Since 2003 Real Madrid and Manchester United have swapped six players between each other. The total value of those transfers? 167 million pounds.
The first of these incredible splurges? Fittingly a big one for passionate fans of United: David Beckham.
In July 2003, David Beckham completed his 25 million pound move from Manchester United to Real Madrid. The circumstances leading up to the transfer make for an Old Trafford legend.
If J.K Rowling wrote a book about this incident; she’d call it: “David Beckham and Ferguson’s Magical Flying Boot.” In February of ‘03, following a demoralizing FA Cup semifinal loss to Arsenal, Fergie gave out one of his famous hairdryer treatments to the players. But this time he not only threw a metaphorical hairdryer, Fergie threw a boot. The boot’s landing spot? - David Beckham’s face.
Rumors rampaged around England as to what happened that evening in the Manchester United dressing room, the most cohesive story - from the man himself, Sir Alex. Ferguson claims Beckham sat twelve feet away when Ferguson kicked a boot and it accidently hit Beckham. It spun, spun and spun, cutting Beckham above the eye, and leading him out of the door of the Theatre of Dreams.
In terms of who won that transfer, you have to give the victory to Ferguson. Selling Beckham, an aging player who never quite returned to his awe-striking form, was the right move. Sure, Real Madrid made a ton of money on Beckham shirts. But just about anything with Beckham’s name on it, underwear included, will sell.
The next Manchester United player to leave Old Trafford for the bright lights of the Bernabeu was goal-scoring machine Ruud van Nistelrooy, and it was another nasty affair.
In May 2006 Ruud van Nistelrooy had been excluded from the starting line-up of a big match. The reason was likely a reported training ground spat with Manchester United speed demon and Ferguson favorite, Cristiano Ronaldo (more on him later).
Apparently during the training ground bust up van Nistelrooy said to Cristiano “go crying to your daddy,” referring to ex-United assistant manager Portuguese Carlos Queiroz.
This comment by van Nistelrooy was poorly timed, as Cristiano’s father had just passed away. By the beginning of the following season, Van Nistelrooy was a Bernabeu Blanco.
Who won that transfer? Real Madrid, no question. Van Nistelrooy still had plenty of goals in him after leaving Old Trafford, he would score an incredible 46 goals in 68 appearances for Real Madrid and in only four years; peak Van Nistelrooy poacher days. Ferguson would struggle to replace him.
Argentine underachiever and defender, Gabriel Heinze was the next player to swap Manchester for Madrid. He did so just months after Van Nistelrooy, in January of 2007. His price tag was a much more modest 8 million pounds, although his circumstances of departure were no less contentious than Beckham’s or Van Nistelrooy’s.
After losing his starting spot to future United Captain and legend Patrice Evra, Heinze tried to orchestrate a move to join Manchester United’s arch rivals, Liverpool. A month later Heinze was in Madrid.
Gabriel Heinze wasn’t a marquee player like Beckham or Van Nistelrooy. In fact, Fergie even questioned Real Madrid’s interest in the defender, citing their interest in Heinze’s friend, Ronaldo, as their primary motivation to buy Heinze.