England international Jude Bellingham instantly became the biggest star in his first season at Real Madrid. By the looks of it, he’s going to have the biggest impact as an English player in Santiago Bernabeu. The Stourbridge native is the sixth Englishman in the history of the European giants. In this article, we’ll take a look all the English players who have played for Real Madrid, breaking down their careers in Spain’s capital one by one.
Laurie Cunningham (1979-1984)
- 66 matches played, 20 goals scored
- Major titles: La Liga (1979-80), 2x Copa del Rey (1979-80)
Cunningham is a trailblazer in the truest of senses. He was the first black footballer to play for England under the Football Association (FA) when he received a call-up to the U21 team in 1977. And, two years later, he became the first British to sign for Real Madrid.
Having seen his youth contract ripped up by Arsenal in 1970, it was at Ron Atkinson’s West Bromwich Albion that Cunningham rose to prominence. At the Hawthorns, he formed the football version of “Three Degrees” alongside Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson.
His move to Real Madrid in 1979 produced another nickname for one of English football’s pioneers, the Black Pearl. In his first season at the club, Real Madrid completed a domestic double.
But his biggest legacy in Spanish football was enjoying the rare experience of a standing ovation at Camp Nou as a Real Madrid player. Injuries prevented him from writing more stories with the club as he only featured in 58 official games.
The pacy winger was also affected by his love for the nightlife of Madrid. His red card against Kaiserslautern in Real Madrid’s heaviest defeat in European competition highlighted his difficult third season at the club.
Atkinson brought him back to English football with a loan move to Manchester United the following season, but his cosmopolitan nature saw him play in Ligue 1 for Marseille and at Belgian club Charleroi.
But he had a special place for Spain, the country of his wife. He scored the goal that got Rayo Vallecano promoted to the First Division in 1988. The following year, Cunningham sadly passed away at the age of 33 due to a fatal car accident in Madrid.
Steve McManaman (1999-2003)
- 158 matches played, 14 goals scored
- Major titles: Champions League (1999-2000, 2001-02), 2x La Liga (2000-01, 2001-02), Supercopa (2001), UEFA Super Cup (2002), Intercontinental Cup (2002)
Real Madrid’s second Englishman was also an instant hit at the club. Joining them from Liverpool on a free transfer, McManaman was voted man of the match in the Champions League final at the end of his debut season.
He was among fans’ favorites in his time in Madrid. Not one to be questioned for commitment and tenacity, the all-rounder scored massive goals against fellow La Liga sides in Real Madrid’s two Champions League triumphs.
He was on target in the aforementioned final against Valencia. And, two years later, he was decisive in El Classico in the semi-final stage. As he was part of a team filled with superstars, including the Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo, McManaman’s versatility was a big factor in his over 150 appearances for Real Madrid.
After Edgar David’s historic move to AC Milan, McManaman’s case was another high-profile transfer that was realized thanks to the Bosman rulings. In four years, he played in 11 cup finals and became the first Englishman to win the Champions League with a non-English club.
Back in 2001, he was listed sixth among the world’s highest-earning footballers by Forbes magazine. McManaman played two more years back in England with Manchester City before hanging up his boots.
He’s now working as a co-commentator and pundit on ESPN and TNT Sports.
David Beckham (2003-2007)
- 159 matches played, 20 goals scored
- Major titles: La Liga (2006-07), Supercopa (2003)
At the same time Real Madrid separated with the hard-working McManaman, they signed his compatriot David Beckham from Manchester United. Florentino Perez made use of the public tension between Sir Alex Ferguson and England’s superstar to add another name to the Galacticos era.
Just before the opening of the 2003 summer transfer window, Manchester United and Barcelona agreed to the player’s move to the Catalan club. But Florentino beat Barcelona’s newly-elected president Joan Laporta for the signing of England’s number 7.
As there was the club legend Raul at Real at the time, he had to go for number 23, citing Michael Jordan’s influence for that selection. Fittingly, he was unveiled at Real Madrid’s basketball facility with 500 accredited journalists present from 25 countries.
At Real Madrid, Beckham instantly reunited with his former assistant coach at Manchester United, Carlos Queiroz, as the Portuguese replaced Vicente del Bosque at the helm. His impact on the club’s marketing strategies and merchandise selling was visible starting from their widely successful Far East pre-season tour.
Within a month, Beckham won his first trophy with Los Blancos as he scored in the return leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Real Mallorca. For that 2003-04 season, Real Madrid also had megastars Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Raul and Iker Casillas in their ranks.
Although they finished fourth in La Liga and knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, Beckham had a positive debut season playing on the right side of a three-man midfield that had Ballon d’Or winners Zidane and Figo.
A managerial change failed to create the desired effect as Jose Antonio Camacho only stayed at the helm for three matches. Although he finished third in La Liga’s assists rank, it was also a season Beckham had disciplinary issues with three red cards to his name.
Beckham’s only La Liga title came when his starting berth was taken by Jose Antonio Reyes. In the middle of the season, Beckham made his free transfer to LA Galaxy official. That didn’t sit well with Real Madrid’s newly-elected president Ramon Calderon and Fabio Capello.
But they solved their differences with Beckham playing a vital role in the title race with Barcelona finally decided with a head-to-head record. Real Madrid tried to keep him at the club, but LA Galaxy refused any offers.
Real Madrid’s biggest achievement with Beckham was the club’s increase in merchandise sales. Becks is now the president and co-owner of MLS franchise Inter Miami.
Michael Owen (2004-2005)
- 45 matches played, 16 goals scored
With Michael Owen’s arrival a year after Beckham’s signing, Real Madrid had the England national team connection up front for the 2003-04 season. After two decades with Liverpool, the Ballon d’Or winner became the next name in Real Madrid’s Galacticos era.
But his start wasn’t ideal at the Spanish capital. There were lots of times he sat on the bench and he had to play in a slightly different role because of Raul and Ronaldo’s presence.
In their Champions League campaign cut short by Juventus in the first knockout tie, Owen only started two games. In Copa del Rey, he was the preferred choice, but they were also knocked out of the competition as early as the last 16.
Amidst all the media attention at Real Madrid, the number 11 needed some time to adapt to life in the new surroundings. Owen’s first La Liga goal was on matchday 8 when he scored the winner against Valencia at Bernabeu.
He finished the campaign with 13 league goals, including one in the 4-2 El Classico win and in the final week away at Real Zaragoza. Taking the goals-per-minutes ratio into consideration, Owen was the most efficient striker in La Liga.
But that strike against Zaragoza ended up becoming his last act in Spanish football. Newcastle United offered twice the money Real Madrid spent for his signature a year ago, making him the Magpies’ record transfer in 2005.
He played for the next eight years in the Premier League, but it was mostly time spent in the treatment room due to persistent injuries. Just like his former Liverpool teammate McManaman, Owen entered into co-commentary and punditry after retirement.
Jonathan Woodgate (2004-2006)
- 14 matches played, 1 goal scored
When it comes to injuries, Woodgate was unlucky throughout his career. Solely because of this reason, it was a major surprise when Real Madrid signed him only a week after Owen arrived in Madrid.
He was also injured at the time of completing the transfer from Newcastle United. He didn’t make an appearance in his first season, despite the hefty transfer sum of €13.8m.
After such a long wait, his debut should’ve been a joyous moment. But anything that can go wrong, went wrong. With an own-goal and a red card against Athletic Bilbao, Woodgate’s misery continues at Madrid.
He did have better luck with his Champions League debut as he scored in the right direction against Rosenborg. Further injury setbacks reduced his playing time before he eventually returned to the Premier League with a move to his hometown club Middlesbrough.
Marca’s readers voted Woodgate as Real Madrid’s worst signing of the 21st century in 2007. He now works at Middlesbrough as Michael Carrick’s assistant.
Jude Bellingham (2023-)
- 28 matches played, 18 goals scored* (as of February 9, 2024)
Major titles: Supercopa (2023-24)
In yet another transfer that upset Liverpool fans, Jude Bellingham became the sixth Englishman at Real Madrid at the start of this season. While he was at Borussia Dortmund, he was expected to sign for a Premier League club and The Reds showed keen interest in the midfielder suited for Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing.
In the end, Real Madrid won the bid with Jude becoming the club’s most expensive signing after Eden Hazard. Unlike the Belgian, Bellingham enjoyed instant success as Carlo Ancelotti set up his team around him in the absence of Karim Benzema (transfer) and Vinicius Junior (injury).
Unlike the last Englishman who made his debut against Bilbao, Bellingham scored with a half-volley. At the end of his first month in Madrid, he achieved what none of his compatriots succeeded – La Liga Player of the Month.
In his first 10 games, Bellingham had a similar number of goals to what Cristiano Ronaldo had from his first 10 matches: ten. A top-drawer brace, including an injury-time winner, away at Barcelona further cemented his influence in Spanish football. In the Champions League, he is the only Real Madrid player who scored in each of his first four appearances.
The winner of the Kopa Trophy and Golden Boy awards for 2023, Bellingham, 20, showed maturity and leadership qualities beyond his age.
British Players at Real Madrid
Jack Watson (1948-49)
- 1 match played
After we covered all six Englishmen in the history of the European giants, we close this article with a few notes about two more British players.
Before the likes of Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law, there was Jack Watson, who is believed to be the first British Isles player at a high-profile foreign club. When Watson joined Real Madrid in 1948, his coach was a former Fulham teammate Mike Keeping.
Under Santiago Bernabeu’s early regime, Watson only made a single appearance for the club before returning to London with a move to Crystal Palace.
Gareth Bale (2013-2022)
Bale had to be mentioned in this article despite not being one of the English players who had played for Real Madrid – the proud Welshman was an absolute machine for Real Madrid, and scored some of the club’s most important goals to help them win countless trophies.
- 258 matches played, 106 goals scored
- Major titles: 3x La Liga (2016-17, 2019-20, 2021-22), 5x Champions League (2013-14, 2015-16, 2016-17. 2017-18, 2021-22), Copa del Rey (2013-14), 2x UEFA Super Cup (2014, 2017), Supercopa (2017), 3x Club World Cup (2014, 2017, 2018)
The jury is still out on Jude, but Bale is surely everyone’s pick as the best British player in the history of Real Madrid. He was the first Real Madrid transfer to surpass the €100m mark.
Although golf-related stories tarnished the overall outlook in his last few years, Bale was a key figure in Real Madrid dominating Europe. Bale scored the goal that put Real ahead in the 2013 Madrid derby final as the club won its 10th Champions League crown.
In 2019, he scored twice against Liverpool in another memorable big game performance by the Welsh superstar. Bale is Real Madrid’s fifth foreign top goal-scorer in the club’s history.