casillas. He was a rock between the pipes. The buck stopped at Casillas. He made saves that looked impossible to make. He never let his teammates down.
Who could forget May 24th, 2014? Iker would Captain a Real Madrid side that would that would lift La Decima in a 4-1 over cross-town rivals, Atletico Madrid. He only allowed the one goal that night in the first half. It was there that I think he solidified his Legend status.
Seeing him lift that trophy sent shivers down my spine, still in awe of the fact the club had finally won La Decima. He lit the Champions League on fire with his acrobatic saves. Sadly, he would leave for his current club of Porto the next year.
Every goalkeeper at one time or another is going to be compared to Casillas. It’s just the way it works when you had a legend between the sticks. It’s inevitable that you will be compared to him — whether it’s good or bad. I bet it’s hard knowing that the guy that came before you will go down as the greatest keeper this club has ever had.
I think his leadership guided this club and he showed nothing but respect for the badge and with that the club. I can’t wait for the day when he returns to the club like other legends who have left and returned.
- Timm Higgins