Real Madrid, the most decorated club in Europe, have a reputation for signing the biggest players in the world. From the great Alfredo Di Stefano to the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo, era-defining footballers have plied their trade at the Santiago Bernabeu, winning invaluable trophies.
The 14-time European champions have a rich history and deep pockets, making it rather easy for them to get their hands on the biggest players.
However, every now and then, even the great club from Madrid have fallen short and failed to get their man.
Today, we will take a brief look at such rare instances, at players who got away.
Here are seven top players Real Madrid have failed to sign in their decorated history:
#7 Patrick Vieira
In early 2000s, Patrick Vieira was arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League. The French superstar was Arsene Wenger’s trusted leader, possessed immense technical quality, and never cracked under pressure.
Vieira was one of Arsenal’s best players in their unbeaten 2003-04 Premier League-winning campaign, recording three goals and five assists in 29 matches.
Impressed with his excellent performance for the Gunners, Real Madrid made an attempt to get the midfielder on their books. Things were agreed upon between the two clubs, but Vieira ultimately chose to stay put for another year.
Recalling the botched transfer, he said (via EuroSport):
“I was really close to leaving for Madrid the year before I left. The deal was done between the two clubs, so when it was time for me to leave I changed my mind because I believed that I wanted to stay at Arsenal, I wanted to finish my career at Arsenal. I didn't see any reason to leave, I don't know if it was lack of courage to go. If I knew I was leaving the year after, I was going to Madrid.”
After winning three Premier League titles and seven other honors with the north Londoners, Vieira left for Juventus in 2005.
#6 Francesco Totti
Francesco Totti is hailed as one of the greatest sporting icons in the world. The former forward not only impressed with his excellent goals but he also resisted the temptation of leaving his boyhood club Roma time and again.
In the ruthless, money-minded world of football, Totti’s resolve was seen as a breath of fresh air.
Courtesy of his footballing prowess, Totti was approached by Real Madrid during his heyday. The Italian ended up turning the Whites down, but admitted that Los Blancos were the only team he would have left Roma for.
Speaking to The Guardian (via Managing Madrid), Totti said:
“Of course I thought about it. Let’s say that there were quite a few days in which we had one foot in and one foot out. Then, I’ve said, often and truthfully, that the choice to stay with Roma was made from the heart. In those moments, when you feel like this, you can’t walk away.”
The 2006 World Cup winner added:
“But certainly, looking back, thinking about the fact of saying no to Real Madrid, a little bit of doubt does remain. Real Madrid were the only other team that I could have gone to play for. The only team it could have been, I think. An experience in a different country could have been something beautiful for everyone. For my family. For me.”
Totti, who hung up his boots in 2017, played 782 games for Roma across competitions, scoring 307 times. He won five trophies with his boyhood club, including one Serie A title and two Italian Cups.
#5 Steven Gerrard
Liverpool academy graduate Steven Gerrard was not only a great footballer for the Reds, he represented everything that was true and good for the club.
He gave it all in every single match, leading his squad with valor and by example. The former England international's performances caught every big club’s attention, and Real Madrid were no exception.
As per Gerrard himself, Los Blancos approached him multiple times in his career, but his love for Liverpool kept him at Anfield.
Speaking to the Mirror, Gerrard revealed:
“I think it is very flattering to be linked to a huge club like Real Madrid. I think I had a couple of options throughout my career to go to Real Madrid but I resisted temptation because of the big connection I had to my hometown club.”
“It may be something I regret further down the line by not challenging myself and having a change of scenery in a different country but I would have had a bigger regret leaving the club I love. I am a big fan of Madrid, they are a special club, but for me Liverpool are my number one club.”
The legendary midfielder took part in a whopping 709 games for the Reds across competitions, recording 185 goals and 151 assists.
Gerrard, one of the heroes of Liverpool’s legendary Champions League comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final, won 11 trophies with the Merseyside club over his decorated career.
#4 Gianluigi Buffon
One of the greatest keepers in the history of the sport, Gianluigi Buffon is one of Juventus' most loyal servants. The Italian shot-stopper joined the Bianconeri from Parma in July 2001 and was at the club until the summer of 2018.
After a brief one-season spell at Paris Saint-Germain, he rejoined the club for a year in 2019. Over two spells, he played 683 matches for Juve across competitions, keeping 322 clean sheets and winning a total of 22 trophies, including 10 Serie A titles.
In 2006, Buffon made one of the bravest calls of his career, sticking with Juventus when they were relegated to Serie B following the Calciopoli scandal. Real Madrid reportedly (via Sky Sports) tried to lure him away to the Spanish capital, but the keeper held firm.
He told Corriere dello Sport (via Sky Sports):
“The truth is, and I repeat, I have a really long contract with Bianconeri, until 2008, and I feel really good in Italy.”
Following Iker Casillas’s departure in 2015, the Spaniard’s father revealed that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez “fixated with the idea of bringing Buffon to Madrid” (via Forza Italian Football). Unfortunately for Los Blancos, it simply was not meant to be.
#3 Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez has gone down as a hero in Barcelona folklore. However, had the Uruguayan not been a childhood fan of the Blaugrana, things could have turned out quite differently.
When Suarez became available in the summer of 2014, Barca’s arch-rivals Real Madrid expressed their desire to sign the player. Suarez, however, only had one club in mind.
Speaking to Cope Radio's 'El Partido de las 12' (via Marca), he revealed:
“Real Madrid were very interested in me, but my dream was always to play for Barça. When I heard the name 'Barcelona', I didn't hesitate for a moment.”
Suarez spent six trophy-laden seasons at Barcelona, scoring a whopping 194 goals across competitions (282 appearances) and winning 13 trophies.
His debut campaign turned out to be the best ever in his career, with the Uruguayan winning the treble (La Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey) with his dream club.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar is one of the most technically gifted players to have ever graced the field. Before joining PSG in a €222 million deal in 2017, Neymar won it all with Barcelona, forming a devastating partnership with Suarez and Lionel Messi.
Prior to dominating Europe in Barca’s colors, Neymar had an opportunity to join their arch-rivals Real Madrid. Unfortunately for the All Whites, they could not manage to secure his services, as the then-13-year-old Brazilian wasn’t ready to leave his country.
Speaking to L’Equipe (via Marca) in 2016, Neymar revealed why he snubbed Los Blancos in 2005, saying:
“I was 13 and it was my first time in Europe. But I didn't feel ready to move away from Brazil [to Madrid], there was no hurry. My priority was to be happy, become a professional footballer and then later move to Europe. I made the decision together with my family to stay, even though at that time a lot of Brazilian kids were already moving to Europe.”
Neymar spent four seasons at Barcelona, recording 105 goals and 76 assists in 186 appearances.
He won two La Liga titles, one Champions League, and three Copas del Rey trophies amongst other honors at the Camp Nou.
#1 Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe has become the latest player to snub Real Madrid, with the Frenchman opting to renew with PSG instead of joining Los Merengues.
Mbappe, who has been with the Parisians since 2017, has long hailed Real Madrid as his dream club. He even reportedly (via Fabrizio Romano) agreed terms with the club from the Spanish capital, but ended up extending his stay in Paris.
Hours before signing a three-year extension with PSG, Mbappe claimed that his “dream” of wearing the All White kit was not over. The Frenchman said (via Fabrizio Romano):
“Real Madrid dream over? Never over, never over… you can never know what happens in the future. I’m focused on the present and I wanted to continue at PSG. The criticism in Madrid - I accept it and hope they will understand me.”
Los Merengues tried to sign Mbappe last summer itself, but their offer was not accepted by the Parisians. Mbappe's chapter seems to be closed for now, but a move in the future cannot be ruled out.