Choosing whether you sign for Real Madrid or Barcelona is a privilege reserved for a select few. We’ve taken a look at some who’ve been presented with the dilemma and opted for Madrid.
For Real Madrid or Barcelona to be interested in signing you, you have to be special. To have the choice between the two, you have to be a superstar – or at least a potential superstar.
That’s the case for all of the nine players on this list, who had both a Blaugrana and Blancos shirt within their grasp but opted definitively for the latter.
1. Vinicius Jr
After missing out to Barcelona on the signing of Neymar in 2013, Madrid president Florentino Perez became obsessed with snapping up the next great Brazilian talent. In 2018, that talent emerged, he played for Flamengo and his name was Vinicius Jr.
Again, both Barcelona and Madrid were interested, but this time Perez would not be beaten to his target.
In 2021, former Barcelona executive Andre Cury told SPORT: “With Vinicius, we were three and a half years ahead of Madrid [in scouting and negotiations].
“His agents, Frederico Penna and Stefano Hawilla, who had reached a commitment with Barcelona, betrayed us. The client of his company was us and not Madrid. I had a huge friendship with them, to the point of being best man at weddings and baptisms.
“At the key moment of the operation, they stabbed us in the back. Fifteen days before signing for Madrid, here in Brazil Vinicius said that he was a Barca fan, that his idol was Neymar and that [Lionel] Messi was better than Cristiano [Ronaldo]. Then he said what he wanted after he went to Madrid.”
Vinicius himself painted a less nefarious picture in 2019, telling AS: “I had proposals from Madrid and Barca, too. My father told me that I had to choose, and I had to follow my heart.”
Not content with one Brazilian super-talent, Perez went back to the country for another ‘next big thing’ later in 2018, signing Rodrygo from Santos.
Again, the Barcelona offer arrived first. According to Mundo Deportivo, Rodrygo’s father urged him to accept, to go and play with Messi. Rodrygo said he wanted to wait for an offer from Real Madrid to materialise as well.
It did and in 2022, Rodrygo told the Jota Jota podcast: “I arrived home after a match. I had a shirt from Real Madrid in my house and my father came into the room with that shirt and another one of Barcelona and he said ‘Now, choose’. And I chose the Real Madrid one.”
3. Angel Di Maria
Di Maria was one of the hottest talents in Europe while at Benfica in his early 20s and, according to GOAL, was the subject of a bidding war between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the first half of 2010.
He eventually opted for Madrid, joining them for an initial €25million and went on to win La Liga, two Copas del Rey and a Champions League.
Since leaving in 2014, though, Di Maria has twice angered fans of his old club by flirting with Barca, first in the summer of 2017 when he was at PSG and again in 2022, now that he is a free agent.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo
It seems weird to even consider it now, but we could have spent the 2010s watching Messi and Ronaldo play together rather than going head-to-head.
In 2008, after two seasons without a major trophy, Barcelona president Joan Laporta faced a no-confidence vote. Had he lost, former Nike executive Sandro Rosell, who eventually replaced Laporta in 2010, would have been the favourite to take over and he had a promise: sign Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was not only Rosell who was interested, though, with Txiki Begiristain reportedly having met Jorge Mendes to discuss a transfer from Manchester United as far back as February 2007.
Sir Alex Ferguson famously hated the tactics Madrid employed when attempting to sign Ronaldo and it could have paved the way for a move to Barcelona, but in 2009 Ronaldo was allowed to join Madrid, the club his heart had always been set on.
“I am just so happy to be here,” he said in front of thousands of fans at his presentation. “For me, I have made my childhood dream a reality, which was nothing less than playing for Real Madrid.”
5. David Beckham
Another global footballing superstar. Another man who left Manchester United for Real Madrid amid a media frenzy. Another, too, who could well have joined Barca.
In 2017, Laporta told Marca: “It was between Beckham, Ronaldinho or [Thierry] Henry. United told us that they would sell [Beckham] to us if we won the [presidential] election as we didn’t have the power at that time. But they used us and in the end he signed for Madrid.”
Beckham’s sights were set on Madrid however, as Laporta added: “We got fed up of waiting on an answer, so we signed Ronaldinho instead.”
Beckham’s Galatico status and playing style were certainly a better fit at the Santiago Bernabeu and, after joining in 2003, the England international eventually helped Los Blancos to a La Liga title in 2007.
6. Mesut Ozil
After impressing at the 2010 World Cup, Ozil was one of the most sought-after players in the world and both Barcelona and Real Madrid were sniffing around.
Ozil chose Madrid, where he stayed for three years, winning a league and a cup while notching 27 goals and 80 assists.
In his 2017 autobiography, Ozil explained why.
“When I visited Barcelona, there was no tour of the stadium; no display of their trophies, which had given me goosebumps in Madrid,” he wrote.
“Unlike Real Madrid, Barcelona had no emotional impact on me. The entire visit was less cordial, although I was inspired by their style of play.
“But most disappointing of all was the fact that Pep Guardiola didn’t take the time to meet me.
“Even before I went to Barcelona I was convinced that’s where I’d be transferring to. Or at least that was my preference.”
7. Takefusa Kubo
Kubo was part of Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy as a youngster and was referred to as the ‘Japanese Messi’. But after a spell back in Japan between 2015 and 2019, he was presented with the big choice.
In 2019, he told Marca why he turned his back on Barca: “Real Madrid were clear that they wanted to sign me. They showed me the plan they had for my career and I really liked it; that convinced me.
“I really liked Real’s goal in a sporting sense, the plan they had for me for the next few years, and what they thought about me for the future.”
So far, that plan has not quite come to fruition, with Kubo struggling on loan at Mallorca in 2021-22, but still aged 21, time is on his side.
8. Sergio Ramos
Mr Madrid at Barcelona? Surely not.
Well, according to Toni Freixa, one of the candidates for the most recent presidential elections at Barcelona, it could have happened.
In 2021, he told El Partidazo de COPE: “I wish we had signed [Ramos] when he was at Sevilla and he was offered. As I understand it, we could have signed him.”
Instead, Ramos opted for Madrid and shithoused and scored his way to 22 trophies, including four European Cups.
9. Xabi Alonso
After Rafa Benitez pissed Alonso off with his constant attempts to sign Gareth Barry, he joined Real Madrid in 2009. But he did have a decision to make when he departed Merseyside.
“It was the summer that Liverpool wanted to sell me, and there was a conversation between Rafa [Benitez] and Pep [Guardiola],” Alonso told El Pais in 2017.
“Pep told me about it in Germany. He told Rafa that he liked me a lot and I would fit very well with his way of playing, but Busquets had started in the first team and had tremendous potential. So Pep opted for him, and he was not mistaken. He turned into a great player for them.”
The same can be said of Alonso at the Bernabeu. In fact, he was bloody brilliant, pinging passes all over the gaff, winning two Copa del Reys, one La Liga and contributing to the club’s 10th European Cup.