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Jonathan Woodgate’s nightmare spell at Real Madrid

Jonathan Woodgate's nightmare spell at Real Madrid

Although Real Madrid have by no means been afraid to forged their nets abroad seeking expertise, and the variety of first-rate foreigners to have been handpicked to symbolize the membership all through its illustrious historical past stretches far into three figures, simply 5 names belong to the unique membership open solely to Englishmen elected to don the well-known white package.

Of these 5 it might be argued, with out many claims on the contrary, that the primary 4 represented each their membership and their nation to acclaim whereas within the Spanish capital; to various levels of acclaim, definitely, however acclaim nonetheless. To the fifth, nevertheless, destiny wasn’t fairly so type.

As his fellow countrymen set about swapping the permed locks and swooping flares of the psychedelic 1970s for the maligned mullets and neon windbreakers of the outrageous 1980s, London-born winger Laurie Cunningham was busy swapping the West Midlands for Madrid. Bought for a couple of thousand kilos shy of one million in 1979, Cunningham – Real Madrid’s first ever English participant and solely the second black participant to characterize England at any degree of professional soccer – bagged a brace on his debut, gained the league and cup double in his first yr, and deeply enamoured himself to Madridistas all over the place as his spell with Los Blancos exceeded even his most auspicious of aspirations.

After Cunningham traded Madrid for Marseille in 1984, England was pressured to attend virtually 16 years to see one other of their well-known sons lining up for the house staff at the Bernabéu. The day lastly arrived when Liverpudlian Steve McManaman left behind his hometown membership to hyperlink up with Guus Hiddink’s formidable Madrid squad in some of the high-profile Bosman transfers thus far. Throughout his 4 yr spell in Spain, McManaman made fairly the impression, profitable no fewer than eight trophies, lifting the La Liga and Champions League trophies twice apiece, taking the chance to etch his personal story into the annals of membership and nation on each accounts.

Because it occurred, McManaman’s personal memorable time in Madrid would come to an in depth simply as one other well-known Englishman’s started. Enter the poster boy of English soccer, David Beckham. After a few years of beautiful collaboration, Manchester United’s prodigal son ultimately outgrew the Premier League’s frontrunners, as his bigger than life attract took him far past his homeland’s borders, and it made good sense that, regardless of initially being promised to their rivals Barcelona, Beckham ought to depart English shores for Madrid in 2003, to hitch fellow Galácticos Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo in probably the most star-studded of line-ups.

Although on-field success alluded his workforce for a lot of his time in Spain, Beckham, his famend proper foot, and his unquestionable work ethic offered lots moments of inspiration, on the best way to a solitary league title, which proved greater than sufficient to make sure his fond remembrance by the demanding Real trustworthy.

Michael Owen was subsequent to comply with David Beckham out and in Real’s revolving door. Signed for only a fraction of his compatriot predecessor, expectations of Owen’s impression in Madrid have been pitched considerably decrease than those that got here earlier than him. Nevertheless, regardless of discovering a spot within the beginning line-up painfully elusive, and given the grace of only a single injury-stunted marketing campaign by which to make his mark, Owen accomplished his solely yr in Madrid with the most effective goals-to-minutes-played ratio of all his teammates, which means he returned to England on the again of a spell at Madrid that was brief however nonetheless comparatively candy.

Then got here the flip of Nunthorpe’s personal Jonathan Woodgate to comply with the solar southwards and tread the identical prodigious path in 2004, whose comparatively disastrous stint in Spain would show adequate to make him the fifth and, up to now, ultimate Englishman to play for Real Madrid.

Learn  |  Michael Owen: the boy marvel who got here and went

Maybe it was to be prophetic that the person tasked with aiding within the development of an unbreachable backline at the Bernabéu, having been blessed with the nickname ‘Woody’, would so shortly come to resemble a cowboy builder. However for all of the furore previous the unlikely switch’s completion, and the swathe of regrets that later adopted, there have been those that believed Woody might be simply what Madrid wanted. In any case, he had proved an awesome success on residence soil.

Having excelled throughout his time within the Leeds United youth academy, Woodgate was tipped for fulfillment by each coach lucky sufficient to have performed a task in overseeing his development; from those that supervised his induction following his change from the Middlesbrough academy, aged 16, to these heralding his succession into Leeds’ first workforce scarcely two years later, as he graduated with honours in each sense of the phrase.

After bursting onto the scene, forcing his approach into in a Leeds workforce already blessed with central defensive choices within the type of Rio Ferdinand, Dominic Matteo and Lucas Radebe, Woodgate carried out with enough class and maturity to register on the radars of followers following each Leeds and the England nationwide staff alike.

A lot in order that whereas a lot of the world’s inhabitants was busy coordinating a planet-wide relief-filled exhale as they got here to understand the Y2K pc bug wasn’t fairly the apocalypse in pc programming type they feared it might be, Woodgate remained blissfully unaware of any and all threats to humanity’s existence, computer-based or in any other case, as an alternative focussing on nothing however soccer, having fun with life as a Leeds common and a full England worldwide.

And issues appeared to proceed in a lot the identical vein as all events appeared content material with their plotted routes being entwined with each other’s. But, after some 140 appearances, Woodgate’s time at Leeds drew to an abrupt and climactic shut.

In additional than a spot of hassle financially, Leeds’ house owners took the chance to money in on the “jewel in their crown” within the January switch window of 2003 as a £9 million bid from Newcastle was sufficient to prize Woodgate away and add a couple of black stripes to his beforehand all-white attire.

In virtually no time at all, Woodgate’s latest followers had fallen beneath his spell simply as willingly as their Leeds contemporaries had finished earlier than them, and he continued to shine at St James’ Park. One specific defensive masterclass, at house to Marseille in 2004’s UEFA Cup semi-finals, stood out towards the remaining.

Learn  |  Remembering Florentino Pérez’s Pavones, the gamers Real Madrid forgot

Having watched the lanky English centre half deploy his each defensive tack to successfully shackle an all the time demanding Didier Drogba, Michael Walker of the Guardian wrote of Woodgate’s pivotal position in Newcastle’s probably very important Zero-Zero draw. “Laurent Robert cannot always be relied upon. Fortunately for Newcastle Jonathan Woodgate can be, and increasingly so.”

Within the reverse leg, performed within the south of France two weeks later, Newcastle weren’t so lucky. The Ivorian hitman made amends, scoring an unanswered brace, and his aspect progressed at the Magpies’ expense. This had been made all of the extra potential by an unlucky damage that had, a lot to Drogba’s delight, eliminated Woodgate from the equation and ended his season prematurely.

Sadly for Newcastle followers, that they had already been given their final look at Woodgate of their membership’s colors. The season ended with out him making one other look and earlier than the subsequent might begin their star stopper had already set sail for overseas shores.

Within the weeks main as much as the 2004/05 season, regardless of a beneficiant serving to of Galácticos sprinkled all through the foremost two-thirds of the squad, Real have been in dire want of defensive reinforcement. Inside every week of the earlier marketing campaign ending, that they had secured the signing of Roma’s Argentine wall, Walter ‘Il Muro’ Samuel, however additional additions have been wanted.

A handful of potential recruits from throughout the continent had been introduced into the membership’s crosshairs; Milan’s Alessandro Nesta was their primary goal with the likes of Internazionale’s Fabio Cannavaro and Nesta’s youthful teammate Fabricio Coloccini the reported reserves. However when Madrid have been rebuffed by their first two excessive profile targets, and their curiosity within the latter dissipated, their adoring gaze, and ultimately their waning hopes, fell tentatively upon a signing moderately much less extravagant: Jonathan Woodgate.

Woodgate’s arrival in Madrid was acquired by a pandemic of astonishment. These in England couldn’t assist however marvel what precisely Real had seen to need to take him to Spain over another highly-rated central defender and people awaiting his arrival in Spain echoed these very sentiments solely with the added caveat of many La Liga-centric journalists barely figuring out who he was.

Woodgate’s high quality was not often the trigger for doubt. He was good, fairly probably ok for Real when absolutely match, and lots of believed he would go on to point out simply that. He boasted some degree of European pedigree, having performed on the continent for each Leeds and Newcastle, and was one of many Premiership’s standout defenders. Following his departure, his then-manager, the late Sir Bobby Robson, stated: “No one is pleased that he’s gone because we know what we’ve lost. At his best, he’s the best in the country.” However the reality remained: in his 18-months at Newcastle persistent accidents had restricted Woodgate to only 37 appearances out of a attainable 128 video games.

Learn  |  Guts, guile and objectives: the profession of Fernando Hierro

Moreover, it might be truthful to say Woodgate’s off-field persona was hardly tailor-made from classic Madrid materials. Whereas outdoors of soccer, his compatriot David Beckham was a bonafide common within the tabloids in the best way Madrid’s image-obsessed advertising group so brazenly inspired, Woodgate’s solely look within the nationwide information for non-footballing issues was centred round his regrettable run-in with the regulation 4 years’ earlier.

On two events, in 2000 and 2001, Woodgate had appeared in Crown Courtroom alongside former Leeds teammate Lee Bowyer as defendants in a case introduced towards them following an alleged assault outdoors of a nightclub in Leeds during which an Asian scholar was bitten on the face and had suffered a damaged leg, nostril and cheekbone in a reported racist assault.

Following a collapse of the preliminary trial and a subsequent retrial, Bowyer was discovered not responsible of grievous bodily hurt and affray whereas Woodgate was discovered responsible of the latter cost solely and acquired 100 hours’ group service, in addition to an preliminary three-year ban from worldwide soccer imposed by the FA. Of the footballers’ two associates who have been additionally implicated, one acquired an similar ruling to Woodgate whereas the opposite was discovered responsible of each expenses and sentenced to 6 years in jail.

With the doubts surrounding his suitability on the sector and his aptitude off it, Madrid followers have been unapologetically cautious when it got here to Woodgate’s impending arrival. Nonetheless, it was solely proper they judged him for his actions on the pitch. Nevertheless, they’d be pressured to attend a while for an opportunity to try this.

Regardless of by some means passing his medical with out concern, Woodgate arrived within the Spanish capital nonetheless hampered by the torn thigh muscle that had curtailed his earlier season with Newcastle. Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez insisted “he’ll be playing within three weeks” however his hopeful declaration did nothing to miraculously remedy his newest signing’s illnesses as Woodgate remained banished to the sidelines for everything of his first season in Spain, in a position solely to observe on as his workforce completed second to Barcelona within the league and finish the season trophyless.

The next yr introduced with it a return to health and a belated Real Madrid bow for the Englishman. By the point the blurry apparition that was Woodgate’s debut had peaked over the horizon, Walter Samuel had lengthy since left Madrid following a removed from stellar opening marketing campaign, returning to Italy to play for Inter, and with veteran defender Iván Helguera out injured, on 22 September 2005, 516 days after his grand unveiling, Woodgate accompanied Real Madrid youth academy graduate Francisco Pavón at the centre of defence for his or her workforce’s residence recreation towards Athletic Membership as he made his long-awaited inauguration earlier than a packed stadium determined to see their man in motion.

Sadly, Woodgate’s Real Madrid debut wasn’t to be well worth the agonising wait. The truth is, it might hardly have been farther from it. Within the opinions of many, this was the worst debut anyone in European soccer had ever seen.

Learn  |  The forgotten man: Francisco Pavón at Real Madrid

After a low key opening 20 minutes, Woodgate was handed his first check by Bilbao’s Joseba Etxeberria. Sadly he missed the passing grade by a way. Etxeberria reduce in from the left wing, shifted the ball onto his proper foot, and arrowed a hopeful shot in the direction of Real’s aim. Woodgate recognised the hazard early, stepped inside to cowl the angle, and threw himself at the speculative effort in an try to save lots of Iker Casillas the hassle. However the ball flicked off of Woodgate’s head, slowed not at all by the tangle of hair atop it, and his deflection despatched Casillas the improper means, leaving the ball to flash previous him and into the objective.

Instantly Pavón ran to Woodgate who was nonetheless susceptible on the pitch. He helped him from it and patted him on the again. Because the half-time whistle approached, Woodgate’s night worsened as his identify was added to the referee’s e-book for an impetuous lunge from behind on Carlos Gurpegi. The intermission was used to settle nerves and take a much-needed breath. No less than it’s out of the best way, he might have wrongly assumed. However within the second half, the storm clouds loomed decrease nonetheless and issues went from dangerous to worse. The waking nightmare that was Woodgate’s debut got here into its ultimate act.

As Real surrendered possession of their opponents’ half, the ball was flicked ahead in the direction of the midway line. There the ball was prodded on once more, this time in behind Los Blancos’ defence the place it was pursued by Etxeberria. Nose to nose as soon as extra together with his personally assigned tormentor for the sport, Woodgate discovered it unimaginable to cope with the winger.

On the again foot as Etxeberria took a contact and span around the uncovered defender into area, Woodgate selected to not drop in and chase however as an alternative take a step up, into Etxeberria, and forearm him away, hoping to dam the run and stop the menace from spreading. He believed he’d merely used his body to extinguish a constructing assault. The referee, nevertheless, believed he’d unfairly imposed himself upon the attacker in a trend deserving of a warning.

Woodgate’s teammates instantly swarmed the referee, some remonstrating furiously, others trying to discount with the official. Casillas and Robinho pointed, shouted, argued the injustice of all of it. How might that probably be deserving of a reserving? Roberto Carlos tried a extra tactful strategy, putting a relaxed hand on the aspect of the referee’s face and hoping maybe to allure the cardboard again into his pocket. However the referee had already made up his thoughts. Nothing however a second yellow would suffice. Woodgate was despatched off.

As Woodgate trudged off the pitch, inconsolable, the Real trustworthy made the collective determination to face for him, to cheer him, partially applauding his day’s futile work however principally in recognition of the extraordinary lengths he had pushed himself to function for Madrid at all following his repeated accidents. It helped, in fact, that by the point Woodgate had picked up his second reserving of the afternoon, Robinho had introduced his staff degree and Raúl had notched both aspect of the defender’s early ejection to offer them a Three-1 victory.

“If Real Madrid had not won Woodgate would have ended up abandoning the country in a van with flowers painted on the side. His destination: some hippy retreat where the past no longer matters,” mused Spanish author Juanma Trueba. “This was not just a comeback, it was the rehabilitation of a footballer who has been pursued by bad luck to the point of ridiculousness and beyond. Luckily, Madrid saved Private Woodgate. He continues his rehabilitation treatment and the hippies, for now, have lost a convert.”

Learn  |  The damned profession of Christoph Metzelder

Past the luckless launch that verged on the absurd, Woodgate was capable of step up his rehabilitation by reclaiming a spot within the Real group. Discovering far larger success when partnering fellow new recruit Sergio Ramos, who had joined the Real trigger from home rivals Sevilla, Woodgate and co conspired to maintain 10 clear sheets in 13 video games between mid-October and late-February. The issue was, regardless of the wonderful 13 appearances he did make, there have been some 40 or so he didn’t, as was so typically the case, on account of his unavoidable susceptibility to damage.

The notable performances with which he adopted his debut result in the Guardian’s Sid Lowe writing at the time that Woodgate had set about “proving himself one of Europe’s finest defenders, a snip at £13.4 million” and claimed the town and past have been “raving about him”. Maybe much more spectacular than the performances themselves, although, was the decided, constructive mindset Woodgate employed to maneuver past his disastrous debut and carry out with such confidence all through the rest of the season.

However so seldom have been the probabilities afforded to Madrid followers to applaud the Englishman that, in the long run, his extra adroit appearances proved too little too late to see his error-ridden opener put utterly out of thoughts. This was by no means made extra obvious than when, in 2007, Woodgate was voted the league’s worst purchase of the century by readers of Spanish sports activities day by day Marca, through which he polled 37.11 % of the votes forged.

Having spent extra time within the remedy room than on the pitch through the earlier season, and with a historical past that gave no help to the concept his damage woes have been a factor of the previous, Woodgate discovered himself a way south of latest boss Fabio Capello’s plans at the start of the 2006/07 marketing campaign. Certainly, the defender wasn’t afforded a spot within the squad at all and was as an alternative loaned to hometown membership Middlesbrough. Regardless of many strong performances through the short-term spell, Capello gave no thought to a reunion, and in April 2007, lower than a yr after sealing the preliminary mortgage, Woodgate’s cope with the Teesside membership was made everlasting.

After three seasons and simply 14 appearances, sufficient accidents to final any profession, and a gap bow to face the check of time for all of the improper causes, Woodgate’s divisive keep in Madrid was over, destined to stay on solely as traces of reminiscence and flashes of movie. Regardless of waking with a startling jolt from his dream transfer, Woodgate had at least endured all of it even at its most nightmarish.

On the opposite aspect of his Spanish sojourn, Woodgate performed virtually one other decade of soccer, together with two spells at boyhood membership Middlesbrough that bookended a three-year keep in North London with Tottenham, which noticed him win his first and final main honour, and a memorable yr plying his commerce Stoke.

Whether or not or not he appears again fondly upon his time in Spain might be a solution that modifications with age, as his perspective shifts just like the sands of time and the flashbacks of that forsaken debut reappear on sleepless nights towards closed eyelids rather less. Fortunately for Woodgate, that recreation is alone, only a single startling anomaly, as not one in every of his 4 subsequent debuts got here near being as memorable because the one he made in Madrid.

By Will Sharp @shillwarp