Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Ranking the five players to ever move from Man Utd to Real Madrid after shock Marcus Rashford rumours

David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo

Some of football's biggest stars have played for Man Utd and Real Madrid

Manchester United and Real Madrid are two of the biggest clubs in the world, global institutions who have over the years been home to some incredible players.

Some of those players have turned out for both clubs, with a handful moving directly between them either to fulfil new ambitions or continue their careers at a high level.

The current Manchester United squad, for example, contains two players they bought directly from Real Madrid: Raphael Varane and Casemiro.

Over the years, it has been slightly more frequent for players to move in the opposite direction, trading Manchester for Madrid.

Recently, reports from Spain have suggested that Marcus Rashford could be part of Real Madrid’s plans for the future if they can orchestrate his signing from Man Utd.

There have also been rumours that Rasmus Hojlund could become a player of interest to Los Blancos as he starts to find his feet in Manchester following last summer’s big-money move from Atalanta.

Those two transfers remain in the realm of being hypothetical, but what about those that have actually happened over the years?

Here, TEAMtalk recounts the five players to have ever moved from Man Utd to Real Madrid, ranking them all the way up to the very best.

5. Gabriel Heinze

In terms of impactful signings in Man Utd history, Gabriel Heinze is arguably under-ranked.

United brought the defender to the Premier League for the first time in his career from Paris Saint-Germain in 2004 and his adaptation was strong enough for him to be named their Player of the Year after his debut season.

From scoring on his debut to winning the Premier League in his third and final season with the Red Devils, the left-footed defender enjoyed some high times at Old Trafford, either side of a second season that he missed most of due to injury.

Controversially, Heinze tried to join United’s arch-rivals Liverpool in 2007 after falling out of favour.

There was no way Sir Alex Ferguson was going to let that happen, though, so United sold him to Real Madrid instead.

Back in La Liga after a previous spell with Valladolid, Heinze went on to spend a pair of seasons with Los Merengues, winning the domestic title at the first time of asking.

The Argentina international was 31 years old by the time Madrid sold him to Marseille, having only used him in just under 58% of their La Liga matches during his time with the club, and he later concluded his career with spells at Roma and Newell’s Old Boys.

READ MORERanking the eight strikers Man Utd have signed in the post-Fergie era: €50m ‘mope,’ iconic veterans…

4. Javier Hernandez

Something of a cult hero for Man Utd, Javier Hernandez introduced himself to English football with a 20-goal debut season after arriving from Guadalajara in his native Mexico.

He hit double figures of goals in the next two seasons too, until the goals started to dry up in the 2013/14 campaign, in which his tally was propped up noticeably by his League Cup form.

In need of some rejuvenation, Hernandez headed to Real Madrid for a loan spell in September 2014.

Chicharito proceeded to score nine goals from 33 appearances for Real and was part of their squad that won the Club World Cup.

Madrid had an option to buy Hernandez at the end of his loan spell, but they never activated it.

Instead, Hernandez made a handful of appearances back with United, before being sold to Bayer Leverkusen in August 2015.

That wasn’t it for him in either the Premier League or La Liga though, since he later had spells with West Ham and Sevilla.

3. David Beckham

There are certain athletes across history who have transcended the sport they made their name in, and David Beckham fits into that category.

Not just the celebrity some people see him as these days, Beckham was once a fine footballer, renowned for his ability at set pieces but also with other skills in his locker.

He graduated United’s famous academy and eventually spent more than a decade with the club, winning six Premier League trophies and making almost 400 appearances.

In 2003, things sadly came to an end for Beckham at United. Originally, they were set to sell him to Barcelona, but instead, he became a Galactico signing for their rivals Real.

Beckham became Madrid’s third ever English player, being declared as “a great player who is going to become part of the club’s great history” and “a symbol of modern-day stardom” by their president Florentino Perez.

The winger fulfilled his four-year contract in Madrid, adding a La Liga medal to his cabinet by the end of his 155-appearance spell.

Then, in 2007, Beckham left Real and became an MLS figurehead by joining LA Galaxy. Later spells in Europe with AC Milan and PSG also occurred in his later career.

2. Ruud van Nistelrooy

After 113 goals at club level in his native Netherlands, United felt it was time to bring Ruud van Nistelrooy to English football in 2001, a year after originally trying to do so until an injury scuppered their plans.

Aged 25 when he finally joined – in what was a club-record signing, but only for a few days due to the subsequent purchase of Juan Sebastian Veron – Van Nistelrooy was a barnstorming success at Old Trafford.

He scored 36 goals in his debut season and an astonishing 44 in his second, helping United win the 2002/03 Premier League. Van Nistelrooy was the club’s Player of the Year in both seasons.

In fact, over the course of his five-season spell, the Dutchman fired in a total of 150 goals (95 of which were in the Premier League) from just 219 appearances.

Despite just passing the age of 30, Real invested in Van Nistelrooy in 2006 and he rewarded their faith.

For example, he scored a hat-trick on just his second appearance in La Liga and even enjoyed a four-goal haul in one game in his formative months as a Madrid player.

While he had only ever won one Premier League crown, Van Nistelrooy won La Liga in each of his first two seasons in the Spanish capital.

Ultimately, they were his only two seasons with a substantial body of work for Real. He only made 12 appearances in his third season – respectably scoring 10 goals still – and left for Hamburger four games into his fourth season.

Van Nistelrooy would later finish his playing career back in Spain with Malaga.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo with the Champions League trophy

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating his fifth Champions League win

There was only going to be one player at the top of this ranking: the man who won the Ballon d’Or while at both clubs.

Cristiano Ronaldo was a dazzling teenage winger when United signed him from Sporting CP in 2003.

Six years later, he was leaving the club with 118 goals behind him, three Premier League medals, a Champions League, an FA Cup, two League Cups, a Community Shield and a Club World Cup.

Twice Ronaldo was named the Premier League Player of the Season and he even won the European Golden Shoe in his penultimate campaign, in which he also earned the right to be called the best player in the world.

If that wasn’t quite enough, Ronaldo’s legendary status increased exponentially after a world-record transfer to Real in 2009.

The Portuguese forward scored more goals than the number of games he played for Madrid: a club-record smashing 450 from 438, to be precise.

There were even two separate seasons in which he reached the 60-goal milestone, pretty much double what most world-class strikers would be happy with.

Ronaldo won four more Champions Leagues, as well as La Liga twice, four other domestic Spanish cups and five more continental and intercontinental honours – not to mention his four extra Ballons d’Or.

Three-and-a-bit seasons with Juventus followed before United spectacularly bought him back for a second spell in 2021.

Despite a 24-goal return in the first season of his second spell, Ronaldo seemed to do more harm than good to United’s evolution this time around.

Ultimately unfavoured by Erik ten Hag, he was allowed to leave for Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr midway through his second season back in Manchester.

Reflecting back on his original spell, though, and how he earned his move to Madrid, it is hard to overlook Ronaldo’s legendary impact.

IN FOCUS – Cristiano Ronaldo names his best XI of team-mates