Even the best soccer teams in the world make mistakes when it comes to player moves and evaluating talent. It happens to the best of them, including Spanish giants Real Madrid. This list deals with 10 players who, for whatever reason, Real allowed to leave prematurely. They then went on to enjoy fine careers elsewhere.
The majority of these players are still active and have gone on to win numerous trophies with their new clubs. Some of them may have won a few medals while with Madrid, but they soon realized they weren’t in the club’s long-term plans. Some of them were sold by Madrid and others decided to leave when their contracts had expired. Either, way, leaving Madrid turned out to be the best career move they made.
10. Alvaro Morata
With the way striker Alvaro Morata has started his career with Chelsea of the English Premier League we’re going to go out on a limb here and predict greatness for the 24-year-old Spanish international. Morata spent his youth career at Atletico Madrid and Getafe before joining Real Madrid in 2008. He played mainly for the club’s B Team from 2010 to 2013, but also got into 52 matches with the senior side, scoring 11 goals. However, he was sold to Juventus in the summer of 2014 and spent two years with the Italian side, winning two league titles and two Coppa Italia’s. Real Madrid then decided they wanted Morata back and used their buy-back option to reclaim him from Juventus. He scored 20 goals in 43 games last season, but Real Madrid then decided to sell him to Chelsea. Morata scored six goals in his first six league games at Stamford Bridge and there’s an excellent chance Madrid let him go way too soon.
9. Juan Mata
Another Spanish international who ended up with Chelsea in England is 29-year-old playmaker Juan Mata. He spent some time as a youth with Real Oviedo before joining Real Madrid when he was 15. Mata spent four years in Madrid, but didn’t really get anywhere other than the B Team. He then joined Valencia in 2007 and helped the team win a Copa del Rey in his four-year stint while adding 46 goals from the midfield. This led him to Chelsea in 2011 where he scored another 33 times, won an FA Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League and was voted the squad’s player of the year two years in a row. The good times came to an end though when former manager Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge and Mata found himself on the bench. In January of 2014, Mourinho sold Mata to Manchester United, and oddly enough Mourinho joined him there two years later and the pair are living happily ever after at Old Trafford.
8. Juan Francisco Torres Belén
You may not know the name Juan Francisco Torres Belén, but most soccer fans should recognize the player by his nickname Juanfran. The right-back was a product of the Real Madrid youth system, but to the chagrin of the team’s fans he hit it big when he ended up with cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. The 32-year-old hardly played for Real’s senior side and after getting into just half a dozen games he ended up with Espanyol on loan and would win the Copa del Rey while there in 2005/06. Juanfran then signed with Osasuna and spent five trophy-less seasons there. He joined Atletico Madrid in 2011 and was instantly regarded as one of the squad’s most important members. He helped Atletico reach two Champions League Finals and ironically they lost both of them to Real Madrid. However, the dependable Spanish international managed to capture a Europa League medal as well as another Copa del Rey, the UEFA Super Cup and a La Liga title.
7. Walter Samuel
Former Argentine international center-back Walter Samuel was signed by Real Madrid back in 2006 after playing four years in his homeland and another four with Roma of Italy. Real laid out €25 million for him, but it was seen as wasted money since the defender lasted just one year in Madrid, playing 40 games in all competitions. Samuel then headed back to Serie A and joined Inter Milan. He stayed until 2014 and regained the form he displayed with Roma. Samuel was one of Inter’s most reliable players and helped the club win five league titles in a row. He also helped the side win the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana four times each along with a FIFA Club World Cup medal. Samuel then joined Basel of Switzerland in 2014/15 and helped the club capture the Swiss Super League during his first campaign. The 39-year-old retired in 2016.
6. Arjen Robben
Thirty-three-year-old Dutch international winger and captain Arjen Robben had played with Groningen, PSV Eindhoven and Chelsea before joining Real Madrid in 2007. He wasn’t really a flop in Spain, but lasted just two years with 13 goals in 65 games, and went on to way better things when he joined Bayern Munich in 2009. Robben looked promising at PSV and Chelsea, so Real lured him in with the promise of riches and trophies and bought him from Stamford Bridge for £24 million. Robben helped Real win the league in his first season, but when Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo were acquired in 2009, there was no room, time, or money for Robben. The Dutchman joined Bayern and has been there ever since, helping the German squad win several League crowns, domestic cups and the Champions League in 2012/13. He also had 133 goals in his first 262 contests in all competitions with Bayern.
5. Wesley Sneijder
Like fellow Dutchman Arjen Robben, 33-year-old midfielder Wesley Sneijder was considered to be redundant in 2009 when Real Madrid brought in Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso. Sneijder had joined Real just two years earlier after spending the first five years of his career with Ajax in Amsterdam. He scored 11 times in 66 outings in Madrid and was sold to Inter Milan of Italy in August of 2009 where Jose Mourinho was the manager. Inter won a treble in Sneijder’s first season in Italy and played so well that year he came in fourth in the voting for the Ballon d’Or Award. Sneijder would win the Coppa Italia again the next season as well as the FIFA Club World Cup. During the 2012/13 campaign Sneijder decided to join Galatasaray of Turkey and helped the team win two league titles, three Turkish Cups and three Turkish Super Cups before joining Nice of France this year.
4. Esteban Cambiasso
Esteban Cambiasso was another player who played with Real Madrid’s youth system. The midfielder then went home to Argentina to play for four years and then returned to Madrid in 2002. However, he was basically used as a sub while the team won the league championship. Cambiasso left Madrid again after just two years and ended up in Italy with Inter Milan. He became a star there for the next decade and helped the side capture the Serie A title five straight times between 2006 and 2010. in addition, Cambiasso also helped Inter take four Coppa Italia crowns during that stretch as well as the Champions League in 2009/10. In fact, Inter won a treble that year with their Serie A title, Coppa Italia and Champions League hauls. In 2014 he joined Leicester City of the English Premier League and was voted player of the year for the club. However, he decided to join Olympiakos in 2015 for the last two years of his career. The 37-year old retired with 21 winners’ medals to his name.
3. Santiago Canizares
Real Madrid also made some mistakes when it came to goalkeepers and Santiago Canizares is a prime example. He spent his youth career with Madrid and made it as far as the C and B Teams, but never played a game for the senior side before leaving on loan. Canizares had loan spells with Elche and Merida and then decided to join Celta Vigo in 1992. Canizares played so well with his new club that Real Madrid decided to reacquire him in 1994. However, he still didn’t find himself as the team’s top-choice goalie and missed playing in their Champions League win. Canizares then high-tailed it to Valencia in 1998 and spent a decade there. He won the Copa del Rey in his first season and then helped the side reach a pair of Champions League finals. He was named team captain and led the squad to the 2001/02 and 2003/04 La Liga crown as well as several other trophies.
2. Ze Roberto
Although former Brazilian international defender/midfielder/winger Ze Roberto is 43 years old, he’s still playing with Palmeiras in his homeland. He was with Portuguesa from 1994 to 1997 before joining Real Madrid. However, he played just 23 games before being sent out on loan back to Brazil. Even though Real won the La Liga and Champions League, the league Ze Roberto was sold to Bayer Leverkusen of Germany shortly after. He became a star in the Bundesliga with Leverkusen and then Bayern Munich, winning four league titles and six domestic cups with Bayern. Ze Roberto moved around to several other teams, including back in Brazil, and added another four medals to his cabinet. The fact that he’s still playing at a high level should be enough for Real Madrid to realize they made a mistake.
1. Samuel Eto’o
Cameroon international striker Samuel Eto’o joined Real Madrid in 1997 as a 16-year-old and spent some time with the club’s B Team. Eto’o was also sent out on loan to Leganes, Espanyol and Mallorca, but didn’t really hit his stride until playing with Mallorca. He joined the club permanently in 2000 and spent four years there. Eto’o’s scoring exploits helped the club win the Copa del Rey in 2002/03 and he then joined Madrid’s arch rivals Barcelona in 2004. Eto’o hit the jackpot and helped Barca win three league titles, a Copa del Rey, two Supercopa de Espana’s and a pair of Champions League crowns. He then joined Inter Milan in 2009 and in two years in Italy won a league title, two Coppa Italia’s the Supercoppa Italiana, a Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup. Eto’o has also played with Chelsea, Everton, Sampdoria and Anzhi Makhachkala and the 36-year-old is currently with Antalyaspor of Turkey.