REAL MADRID (2008–2010)

From his early years at Ajax into his three seasons at HSV, Rafa established his quality across two of Europe’s tougher leagues. It was only a question of time before the Dutch star caught the eye of one of Europe’s giants, and when it happened, it was from one of the toughest leagues on the continent, and for one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. Real Madrid was Rafa’s next destination, where he wore the famous white of the Los Blancos for the first time in the 2008-2009 season.
True to his habit of landing in a new club with a bang, Rafa’s  debut season performances at Real garnered him a prestigious Bal d’Or nomination. Though he eventually lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United, Rafa made a calculable difference at the club with Real scoring more goals when he played, plus picked-up the most points ever in a single Primera Division season in the club’s history. One of the stand-out moment’s in Rafa’s first season happened at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in a game against Sporting Gijon. Real thrashed their opponents 7-1, with Rafa scoring a hat trick including a beautiful back-heel that surprised everyone in the stadium, especially Sporting’s goalkeeper.

However, despite the sparkling start to his career in Spain, Rafa actually started his second season rather low in Real’s pecking order.

“The coach [Manuel Pellegrini] told me at the start of the season that I was his fifth choice in my preferred position, behind Guti, Kaka, Granero and Raul. I remember I had to train separately from the rest of the squad, like running alone around the training ground. But once the transfer window closed, I was reintegrated into the group. In the end, I was a regular starter in my position and put in some very good performances. People might argue that my time with Real Madrid was unsuccessful, but look at the stats and you’ll see that I played a lot of games and scored quite a lot of goals. When I look back on my Real Madrid career, I do so with a lot of fondness.”

His three years in Spain saw Rafa played 73 games for Real Madrid scoring 12 goals. And although the impact of his injuries were beginning to take a toll on his performance statistics at Real, another important move would see Rafa dip his talented toes in the lake of English Football and reassert his class and quality.