Looking back at Iker Casillas's career, you can understand the ignominy his throngs of Real Madrid fans felt when they discovered he'd been forced out last summer. The goalkeeper had been inextricably linked to the club’s affinity for the Champions League, being instrumental in their eighth and ninth successes in the competition.
His second European title was secured after he nearly single-handedly denied Bayer Leverkusen with his cat-like reflexes in the 2002 final – a match elevated to the stuff of legend by Zinedine Zidane’s outstanding volley that sealed the 2-1 result.
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That never detracted from Casillas’s decisive contributions, however, and over the next few years the custodian was held in the highest esteem by Madrid’s supporters. The acknowledgement of his skills became global following his performances for Spain as they claimed the Euro 2008 title and the 2010 World Cup before defending their trophy at Euro 2012.
Things went south for Casillas when he became a casualty of a civil war with Jose Mourinho and was soon benched. He never rediscovered his assurance between the posts in a Madrid shirt after that. Despite bearing all the markings of a one-club man, there was an air of inevitability when he departed for Porto in 2015, where he remains.
A wing-back who spent his time in the opposition’s half as much as his own, Carlos was an indisputable pioneer of the role that has become an indispensable part of modern football. Just as importantly, the Brazilian proved a stalwart for Real Madrid, spending over a decade bombing up the left side of the Bernabeu pitch.
The Spanish giants relied on him constantly to set up goals and, when he wasn’t doing that, to score them himself. His trademark left-footed pile-driver free-kicks have found a permanent place in football folklore. The defender’s penchant for the spectacular ensured he never looked out of place when the Galacticos era rolled in, and Carlos would become a prominent member of the expensive but ultimately doomed side president Florentino Perez was building.
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Current Madrid left-back Marcelo established himself as Carlos’s like-for-like replacement and the veteran proceeded to have spells with Fenerbahce and Corinthians before a new kind of adventure in the Indian Super League with New Delhi Dynamos. He left that club at the end of the 2015 season and, now 43, hasn't played since.
His legacy as a player was near perfect – a certain headbutt aside. The Frenchman will go down as one of the greatest players the game has seen, and if Real Madrid's current form is anything to go by, he’s doing pretty damn well as a manager too.
The Galacticos may have had some of the best players in the world at their disposal early in the new millennium, but Zidane was the crown jewel.
Following his sending off against Italy in the 2006 World Cup – Zidane's last match in an illustrious career – the former Juventus star did a host of philanthropic work, including pledging three days of community service for that butt on Marco Materrazi.
Zidane, who was a Qatar 2022 World Cup bid ambassador, became sporting director at Madrid and later an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013. He then courted controversy after taking charge of Real Madrid Castilla without the requisite coaching badges.
He has since completed those badges and replaced Rafa Benitez on January 4 2016, going on to lead los Blancos to an 11th Champions League triumph. He's got them in pole position to win La Liga this season as well. What's your next trick, Zizou?
Before Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola; before Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – no individual epitomised the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry like Luis Figo.
The first Galactico in Perez’s galaxy, and the world’s record signing at the time for €60 million, Figo became a figure of hate among Barça fans after deserting Catalonia for the Spanish capital.
Equipped with silky dribbling skills and a fearsome shot, the Portuguese Ballon d’Or winner went on to become the catalyst of success during the early Galactico era. The La Liga title and Champions League victory he went on to inspire further alienated him among the Camp Nou faithful, not to mention the infamous pig’s head incident occurred in his third season at the club.
Figo continued to light up La Liga but he couldn’t sustain his early success and went on to be sold when Inter came knocking with a €20 million offer. The winger enjoyed success in Serie A that rivalled and perhaps even surpassed his time at Madrid in the form of four consecutive Scudetti. Retiring at the club an icon, Figo did his time as a Nerazzurri director before unsuccessfully running for the FIFA presidency.
When a large percentage of players know they are coming towards the end of their careers, the oft-heard line is their desire to move into the media. Few of them can dream of making the transition as smoothly and successfully as this Liverpool and Real Madrid great.
Timing is everything, and following his retirement in 2005 one of McManaman’s first tasks was providing analysis for ITV as his beloved Reds won the Champions League in a classic penalty shootout over the heavily favoured Milan. His media work has often brought him to Asia, including spending time in Singapore, and he became ESPN’s primary English Premier League analyst in 2010. He is currently working with BT Sport.
He has remained fit well into his 40s, competing in a number of legends matches for both Liverpool and Real Madrid. It all follows a career that featured two La Liga and two Champions League titles in Spain, on top of an FA Cup and League Cup on Merseyside.
The now-retired Englishman is one of football’s most recognisable faces, having built a celebrity life off the pitch.
Beckham wasn't necessarily the most gifted footballer, but the former England captain was incredibly dedicated and developed one of the best right foots in the world, providing memorable goals at Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and Milan.
Signed from Manchester United in 2003, Beckham's Madrid career never truly took flight, but he still made 155 appearances and won a La Liga crown in his final season before moving to LA Galaxy in July 2007.
England's most-capped outfield player later enjoyed two loan spells at Milan in 2009 and 2010 before lifting two MLS Cups with the Galaxy. He retired at PSG in summer 2013 after spending the latter half of the 2012/13 campaign in Paris.
Beckham is a UNICEF ambassador and does a lot of humanitarian work around the world. He still has endorsement deals with some of the biggest brands in the world, is good friends with several Hollywood A-listers, although the world still awaits his long-mooted MLS franchise side in Miami actually appearing.
The name Ronaldo may now be commonly associated with a certain Portuguese superstar, but for those who started watching football in the mid-1990s, this Brazilian is arguably the greatest striker the game has seen.
The former Barcelona and Inter Milan marksman signed for Real Madrid in 2002 and had three good seasons before injuries and weight issues blighted his final two years. He moved to Milan in January 2007 but a kneecap ligament rupture ended his first full season in February 2008.
Ronaldo joined Corinthians in December that year and then retired just two months later, conceding that his body didn’t allow him to continue playing.
He has since worked as a United Nations Goodwill ambassador and owns a stake in American second-tier club Fort Lauderdale Strikers and sports marketing company 9INE. Now a poker player, Ronaldo finished a respectable 26th out of 816 contestants at the 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure to go further than any sports star in the competition's 10-year history. Golfer Sergio Garcia's 52nd place in 2012 was the previous best.
In July 2014, he guest edited FourFourTwo's 20th-anniversary issue.
It all started terribly. Raul’s first match for Real Madrid was personified by a succession of missed goalscoring opportunities, leaving many wondering what this diminutive 17-year-old was doing in that famous all-white strip.
It would end 16 years later, with more appearances for Madrid (741) and more goals (323) than any other player in history. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo has since broken that goalscoring mark, but the man described as the 'eternal captain' will always hold a special place in Real Madrid folklore.
While he could have commanded an extraordinary fee had he opted to leave in his prime, it seems fitting Raul didn’t need an enormous price tag to justify his place as a Galactico. He already had two La Liga titles and a Champions League crown before the bloated spending began, continuing on his merry scoring ways even when Ronaldo, Zidane et al started arriving.
He left for Schalke in 2010 – the Ruhr outfit even temporarily retiring his No.7 when he left – and then had a season apiece in Qatar and New York, helping the Cosmos win one last final to sign off his career in style. Since his second and final retirement, Raul has stayed involved in football as a La Liga ambassador.
Words: Jeremy Lim, Vijhay Vick, James Dampney.
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