The date was 2nd December 2008. Real Madrid had just signed Klaas Jan Huntelaar from Ajax – the sixth Dutch signing in less than three years. Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Royston Drenthe and Rafael van der Vaart were all wearing the white shirt by that time, with Ruud already winning two successive La Liga titles one of which was with Robben, Sneijder and Drenthe, – all of whom had won it in their debut season. Rafael Van Der Vaart had joined the party a year later and hoped for the same success. Klaas Huntelaar might have thought the same when he decided to sign for Real Madrid. But little did any one of all these players know that, come this day, none of them would be playing for the famous club. So what really happened that saw each one of them disappear into other clubs, all within little more than a year?
There can be numerous reasons even though one can easily point to the influx of Galacticos – Version 2 as a reason. But if one goes a little deeper in search of truth, there is more to this than just the normal player transfers. The departures of these players curiously coincide with the arrival of one Florentino Perez – who is famous for following in the footsteps of the legendary Santiago Bernabeu including the dislike for Dutch Players.
A lot of political motivations are involved especially when presidents are involved in transfers at clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. The first thing Perez wanted to see when he took over at Real Madrid in 2009 was the evaporation of the blemish left by the infamous president, Ramon Calderon. Not only did he want to bring in players of his own taste whom Calderon had failed to bring in on promise (read Kaka and Ronaldo), Perez also wanted to make sure the ghastly previous era was totally erased from the walls of Real Madrid’s history. So, he started clearing out the Dutch players who have traditionally not been successful or liked at Real Madrid (with the exception of Clarence Seedorf) for obvious reasons including the Joann Cryuff transfer saga – the legendary Dutch player who is intensely despised by Madridistas around the world.
The first to go was the last to arrive. Klaas Jan Huntelaar had only been in the Spanish Capital for six months but was sent packing to Milan to establish his football life elsewhere. Huntelaar had no impact at Real Madrid whatsoever for a promising striker. He was a surplus at the Bernabeu when Benzema and Ronaldo arrived along with the emergence of Gonzalo Higuain who was fighting for a starting berth with Ruud and Raul. The next expected departure was to be of Drenthe’s especially because of his failure to live up to the expectations he had created in his early days. But Madrid wanted money and Drenthe would not fetch them enough.
So, to balance the check books after spending more than €250 million, they decided to sell bigger fish in Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Both had had successful times at the Bernabeu with the former truly living up to his endowment in the later stages of the 2009-2010 seasons helping Real Madrid go undefeated for a then record 18 games including 17 wins until the calamitous Classico. Some will argue that the Flying Dutchman’s sale was a foolish mistake especially since his sale left Manuel Pellegrini with no proper left sided winger. But Robben had to go. For all his dazzling and swashbuckling football, he failed to crack down physical opponents and was way too injury prone.
Sneijder deserved more time at the Bernabeu.
Robben’s transfer to Bayern Munich was followed by a shock transfer of Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan. Sneijder was one of the more successful Dutch players at the Bernabeu in recent times. He and Guti together helped Real Madrid in winning the La Liga title in the 2008-2009 seasons and Sneijder was shaping back to his own brilliant self after suffering an injury in the 2008-2009 preseason. Even after rumors linked him in moves to high-profile clubs, Wesley had pledged to stay at the Bernabeu and fight for a starting place. Apparently, Valdano and Perez had other plans. He was cheaply sold to Inter in 2009 where he was guided to a treble win by the “Special One” a year later. It came as a shock to the Madrid fans and to Manuel Pellegrini who insisted that Sneijder stay on to help the team – but to no avail.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who was a phenomenon in Madrid in his early days when he could not stop scoring, failed to chafe off his injury problems and found it extremely hard to compete with the likes of Raul, Higuain, Ronaldo, and Benzema for a starting berth. Thus, in January 2010 he decided to have one last adventure as a footballer and signed for German club Hamburg. Four Dutch players were now gone in less than six months.
Rafael Van Der Vaart, the second last Dutch player to sign for the Spanish giants had an altogether different and awful time with the Galacticos. Manuel Pellegrini, the then Real coach had totally discarded Rafa from his plans. However, he stayed at Madrid as he could not find suitors and the transfers of fellow Dutchmen Sneijder and Robben had fetched enough money to convince Perez not to sell anyone else. Rafa struggled to find a place in the team and was almost sure to depart in January 2010. But, with Kaka struggling with injuries and Van Der Vaart himself showing signs of brilliance, he had earned a place in the team scoring some important goals. That was not enough to convince the Madrid management to let him continue at the Bernabeu and the imminent arrival of Mesut Ozil on August 17th 2010 made it crystal clear that Rafa’s cycle at the Bernabeu was over. He was transferred to Spurs on the last day of the transfer window in the waning hours.
He had seen it coming. The last dutchman to depart.
Finally, Royston Drenthe was sent on a yearlong loan to Hercules on the same day thus completely sinking the plummeting Dutch ship at Madrid. And it seems extremely doubtful that Drenthe will be playing for Los Blancos again.
Sneijder went on to win a European treble and a WC runner up medal. Robben won a German double and a WC runner up medal. Van Nistelrooy is enjoying his football in Germany. On the other hand, Huntelaar’s story went from bad to worse in Milan – and hence he recently joined Schalke to join ex Real teammates Raul and Metzelder in a hope of resurrecting his career. Van Der Vaart will be hoping to succeed at Spurs and win trophies in London and with the Dutch National team. Perhaps, after watching how all his countrymen’s fate ended at the Bernabeu, Drenthe will want to move on and hope to repeat what Robben and Sneijder did at Bayern and Inter respectively. Maybe it’s just not innate that the Dutch and Real Madrid make a heavenly match; adding to the irony that they intensely follow Los Blancos back home in the Oranje Country.