Top 10 Players That Exhausted Their Potential At Barcelona And/Or Real Madrid

Chris Wright

8th, April 2011


By Chris Wright

With a nod to the upcoming prospective El Clasico fixture pile-up (four in four weeks, beginning on April 16th), Pies bring you a rundown of ten players whose burgeoning talents afforded them a platform at one – or, in some cases, both – of the two most illustrious club sides in world football, only to see their career eventually slide into relative mediocrity…

10. Jose Antonio Reyes – Real Madrid, 2006 – 2007

Quickly descended from one of the most gifted attack-minded players in world football to an ‘occasionally gripping performer for an average club’, all in the space of about three years.

If you fancy a bit of further reading, I urge you to have a gander (after finishing our rundown of course!) at Jacob Steinberg’s ace retrospective of Reyes’ fateful career that we featured on Pies a few months ago – it’s quite a tale.

9. Gaizka Mendieta – Barcelona, 2002 – 2003

Following several exemplary seasons with Valencia, Mendieta became the sixth most expensive player of all time (€48 million) when he switched to Lazio from Los Che in 2001, though cruel hindsight has shown us that it was never going to be the right move for the gifted Spanish playmaker.

After failing to continue Pavel Nedved’s fine work in the Italian capital, Mendieta was hounded as a finance-cripplingly expensive dud and loaned to Barca – playing regularly in a whimpering side that eventually finished sixth in La Liga, leading many to pontificate that a move to the Camp Nou would perhaps have been the better option when he originally chose to leave Spain for Rome the summer previous.

He then moved to Middlesbrough (where he still lives to this day), initially on loan from Lazio but eventually on a permanent basis, and showed English audiences glimpses of his former artisan glories in brief spurts before being carted off to the knacker’s yard midway through 2007.

Perhaps unfair considering the ‘hype’ was at Lazio, but Mendieta was hands down one of my favourite players of the 1990’s and with his brimming talent he should have been a footballing legend (somewhere akin to the status Xavi holds now), not a curious footnote.

8. Thomas Gravesen – Real Madrid, 2005 -2006

Joined Everton on the back of Euro 2000 and looked genuinely tasty during his five-year stay on Merseyside, prompting Real Madrid to gamble on him comfortably slotting into their vacant holding role.

Gravesen, however, had other ideas and instead went absolutely bat-shit crazy – taking his new ‘destructive midfielder’ role to the Nth degree on the sporadic occasions he found himself entrusted with a starting berth.

The Spanish footballing sphere soon fell out of love with the ruthless/reckless Dane and he sealed his own fate with Los Blancos by crunching Robinho in a pre-season training session – he was offloaded to Celtic the following fortnight.

Gravesen looked jaded at Celtic and completely knackered by the time he returned to Goodison on loan in 2007, with his early retirement two years late, at the age of 33, coming as a surprise to literally no-one.

7. Alexandr Hleb – Barcelona, 2008 – present

Former Arsenal winger Hleb fell into the trap of believing his own hype, jumped at the chance to join Barca when they showed the faintest interest in him, didn’t really get a look in amongst a sea of better players and can now be not seen not playing for Birmingham City on a regular basis.

The Belarusian is miraculously still contracted to the Spanish giants, though it’s been the best part of two years since he last donned the blaugrana.

6. Fabio Rochemback – Barcelona, 2001 – 2005

Rochemback joined Barca from Internacional on a wave of hype, chiefly because of his penchant for launching Exocet-like shots on goal from almost anywhere on the pitch.

As I remember, he was supposed to be primed to go down as one of the greats, but instead the Brazilian midfielder had to settle for a decent loan spell at Sporting Lisbon, a middling stint with Middlesbrough, another fairly featureless season at Sporting and then a move back home with Gremio.

5. Simao Sabrosa – Barcelona, 1999 – 2001

Great development curve on every single football manager game from 1997 until about 2003 but, in reality –  and despite the real, tangible promise –  Simao did little to nothing at Barcelona before returning to Portugal with Benfica after a couple of fallow seasons in Spain.

It’s completely unfair to judge a player on how he was portrayed on Champ 97/98, but whenever I see him huffing at his teammates for having the temerity to misplace passes and/or careering free-kick after free-kick into the wall on Channel Five these days, I can’t help wondering: where’s the man who, along with Benny McCarthy and Sabri Lamouchi, fired Barcelona to Champions League glory all those years ago?

4. Julio Baptista – Real Madrid, 2005 -2008

Made a name for himself after being converted into an attacking midfielder at Sevilla – scoring 50 goals in two season, before joining Real Madrid for €20 million in the summer of 2005 with a considerable wave of expectation in tow.

‘The Beast’ then struggled to make in-roads at the Bernabeu, being made to play out of position to make room for several more illustrious Galacticos, before subsequently moving on to Arsenal and Roma and duly being exposed as the rudderless chump he really is.

Now making another go of things in La Liga with Malaga.

3. Geovanni – Barcelona, 2001 – 2003

Signed for Barca for €21 million from Cruzeiro aged just 21, then enjoyed arguably the best football of his career for half-a-season at Hull City seven years later.

2. Ricardo Quaresma – Barcelona, 2003-2004

Quaresma joined Barca from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 after lighting up the Portuguese league with his flair and trickery, only to ‘fail to launch’ convincingly at the Camp Nou under the prosaic watch of Frank Rijkaard.

Feeling his tempestuous genius was being jilted – the Portuguese ego-vacuum duly announced that he would no longer be willing to play for Barca as long as Rijkaard was in charge and jumped ship back to his homeland with Porto after the culmination of Euro 2004.

The genuinely exciting Portuguese showboat eventually ‘got over’ with the Dragoes fans after a year or so of frustratingly self-absorbed performances, before once more letting his colossal ego get the better of him in Italy with Inter – where he rotted in Jose Mourinho’s (and Chelsea’s for a couple of months) reserves for the majority of his two-year stay, with Mourinho often publicly criticising his lapse work ethic.

Quaresma can now be found in the Turkish Super Lig, once again entertaining the easily-pleased with endless reams of superfluous, Youtube-friendly  stepovers at Besiktas, while the footballing cognoscenti continue to mull over just what could have been.

To be fair, his career did actually peak during his spell at Porto, but it’s his explosive beginnings and resultant association with Barca that have landed him plushy contract after plushy contract, despite doing nothing but mope for years on end.

1. Javier Saviola – Barcelona 2001 – 2007, Real Madrid 2007 – 2009

There was a time, not so very long ago, when Javier Saviola was a big (well, as ‘big’ as you can be when you’re 5ft on tip-toes) deal – in fact, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that he was originally touted as a bona fide member of the ‘new Maradona’ club at one point in the late 90’s, somewhere between Ariel Ortega and Andres D’Alessandro.

Possessive of a name and reputation that will always see clubs willing to gamble on him, Saviola has pottered around since being crowned South American Footballer of the Year whilst playing for River Plate back in 1999 – playing second fiddle to many far better strikers for the large swathes of his career he spent raking in ridiculously lucrative wages at Spain’s big two.

Saviola, 29, is now plying his trade at Benfica, and enjoying moderate success into the bargain – but it all could, and probably should, have been much better than that for the man they call ‘the Rabbit’.

Photos courtesy of the PA.

Missed any obvious candidates? Feel free to give us a friendly nudge in the comments box below…

Posted in Barcelona, Featured, Real Madrid, Top 10s & lists

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  1. King Eric says:

    Michael Owen? Although arguably he was already on the slippery slope. Quaresma is rightly a massive wasted potential.

  2. Timbo says:

    I always think of Joaquin when it comes to exciting talents disappearing off the radar, but if I’m right he never signed for Barca or Real between Betis and Valencia.

    Saviola is someone who I reckon would have thrived in the Premier League – the way Hernandez is currently lighting up United’s front line. His (Saviola’s) career is a massive shame. Always one for a Football Manager buy though.

  3. Rodrigo says:


    What about Robinho? He was one of the best players around, being compared to Pele, until he joined Real Madrid.

  4. Tinez says:

    In line two you’ve written ‘who’s’ – this is an abbreviated version of ‘who is’. The word that denotes possession of something is ‘whose’.

  5. thatswhatisaid says:


    A lot of the hype and comparison surrounding Robinho came straight from Pele himself. I think is is more of a case of not living up to the hype, not necessarily him having a drop in form.

  6. Ma da says:

    What about Perica Ognjenovic.

  7. Chris says:

    @Tinez: Cheers chief, duly amended.

  8. Culkosa says:

    Riquelme.. Wasn’t a complete failure at Barca, but never reached his peak there. Was ten times as good at Villarreal

  9. Bruno says:

    The funny thing is that Reyes , Simao , geovanni , saviola have gone to benfica and have don’t great things in the club

  10. Josep says:

    What about Maxi Lopez for Barca? I guess he’s still too young, but Canales?

  11. Kludge says:

    What about Morientes? A good year in Monaco then……

  12. McRillen says:

    Patrick fuckin Kluivert…

  13. Scatterbrain says:

    Ah, Kluivert scored 90 in 182 games for Barca, hardly a failure. His time at Milan and Newcastle however, haha!

  14. Jh says:

    Interesting list, I think Owen should definitely be on that list. Won’t forget how he quit Liverpool for Real Madrid to apparently win the Champions League, and we all knew who won it that year.

    Btw, it’s Jose Antonio Reyes, not Juan

  15. Pedro says:

    Reyes did moderately well at Benfica during his one year spell there and that was what eventually got him to Atletico Madrid. I don’t think he’s gotten his career back on track, but he’s in a team that’s well above average.

    Geovanni had one good season at the Estádio da Luz, with one diving header against Manchester United a particular highlight of his spell. Didn’t really set the world alight from then on.

    Simão was inspirational at Benfica (Liverpool fans can think back to when they lost against SLB in the CL last 16 in 2006), was team captain for a few seasons and top scorer in one of them. Not exactly Barça/Real level, but a pretty decent career nonetheless, topped off with Europa League success with Atletico.

    Saviola has been excellent for Benfica, was named player of the season last year when Benfica won the championship playing some magnificent football at times. One or two world class performers (especially at the back) in addition to the blur of burgeoning talent in last year’s team (Ramires, David Luiz, Coentrão, Di María, Javi Garcia) would have surely seen Benfica challenge for top honours.

    So, all in all, there is a difference between the players like Saviola and Simão, who carved out perfectly respectable careers, and preening primadonnas like Quaresma or Reyes.

  16. Pedro says:

    *back to Atletico, sorry.

  17. roid rager says:

    who is is ‘juan’ antonio reyes

  18. Tommy says:

    I have no idea why Ognjenovic, Prosinecki, and Riquelme aren’t on that list. Its so obvious too.

  19. Terry Sheddingham says:

    Hate to be pedantic Chris, as I’m sure it’s easy to miss things what with running a site like this pretty much single-handedly, but would #10 perchance be referring to *Jose* Antonio Reyes?

  20. Chris says:

    Cheers for the correction guys, I’m writing it off as Friday mind-melt!

  21. fede mendiola says:

    whattt?? saviola?you cannot be serious… Saviola scored a lot of goals in madrid and barca,

  22. fede mendiola says:

    hey before talking about riquelme, clean your mouth pussy

  23. hesham says:


  24. el denvo says:

    Amazing that two of these ended up playing for the Boro!

    Mendieta was incredible for boro, particularly in the 4-1 destruction of Man Utd in 2005 (or about then?)

    And Rochemback scored what I still think is the best free kick I’ve ever seen (apart from ‘that’ roberto carlos one):

    happy days

  25. RedSkywalker says:

    @Chris – “where’s the man who, along with Benny McCarthy and Sabri Lamouchi, fired Barcelona to Champions League glory all those years ago?”

    *fired PORTO to champions league glory all those years…

  26. James says:

    Agree with el denvo, that is my favourite EVER boro goal. Although the only other free-kick that comes close to it is Jimmy Floyd against Man City.

    Rochemback is still, and always will be a hero of mine.

  27. Stuy says:

    Morientes is a great shout…. sorta disagree with Robinho though, still a brilliant player when he fancys it.

  28. chrisallen says:

    i would throw Gheorghe Hagi in there…played for both and was never lived up to his potential at either.

    /forza barca!

  29. Chris says:

    @RedSkyWalker: It was a reference to my all-conquering Champ team of yesteryear.

  30. KevinW says:

    Pablo Aimar?

  31. KevinW says:

    Haha, Pablo Aimar. I must’ve been a little too drunk earlier

  32. Greg says:

    Mendieta was already on the way down when he joined Barca.
    His slide began when he left Valencia for Lazio.
    At Valencia, for a couple of season in the late 1990s, he was arguably as good as any other midfielder on the planet.

  33. OJ says:

    Steve Mcmanaman?

  34. LP says:

    What about Jonathan (12 Appearances, 13.4 million quid, and title of being voted the worst signing of the 21st century) Woodgate!

  35. The Archibald Chair says:

    Jordi Cruyff? Although I like him.

  36. Nate says:

    Michael Owen.

    Joined 2004 @ Real Madrid – came back a season later to Newcastle, never been the same since.

  37. pat says:

    funny coincidence how the majority of these players have played in the portuguese league as well… where it seems most of them had success

  38. ralph says:

    How about Riquelme? He was a flop @ barca

  39. Dan says:

    Ibrahimovic @ Barca.
    Anelka @ Madrid.

  40. drew says:

    @ralph Riquelme had significant success following his Barca tenure. So he really wouldn’t fit in this category.

  41. eric says:

    Saying Morientes is downright ridiculous. Him and Raul had the best chemisty and strike partnership in Spain. Just because he failed at Liverpool does not mean he wasnt any good in Madrid. He was superb in aiding Raul.

  42. Carlos says:

    giovani dos santos

  43. Nipo says:

    Baptista has scored 8 goals in 9 matches for Malaga (6 in the last 4) and taken them out of the relegation zone. Not too shabby for a “rudderless chump”. Fast forward 5 years and Royston Drenthe will prob be on a similar list. Robert Prosinecki.His own fans used to throw coins at him in the Bernabeu when he was warming up..

  44. javier hernandez…

    […]Top 10 Players That Exhausted Their Potential At Barcelona And/Or Real Madrid » Who Ate all the Pies[…]…

  45. Chris says:

    Hleb *shaking head*

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