In praise of Real Madrid’s undervalued stalwart

Real Madrid’s star-studded early 2000s team, twice winners of the UEFA Champions League under Vicente del Bosque, boasted arguably the finest collection of footballers ever assembled at the time (and let’s not be coy – even in today’s era it would still be pretty special).

For those who missed the boat, here’s a quick run through of the household names that turned out for the original Galacticos: Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Raul… err, Steve McManaman (in all fairness, the England winger more than played his part in their success).

In 2003, they added another global icon in the shape of shirt-selling superstar David Beckham. On the pitch, though, the team gradually began to slide down the European power rankings. Not totally the fault of Becks, although his arrival – and more crucially, Makelele’s departure – did coincide with the onset of decline.

For the most part – club stalwart and long time captain Raul aside – the Galacticos got old, injured, or simply moved on to greener pastures, and yet Guti, the Castilla graduate who had been playing in Real colours since the age of 10, remained. One of the only constants in an era of radical change, he survived the end of the Galacticos through to Fabio Capello’s uber regimented side, and even stayed just long enough to see the early goings of the Cristiano era.

Despite his longevity (and success: his trophy cabinet would put most players to shame) the midfielder is barely remembered outside of the Bernebeu, instead regarded as a peripheral figure in the success of a side that featured some of football’s biggest ever stars.

This, of course, is totally untrue: Guti played 542 games in the fifteen years he was a member of the Real Madrid first-team. We’ll let you do the maths on that one – point is he wasn’t a John O’Shea or Kieran Richardson style squad player, but one regularly selected across most of his spell on the club’s books.

It seems obvious to say that no team can sweep up titles without having a group of loyal and industrious players, ones prepared to put in the hard yards while the match-winners grab the headlines, but it’s also wrong to compare Guti to someone like Ray Parlour or Nicky Butt. He was a string-pulling midfielder of genuine quality: at another club, he wouldn’t have just shone, but been the talisman to whom his teammates looked every time they received the ball.

The highlight of his time in the Spanish capital (from which he moved to Turkey for a brief spell before retirement in 2010) was the 2000-01 season, when he hit 18 goals, many of them – such as his header against Alaves – proving decisive as his team lifted La Liga yet again.

On the international front, Guti suffered the misfortune of being born just a few years too early to be a part of the all-conquering Spain side between 2008 to 2012 (and, given del Bosque’s liking for the midfielder, it’s probably a safe bet that he would have been involved were he in his pomp). Still, it’s one of the game’s great mysteries that he only managed 13 caps over the course of his career, the last of which when he was just 29-years-old – particularly given Iniesta, Xavi and Alonso had yet to really emerge.

Whatever his regrets, whatever his profile, Guti is destined to go down in the annals of Real Madrid history – the tier just below the likes of Raul and Casillas.