Hassan Chamas


An unprecedented bundle of cash has been disbursed this past transfer window all across Europe. Manchester City’s Arab millions have tried to make them an established continental force, Internazionale have improved on what was already a trophy-winning squad, and Real Madrid splashed out nearly a quarter of a billion Euros in their attempt to wrestle trophies away from Barcelona.

Dozens of foreign superstars have donned the famous white shirt since Real Madrid announced themselves on the world stage in the 1950s. From Alfredo di Stefano to Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, this is a club that prides itself on winning every medal in sight. Any other kind of talk would be considered blasphemous by the ardent Madrid fans. It is clear that Arsene Wenger-like experimentation is a big no-no at the club.

But that does not mean that there is no youth fabric at Real. Over the past years, the club has fashioned many stars that have shaped the modern La Liga. One of the players that has managed to survive cull after cull at the capital’s biggest club is Jose Maria Gutierrez Hernandez, commonly known to the Bernabeu crowd simply as Guti.

Guti joined Real Madrid’s youth team in 1984, back when he was still an eight-year-old. Originally perceived as a striker, young Guti was later given a more withdrawn position in midfield, as Real’s coaches saw in him a clear joy – and aptitude – to deliver perfect passes. The youngster kept impressing, graduating through every level until finally rising to Real Madrid C, the club’s second reserve team.

1995 marked the player’s breakthrough season: He was part of the Spanish squad that disputed – and won – the UEFA Under-19 Championship in Greece, scoring in the 4-1 final victory against an Italy side that harboured the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti. Seeing that his club had another diamond in the making, then coach Jorge Valdano decided to call Guti up to the senior team for the first time in December 1995 against Sevilla. Guti would go on to finish the season with one goal in nine appearances.

The 1996/97 season would prove to be highly successful for the midfielder: Now a full member of the senior team, Guti won his first trophy with Real Madrid as he helped the club secure its 27th Spanish title, followed by a Spanish Supercup. The following campaign, the Spaniard clinched his first ever Champions League winners’ medal, in what would be the first of three in the next six years. Guti’s standing at the club would be further enhanced when he went on to win the Under-21 championships with Spain that same summer.

In 1999, four years after his first start with the Blancos senior team, the golden-haired attacking midfielder would get his first call-up to the Spanish national side, debuting in the 3-1 win over Croatia on 5th May. The Real Madrid man’s international career did not catch fire however, and at the time of writing Guti has just 15 international caps for La Furia Roja, in the process scoring three goals.

The next year, Guti won his second Champions League as Madrid beat Valencia 3-0 in the Stade de France, Paris. Shortly after claiming a record eighth European Cup, Florentino Perez won the Real Madrid presidential elections by claiming that the world’s best players would be soon landing in Madrid. True to his word, Perez managed to lure Luis Figo in 2000, straight from the Camp Nou. Zinedine Zidane followed the following year for a record-breaking fee of €78M, Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002, and soon after that David Beckham and Michael Owen landed in 2003 and 2004, respectively. However, that wasn’t much of an issue for Madrid’s own, as Guti still clocked up a respectable amount of playing time despite the vast array of star midfielders fighting over just four spots.

After a trophyless three-year period between 2003 and 2006, Florentino Perez stepped down as Real Madrid president, and the fact that his successor Ramon Calderon promised Kaka to Real fans was not helping Madrid’s number 14 at all. However, Calderon failed to lure the Brazilian megastar to the Bernabeu, and perhaps that was when Guti really started to matter to his coaches: With Zidane now retired, Gutierrez became the team’s main playmaker, playing a major role in breaking his club’s trophy jinx under Fabio Capello, memorably coming on as sub and helping his team to prevail over Sevilla 3-2 in the final stages of the 2006/07 season. Despite the Italian tactician getting his marching orders for not playing sexy football, this did not prevent Guti from gaining further attention as he became an irreplacable card in new coach Bernd Schuster’s hand.

Developing a firm understanding with Wesley Sneijder, Madrid’s vice-captain was one of the main pillars of the 2007/08 La Liga title defence. Notable performances came against Villarreal in the second fixture of the campaign, where he and Sneijder had a hand in all of the goals. Another bright occasion was the 7-0 drubbing of Real Valladolid, as Guti scored himself twice and served up another four assists.

With the neo-galactic era now underway at Madrid with the return of Florentino Perez, Real’s second in command had serious thoughts of leaving as the influx of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and touted canterano Esteban Granero meant that he would have less playing time. However, a talk with new coach Manuel Pellegrini was sufficient to persuade Guti against this as the ex-Villarreal manager convinced the senior squad member to stay, a decision that the player has yet to regret..

Jose Maria Guti’s contract will end next season, and the Madrid man will be 34. He will most probably leave his life-long club and head to pastures new in England, vacating his position for another youth-teamer that will try to live up to his accomplishments. Many pundits point to local boy Daniel Parejo – currently enjoying a spell at Getafe – as Madrid’s new assist-master. Whether the Under-21 midfielder becomes a Bernabeu legend is another debate, but what’s for certain is that it will take a lot for someone to deliver that killer ball the way Madrid’s second skipper Guti has and continues to do.

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