1. Gravesen: an ogre in midfield
Halfway through the 2004-05 season Madrid were second in the table, seven points Barcelona and having whittled through three coaches (José Antonio Camacho, Mariano García Remón and Vanderlei Luxemburgo). Madrid had been vulnerable in defence and it was decided that a midfield containing David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo needed some steel added to it.
Step forward Thomas Gravesen, who had had an excellent half-season at Everton and at just 4.5 million euros seemed to fit the bill. The Dane was a renowned hard man who played at the limit and was seen as just the sort of muscle an otherwise luxurious midfield could do with. The Ogre soon turned his ire on one of his own teammates though, indulging in a punch-up with Robinho in training and giving Antonio Cassano a kick up the backside. Gravesen added some graft to the midfield but the gulf in class between him and his midfield partner Zidane was glaringly evident. A snapshot of Gravesen’s Madrid career was provided by Spanish television, who mercilessly pored over the “Gravesinha,” an attempt by the Dane to dribble past Sevilla that ended with him falling over none-too-gracefully.
He remained at Madrid for a season and a half, making 49 appearances and winning nada.
2. Cassano: more croissants than goals
In the winter of 2005-06, Madrid delved into the market again to combat a lack of goals. The side were fourth in LaLiga, 13 points behind Barça and were reliant on Ronaldo to find the net, the Brazilian ending the season as the club’s top scorer with 15. Only Robinho was providing some assistance, with 12 in his first season at the Bernabéu, leading Florentino Pérez to sign maverick Italian forward Antonio Cassano from Roma for 5.5 million euros.
Dubbed “Talentino” by the Italian media due to his extraordinary skill, Cassano arrived overweight and barely looked interested. He managed 29 games in a season and a half and scored just four times.
Years later, he revealed in his autobiography that he had been distracted during his time in Madrid: “I often played games after making love. I had a friend who was a waiter. His mission was to bring me three or four croissants every time I had made love. He brought them to my stairwell and we made the exchange. He took the girl with him and I stuffed myself with croissants. Sex and food; the perfect evening.” Still, he picked up a Liga title in Madrid, in 2006-07.
3. Gago: the new Redondo... or not
The following winter Madrid were third, just a point behind leaders Barcelona but Fabio Capello’s side were not noted for their flair, a midfield double-defensive wall of Mahamdou Diarra and Emerson failing to ignite the passion of fans in the Bernabéu. Three South American players came in to add a bit of jogo bonito; Marcelo, Gonzalo Higuaín and Fernando Gago.
The Argentinean arrived for a considerable fee – 20 million euros – and due to his position, shirt number and appearance was swiftly dubbed the “new Redondo.” But it became quickly evident that the newcomer was a far cry from The Prince in his pomp. Gago spent four and a half seasons in Madrid, played 121 times but managed just one goal. He did though leave with two Ligas, a Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup to his name.
4. Huntelaar: wrong place, wrong time
Arguably the best Barcelona side in history, Pep Guardiola’s 2008-09 tiki-taka machine, were 12 points clear of Madrid in January and then-Real president Ramón Calderón decided to make a statement of intent by signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who had been shining at Ajax. However, he was ineligible from playing in the Champions League as he had featured in the Europa League, something that apparently escaped Madrid’s attention, leading to widespread ridicule across Europe.
Huntelaar did not remain long in Madrid. Florentino Pérez returned to the presidency that summer and cleared out the Dutch contingent of Huntelaar, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder to launch his Galácticos 2.0 project with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema.
Huntelaar moved to Milan, where he also failed to his Ajax heights, then moved to Schalke, where he banged in 126 goals in 240 games as a sign of what could have been.
5. Faubert: snoozing on the bench
In the same window Real raised eyebrows across Europe when they brought in Julien Faubert on the back of half a dozen decent games for West Ham. Real had wanted to but Antonio Valencia from Wigan but baulked at the 30-million-euro asking price and instead paid a loan fee of 1.5 million to The Hammers for the mercurial Frenchman, who managed 54 minutes for the club before being packed back to East London in June. His most memorable performance for Madrid remains falling asleep on the bench during a game.