The current Real Madrid manager arrived in Spain in January 1999, signing for Atlético Madrid from River Plate: 18 months later he was a Madrid player.
Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari arrived in LaLiga two decades ago to the day: on January 7, 1999, the then 23-year-old made his debut for Atlético Madrid away at Santander, coming on as a substitute in a 2-1 defeat after signing for Arrigo Sacchi’s side from River Plate.
Twenty years later, Solari will travel across town for his first Madrid derby as coach of Real Madrid.
It could have been very different had Atlético sealed a deal for Juventus playmaker Pavel Nedved, with the clubs agreeing a fee of 18 million euros but the Czech international’s personal demands were out of Atlético’s reach, Hence, the Rojiblancos brought forward a deal for Solari, who they had planned to sign the following summer.
During his first half season, Solari featured in 16 games in all competition, starting six and scoring one goal. Sacchi was sacked a month after he signed and interim boss Carlos Sánchez Aguiar did not use him regularly. Radomir Antic, who saw the 1998-99 season out, preferred him as a striker.
Solari's Bernabéu move after Atlético's relegation
The following campaign, as Atlético hired and fired first Claudio Ranieri and then Antic again, Solari played 45 times across LaLiga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup and scored six goals, one against Real Madrid. Atlético would be relegated at the end of the campaign, and Solari would make the move across Madrid on June 15, joining his cousin Natalia’s husband Fernando Redondo at the Bernabéu and ruffling a few feathers among the Indios on the other side of town at the same time.
Solari spent five seasons at Real Madrid, winning seven titles including two Ligas and a Champions League.
He later moved to Inter before winding down his career at San Lorenzo, Atlante and Peñarol. On Saturday, he will make his first return as a manager to the club that brought him to Spain 20 years ago. The reception will be interesting to watch.