Matt’s Monday Musings: A series with no rhyme or reason — just consistent thoughts on all things Real Madrid released every Monday. Some weeks may be long form, others just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I’ll be posting reflective content on the current, past, and future on-goings of the club:
It is that time of the year, the quiet period — where players go on a much needed holiday and fans have to hold out for the return of preseason. During this period, the Managing Madrid crew will often go through the archives and watch games from Real Madrid’s past. In fact, there is a segment on the Managing Madrid podcast that has been dubbed, “the historical segment”, and has gone back as far as the 60’s. One thing that always strikes me from watching old Real Madrid matches are the players I never heard about; the unheralded heroes. The players that oftentimes do the “dirty work” for the team, those that clearly stand out, but are rarely mentioned when talking about teams of the past. These are players that are remembered by those who lived through the season, but glossed over in the high-level recaps for the newest generation of Madridistas. There are countless names that could be highlighted, but Geremi, Savio, Quique Sanchez Flores, Gallego, and Canario are among some of those discussed in previous podcast episodes as underrated standouts.
This then got me thinking about some of the unheralded players of Real Madrid’s title triumphs from 2006, 2007, and 2012. In the next few editions of the Monday Musings, one player from those aforementioned La Liga title triumphs will be highlighted, this week we start with the famed 2006-2007 title triumph under Fabio Capello:
2006 – 2007: Ivan Helguera
Despite playing at a high level in the Madrid colors for nearly a decade – often alternating between center back and defensive midfield depending on the team’s needs – Helguera’s legacy and tenure meant nothing to Pedja Mijatovic (then Sporting Director) and Ramon Calderon (the President after Florentino’s first reign). In a bid from the club to force his exit, Ivan Helguera was stripped of his #6 shirt, instead given to Capello’s priority signing Mahamadou Diarra, and was forced to train with the youth team at the start of the season. Despite the unwarranted treatment, where the veteran defender was not even included in the first seven matchday squads, Helguera put his head down and went to work – looking to convince Capello and co of the value he could still provide for Real Madrid.
Fabio Capello quickly realized he had a problem at right back. Michel Salgado was no longer the spry, two-way rampaging full back that he once was and La Liga’s pacey wingers were ageing him with each passing game. Cicinho, who was a Brazilian fullback that had the technical quality and attacking nous, but failed to stay fit nor could he keep his off-field act together. Cicinho, years later, revealed to MARCA that he had a serious drinking problem while at Real Madrid. Thus the Italian manager renowned for his defensive tactics, the same man who had the gall to pull off a double pivot of Diarra-Emerson while playing at the Santiago Bernabeu, had to find a solution to his back four woes. Ultimately, Sergio Ramos was moved from center back to right back and Helguera was brought back into the fold.
The then 31-year-old Spaniard built a strong relationship with a 34-year-old Fabio Cannavaro at the heart of the Real Madrid defense. In February, Real Madrid were 8 points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga, but managed to claw their way back and secure one of the most epic La Liga titles in the club’s history. Players like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robinho, Guti, Casillas, and Sergio Ramos drew many of the plaudits that season, but Helguera was a crucial cog in the La Liga turn-around and was a resolute defender, especially in both matches (home and away) against Barcelona.
Ivan Helguera was never one of the “sexy” names that excited fans or managed to strike fear into opposition’s hearts, but his role and consistency were vital to a winning team. He forged his way into Capello’s starting XI despite the early-season exile. These unheralded heroes are fundamental to title-winning success and deserve their due credit.