Raul, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, some of the most famous and well-loved players in the history of this new millennium have worn that white shirt to acclaim. Even players like Claude Makélélé, who spent their time at the Bernabeu in a permanent state of being underrated, became enormously rated eventually once they left.
It’s just very hard to excel for Real Madrid and not receive your due praise. Yet there are some unfortunate souls who, while they are praised, don’t get anywhere near the level of credit they deserve.
Obviously Makélélé and Marcelo were the supreme examples of this but as mentioned above, people now know how good Makélélé was (and Florentino Perez’s reaction to Casemiro playing shows lessons have been learned) and after this season’s Champions League run everyone is now aware of Marcelo’s genius.
But who are the others? The 10 most underrated Real Madrid players of the 21st century?
10. David Beckham
Games played: 159
Titles won: 2003 Supercopa de España, 2006/07 La Liga
His signing was often credited with being the signal that Madrid’s “Galactico” project had become unbalanced, but his arrival wasn’t the problem, it was the departures that slowly killed Perez’s vision. Beckham was great for Los Blancos, hard-working and capable of producing magical assists like that cross to Ronaldo. Came back from the abyss to provide an essential jolt of energy to help Madrid capture La Liga from Barcelona in 2007.
9. Mahamadou Diarra
Games played: 126
Titles won: La Liga (2), 2008 Supercopa de España
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to watch one man turn three invisible then watch Real Madrid’s 0-1 win over Barcelona in December 2007. Diarra was unreal that night and many other nights. Like Makélélé except he was 6 foot tall and made from concrete. He also scored a crucial goal that helped Madrid win La Liga in 2006/07, yet rarely even gets mentioned.
8. Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Games played: 96
Titles won: La Liga (2), 2008 Supercopa de España
Sir Alex Ferguson heavily hinted Ruud Van Nistelrooy was finished when he sold him to Real Madrid, so imagine everyone’s surprise when he, you know, wasn’t. He’s never heralded but Van Nistelrooy was a great marksman for Los Blancos, firing a team-high 25 Liga goals to power their miracle comeback title win in 2006/07 and even adding 16 to help retain the title the season after.
7. Michel Salgado
Games played: 371
Titles won: UEFA Champions League (2), La Liga (4), Supercopa de España (3), 2002 UEFA Super Cup, 2002 Intercontinental Cup
While Roberto Carlos hoovered up more accolades and praise than he did fire free-kicks off-target, Michel Salgado almost 400 games patrolling Madrid’s right flank under a blanket of darkness it seems. He was an incredibly rugged defender and was essential in helping to balance a top-heavy Madrid side. If Gary Neville was Spanish…
Games played: 365
Titles won: Copa del Rey (2), La Liga (2), 2012 Supercopa de España, UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (3)
This man has scored 181 goals for Real Madrid. He’s got 50 in the Champions League! He’s routinely there to score crucial opening goals – the importance of which is always forgotten as longer-necked team-mates extend those leads – but goodness me, no one really thinks he’s as good as he is. Sure, they acknowledge his ability, but he’s never counted among the greatest strikers in the world, which is in fact exactly what he is.
5. Dani Carvajal
Games played: 159
Titles won: 2013/14 Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (2), 2016/17 La Liga
Move over Drake, Dani Carvajal is the prime example of what a beard can do. When he returned to Madrid in 2013/14, Carvajal was promising. As his beard grew over the season, so did his displays. He mastered Franck Ribery in the Champions League semi-final with a full beard and has been dominant ever since. Ruthless in defence and decisive in attack, he’s Michel Salgado II Turbo; Madrid’s tone-setter. They’re half as tough to beat with him on the bench, but no one ever mentions him and even Madrid tried to replace him with Danilo (it didn’t work).
4. Flávio Conceição
Games played: 74
Titles won: La Liga (2), 2001/02 UEFA Champions League
Flávio Conceição’s contributions to Madrid weren’t as epic as some others on this list, but they were enormously important and he’s not even mentioned at all. The Brazilian defensive midfielder only played over 10 Liga games in a season twice (14 and 22), and both times Madrid won the division – only losing three times when Conceição was on the field. His career-high for games in Europe came in the 2001/02 Champions League, which Madrid also claimed. When he played, Madrid won. Simple as that.
Games played: 190
Titles won: Copa del Rey (2), 2011/12 La Liga, 2012 Supercopa de España, 2013/14 UEFA Champions league, 2014 UEFA Super Cup
It’s impossible to state just how important winning La Decima was to Real Madrid’s current era of success. It was such a problem for them for over a decade, but winning it not only assured this great club that they can do it again, but it infused the likes of Zinedine Zidane (an assistant) and Cristiano Ronaldo (well, you know) with belief that their exploits were justified.
The man who delivered La Decima? Ángel Di María. Man of the match in the final, and also the Copa del Rey final that same season. Di María liberated Madrid (it was also his superb assist in the 2011 Copa del Rey final that set Mourinho’s Madrid successes in motion).
His reward? He was sold that summer. No one gives Di María his due for what he accomplished in that white shirt. All the countless defensive runs to cover for team-mates who just couldn’t be bothered, all the selfless off the ball runs for team-mates who just couldn’t be bothered. Di María balanced his sides and never got the credit.
Games played: 334
Titles won: La Liga (3), Supercopa de España (2), Copa del Rey (2), UEFA Champions League (3), UEFA Super Cup (2), FIFA Club World Cup (2)
Pepe is a true enigma. Off the field he seems one of the loveliest people you could meet, while on it he is a blood-drinking warrior god who destroys everyone in his path. His reputation hasn’t soared like team-mate Sergio Ramos, which is a crime because Pepe is consistently a better defender than the Spaniard.
He brings the ball out of the back with assurance, but is also capable of being a hatchet man (his midfield destroyer performance in the 2011 Copa del Rey final was historic). He was also the only player capable of defending 25 year-old Leo Messi 1-on-1 with any sort of consistency. A legend who has been a key presence for so many of Madrid’s triumphs, forever unappreciated for reasons which defy imagination.
Games played: 539
Titles won: La Liga (5), Supercopa de España (4), UEFA Champions League (3), Intercontinental Cup (2), 2002 UEFA Super Cup
Remember Guti? Of course not. But before Andrés Iniesta and David Silva showed that skinny attacking midfielder/winger types could play central midfield, or Francesco Totti and Cesc Fabregas showed that midfielders could be attackers, Guti was doing just that for Real Madrid.
Not always a regular starter (only twice did he manage over 2000 Liga minutes) but a constant presence for 15 years of magical football. Bigger names took the glory, but even Zinedine Zidane never did anything as audacious and amazing as this. Or this.
Guti was a miracle of a midfielder. He could battle with the best of them and almost delighted getting stuck in, but on the ball he was an artist the equal of Picasso. He thrived for Madrid, despite a lack of recognition from most everyone and a torrent of abuse over rumours regarding his personal life.
When you talk about underrated Real Madrid players, you can’t look past Guti. Well, you could, but then he’d pick your pocket and slide a perfect pass behind your defence for a team-mate to score.