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One of the Galactico-era signings alongside the likes of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, Beckham was one of the more industrious members of the side who brought balance and work rate as well as quality on the ball, and the fact he spent four seasons in the side is testament to his importance at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Beckham played a total of 155 games for Los Blancos, scoring 20 goals and winning La Liga in his final campaign in Spain, before moving to LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer.
Here we look at his four seasons in Madrid, 2003/04 to 2006/07, identifying the matches that made him a success story at the end of what was an up-and-down era at one of the world’s most successful and historic clubs.
Mallorca, Super Copa 2003/04
Beckham couldn’t really have gotten off to a better start as a new signing for Madrid. With the side having won La Liga the year previous, they opened the season with the Super Copa against cup winners Mallorca in a two-legged affair.
The new midfielder made an immediate impression, providing an assist for Luis Figo to open the scoring less than 20 minutes in.
They lost the game 2-1, but the second leg saw silverware immediately claimed with a 3-0 victory, 4-2 on aggregate, with Beckham netting the final goal of the encounter.
Real Betis, La Liga 2003/04
Beckham’s league debut came soon after, and his impact was similarly impressive.
He scored less than 10 minutes into the game, which Madrid went on to win 2-1, and like his Super Copa strike, it wasn’t really the type of goal usually associated with the Englishman.
His forceful run was an early feature of Beckham’s play at Madrid, surging from deep in midfield and having a greater physical capacity to do so than the likes of Zidane, but that was later discouraged by the likes of managers Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Fabio Capello.
Still, three games in and two goals scored is not a bad start to life at the Bernabeu.
Beckham would go on to score three in his first 10 La Liga matches.
Albacete, La Liga 2003/04
That 10th league match was notable not just for a third league goal—his fourth overall, with the fifth following three days later—but because it was the first time Beckham managed to be both scorer and creator for Madrid in the same game.
He opened the scoring, Albacete hit back minutes later, but Beckham set up Zidane for the winner 10 minutes from time to send Real Madrid top of the table in late November—the first time they’d reached top spot all season.
Real Zaragoza, Copa del Rey 2003/04
Real were still top in March, though they’d go on to finish fourth after a late-season collapse; before that, though, came the Copa del Rey final and a chance for a first major trophy in Spain for Beckham.
It started well, with Beckham netting 25 minutes in, but by half-time Real were 2-1 down. This was a defining match of Beckham’s season, of Real’s season, but not in a positive way—they completely imploded, in this final and in the season overall.
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The final went to extra time, with Real Zaragoza winning 3-2 and Madrid receiving seven bookings and one red card.
Five defeats in a row to end 2003/04 put paid to any hopes of winning La Liga, while Beckham was suspended and missed the decisive game against Monaco in the Champions League as Madrid were dumped out at the quarter-final stage.
Juventus, UEFA Champions League 2004/05
The following season wasn’t much better for Madrid, as they again won nothing of note.
Beckham put in a big performance in the Champions League last 16, first leg, setting up the goal to help his team beat Juve 1-0—but a 2-0 reversal in the second leg meant Los Blancos were out.
Beckham, Zidane and Raul were subbed off in the second leg for Madrid—three names as big as any anywhere, any time, which indicates the levels of disappointment reverberating around the club as they fell short.
El Clasico, La Liga 2004/05
In La Liga, Real Madrid finished the season in second, four points behind winners Barcelona.
A first for Beckham in La Liga came in El Clasico in April, as Los Blancos attempted to close the gap: two assists in the same league fixture, as he helped the Bernabeu club at least take pride and hope from a 4-2 victory.
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Beckham set up Brazilian striker Ronaldo and fellow Englishman Michael Owen in the rout, but it wasn’t enough to prompt a collapse from Barca as the season wound down, even with Madrid winning eight and drawing two of their last 10 fixtures.
Valencia, La Liga 2005/06
Beckham wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet as a player, never afraid of a confrontation or a moment of aggression. Indeed, some of his most memorable moments over his entire career came as he received a red card: the kick on Diego Simeone for England at the 1998 World Cup, a crazy tackle against Necaxa for Manchester United at the Club World Cup.
And, for Real Madrid, against Valencia.
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Real were 2-1 down and chasing the game when Beckham was booked late on for dissent; his reaction to sarcastically applaud the decision didn’t go down well, and he was promptly shown an immediate second yellow and thus red.
Sevilla, La Liga 2005/06
Another notable match tinged with regret for Beckham: his first brace scored for Real Madrid ended in a 4-3 defeat at Sevilla on the final day of the 2005/06 campaign.
A free-kick and a fine run and low finish set Madrid well on their way, two up before the half-hour mark, but Sevilla stunned Real with four goals without reply before the break.
Beckham was subbed off in the second half as Madrid ended the season empty-handed once more.
Deportivo La Coruna, La Liga 2006/07
Of itself, this game was of little consequence. A disappointing 2-0 loss at Depor in January left Madrid still top of the table, though a booking for Beckham meant he’d be suspended for the next fixture.
As it happens, the suspension made no difference.
With his contract winding down and Real not having agreed a new one with him, Beckham announced in the aftermath of the match that he would leave Spain and head to L.A. Galaxy at the end of the campaign.
His manager Capello was unimpressed, telling reporters Beckham would “train with the team, but he won’t play…we cannot count on him. He is not going to play again.”
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Real Sociedad, Liga 2006/07
Fast forward little more than a month and Capello had realised his mistake; he admitted Beckham could play again if he proved his worth, and the recall came at Anoeta in February.
Madrid went a goal down in the match early on, but it was Beckham who provided the equaliser and the impetus for Los Blancos to turn things around, going on to win 2-1 as the No. 23 played the entire 90 minutes for the first time in six league matches.
Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League 2006/07
Shortly after the game at Anoeta, Madrid faced Bayern Munich in Europe.
Real went out on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate draw, but the two legs highlighted the rollercoaster season that Beckham had endured.
At the Bernabeu he was a force, involved in all three of his team’s goals, setting up two of them and being labelled “world class” by Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, while Capello admitted “he played very, very well, and has done since he came back into the team.”
Despite that, Beckham missed the second leg entirely—he was not in the squad—and Real crashed out in the last 16 once more.
Mallorca, La Liga 2006/07
There was still, just about, time for one last chapter in Beckham’s Real Madrid adventure—and it proved the most critical of all, as finally Beckham had a major title to show for his time in Spain.
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The final game of the season in La Liga saw Beckham named in the starting lineup; a win would seal the title by virtue of head-to-head against Barcelona.
Real were a goal down before the break and lost Ruud van Nistelrooy to injury early on, before Beckham himself was injured. He continued initially, before being subbed off for Jose Antonio Reyes, who immediately scored after coming on.
Mahamadou Diarra and Reyes again notched further strikes to seal a 3-1 win, and Beckham, at the last attempt, had a La Liga medal to celebrate as he prepared to head off to MLS.