Gareth Bale has finally left Real Madrid after nine seasons, three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, a Copa del Rey and more than his fair share of controversy. But what’s happened to the Real Madrid starting XI from his debut back in 2013?
Long before the moaning, the criticism and ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid,’ Bale was signed for €100million from Tottenham as one of the world’s most exciting players. He’d lit up the Premier League with wondergoals and match-winning displays and looked every bit as good as that transfer fee suggested.
He made his competitive Madrid debut against Villarreal in a La Liga game on September 14, scoring before being taken off for Angel Di Maria as Madrid drew 2-2 away from home.
We’ve had a look back at the team that started that game, lined up in a 4-2-3-1, and what they’ve done since.
GK: Diego Lopez
Lopez arrived for a second stint at boyhood club Real Madrid in January 2013 and as a short-term replacement for the injured Iker Casillas.
One imagines he expected to go straight onto the bench when Casillas was fit again. Instead, his arrival was the start of a wild saga.
After a string of good performances, manager Jose Mourinho insisted that Lopez was the better of the two ‘keepers and kept him in the team, even when San Iker had recovered.
It was the final straw for many of Madrid’s senior players, who told Florentino Perez that either Mourinho left in the summer or they would.
Mourinho was given the boot but Lopez retained his place for La Liga matches even after the arrival of Mourinho’s successor Carlo Ancelotti, with Casillas used in cup and European games.
Lopez left in 2014, however, moving to AC Milan. He has been at Espanyol since 2017 and is still going at the age of 40.
RB: Dani Carvajal
Carvajal was making just his fourth Real Madrid start in the game against Villarreal having returned to the club when Madrid activated their €6.5million buyback clause to repatriate him from Bayer Leverkusen.
He has since gone on to play 325 more games, making himself one of the most reliable full-backs in the world and winning five European Cups.
A club legend and a stalwart of one of the most successful eras in Madrid’s history.
One half of the ultimate shithouse centre-back pairing.
READ: An ode to Pepe, the original shithouse who warmed up the throne for Ramos
CB: Sergio Ramos
The other half of the ultimate shithouse centre-back pairing.
Nacho. He’s always there, isn’t he? Like Artie Bucco in the Sopranos. Never the main character but present in almost every episode of every season of the Real Madrid series of successes over the past decade.
He’s still there now, 275 appearances under his belt over 12 seasons as a pro. Twenty-two caps for Spain as well, without anyone really noticing.
He’s still only 32, remarkably, which means Nacho will likely be a part of Real Madrid’s squad that wins a 16th European in the 2029-30 season, still lurking in the background, still ready to step in when any of the first-choice back four are injured.
CM: Luka Modric
Another signing from Spurs, Modric was coming off the back of a terrible debut season at Madrid when Bale made his debut.
Things have taken a slight turn for the better since then though, eh?
READ: Remembering when Luka Modric was voted La Liga’s worst signing
CM: Asier Illariamendi (Sami Khedira, 62)
Illaramendi was meant to be the dog’s bollocks when he arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in July 2013. He’d had a terrific season with Real Sociedad and looked ready for his big move.
In fact, many thought he’d get in the team ahead of Modric. Instead, while Modric went on to achieve greatness, Illaramendi struggled.
He started just 25 league games across his two seasons at Madrid and was even forced to issue an apology after running around in front of a bull dressed as Batman at a festival in his native Basque Country.
“We have an internal rule designed to prevent players going skiing and other dangerous things but I have never known it applied to bullfighting,” said Ancelotti at the time, doubtless raising an eyebrow as he did.
Illaramendi left come the end of the 2014-15 season and has spent the rest of his career back at his boyhood club.
Khedira, meanwhile, came off the bench to replace Illaramendi and would take his position for much of the rest of the campaign, including a start in the Champions League final as Madrid won La Decima.
He also played in the World Cup final as Germany won football’s ultimate prize in Rio de Janeiro later that year. Not a bad few months.
After a long spell at Juventus and a short one at Hertha Berlin, Khedira retired in 2021.
RW: Gareth Bale (Angel Di Maria, 61)
Bale’s Madrid career is hard to assess in the aftermath of his exit. All the controversy and disappointment of the past couple of years are a big, dark cloud in the way of making a clear judgement.
But his contribution to a glittering epoch will likely be more fondly remembered in time.
After that debut goal against Villarreal, he went on to score a further 105 in another 257 games and make huge contributions at vital times.
He scored and was Man of the Match in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. He scored the goal that put Madrid in the lead against Atletico in the Champions League final in the same year.
He assisted Sergio Ramos’ opener against the same opposition in the 2016 European Cup final and converted his penalty in the shootout while injured. He also scored one of the great Champions League final goals with that bicycle kick against Liverpool two years later.
Not a bad record if you ask us.
The man who replaced him in that game, Di Maria was another vital cog in the team that went on to win La Decima, providing the link between midfield and attack. He left for Manchester United at the end of that campaign, before moving to PSG following an unhappy year in the North West.
Isco was supposed to set the world alight at Real Madrid – and, for a while, he looked like he would, featuring heavily and winning piles of silverware under Ancelotti and Zidane.
But Isco’s influence has waned in recent years. In fact, his only contribution to Madrid’s 2022 Champions League success was getting dropped by his team-mates as they celebrated after the final.
THEY DROPPED ISCO I CANT BREATHE pic.twitter.com/4wT9JSyJOx
— kati (@benzeball) May 29, 2022
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo
We really don’t need to say anything here, do we?
ST: Karim Benzema (Alvaro Morata, 73)
The sub, first. Morata has had a weird career so far, bouncing around between elite clubs but never truly establishing himself as the go-to forward at any of them.
Benzema, meanwhile, has only gone from strength to strength since the mid-2010s.
He first excelled as a beautiful and criminally underrated foil for Ronaldo and since Ronaldo’s departure has become the main man, enjoying a career-best season in 2021-22 as Madrid won the league and Champions League double.
A deliciously brilliant footballer and a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or, if you ask us…
READ: 13 crazy stats that show why Karim Benzema deserves the Ballon d’Or
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