Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The curse of the central defender

It seems a good time, given the recent addition to the squad of two central defenders: Pepe and Metzelder, to reflect on the 'curse' of the central defender at Real Madrid, particularly the non-native specimens.

It seems that first Sanchis, then Hierro, and now Helguera have been the only long-lived central defenders at Real Madrid in the last 15 years. They have two things in common: they all started as midfielders, moving back when their pace proved insufficient, and they are all Spaniards.

Some of those troubled by the 'curse', though still remembered fondly, were Alkorta (who had to move back to Bilbao for family reasons) and Karanka (a heart problem meant he was, in my opinion, unfairly overlooked in his last two seasons). Even hairy Iván Campo was an important contributor to Real's two Champions league wins in 2000 and 2002, although anxiety and depression fuelled by a hostile press and some in the club's management forced him to emigrate, with some success, to the Premiership.

But the 'curse' seems to reserve its malevolence for those that come from abroad, most of whom barely last a season or two before moving on:

  • Geremi (Cameroon) - signed from Turkish club Genclerbirligi in 1999, he made 45 appearances in 3 seasons (though in his last season he played only 9 times) before being loaned out to Middlesbrough in 2002 and sold to Chelsea in 2003 for 10 million euros. Solid if unexceptional.

  • Julio Cesar Santos (Brazil) - arrived in 1999 from Valladolid and played for one season. Loaned out in subsequent years until he was finally re-sold to Valladolid in 2003. Never fulfilled any promise he might have shown.

  • Walter Samuel (Argentina) - known as 'The Wall', he struggled to make a favourable impression in his only season at Real Madrid (2004-2005) and promptly returned to Italy with Inter.

  • Jonathan Woodgate (England) - Truly cursed: injuries denied him any kind of regular run and he only made 9 appearances in official games with Real between 2004 and 2006. Loaned out to Middlesbrough in 2006, the move was made permanent at the end of the season.

  • Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) - has struggled to live up to his 'FIFA World Player' title, even though Real Madrid ended up winning the league in his debut season. His future is currently uncertain and Juventus are thought to be lining up a bid to get him back.

One more curious fact: Gabriel Milito had a 'lucky' escape when his 2003 transfer to Real Madrid was suspiciously aborted on the pretext that he failed his medical, and that his knee injury had not fully healed. He went on to have an extremely successful four seasons at Zaragoza and today was unveiled as Barcelona's latest signing. You have to wonder how it might have turned out...

No comments: