Former England center-back Jonathan Woodgate has opened up on his torrid time with Real Madrid and revealed the lengths the Spanish club went to in order to get him back to full fitness
Jonathan Woodgate has revealed he considers his time at Real Madrid a “failure” after incessant injuries ravaged his stint in Spain – despite the club’s best and most bizarre efforts to keep him fit.
Having broken through with Leeds at the age of 18, Woodgate showed signs of early promise and was subsequently snapped up by Newcastle in the summer of 2003. The former England center-back then caused quite the stir when he joined La Liga giants Real Madrid one year later in a shock £ 13.4million move from the Magpies.
Despite the defender’s undoubted quality, question marks remained over the then 24-year-old’s fitness levels as countless injury concerns had hampered his early career. Those fears continued to come to fruition following his move to the Spanish capital as a string of setbacks saw Woodgate endure a torrid time with Los Blancos.
“Failure is the one word I’d use about Madrid,” Woodgate admitted while speaking on the Original Penguin X Campaign Against Living Miserably Under The Surface podcast. “When you sign for the biggest team in the world, you want to go there and make a difference, but I did not.
“I did not win any trophies there and I hardly played, so that’s why I’d put it down as a failure. When I look back on my career, that gets to me. More than anything. Because you’re on the biggest stage. And my body let me down. “
Recurring back trouble resulted in injuries to other key areas – “it was making me pull my hamstrings, my quads, groin injuries,” the center-back confessed – as Woodgate was limited to a mere 14 appearances across his two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu . During that time, Real Madrid attempted all manner of methods to help the defender get his body back into working order, including insisting he completed a staggering amount of sit-ups every day.
HAVE YOUR SAY! Do you think Jonathan Woodgate would have been a success at Real Madrid has injuries not ruined his career? Comment below.
“In Madrid I was doing 1,000 sit-ups a day trying to strengthen my core and my back, and was thinking to myself ‘1,000 sit ups a day. Jheez. How was that going to get me fit?'” Woodgate revealed. “If anything it was going to cause me more trouble in my back, so in the end I went back to my old physio at Leeds who got me fit.
“I had physio, Botox, injections. There was one time they bought this fella over who had written to the club saying he could get me fit. He boiled some grass, put it in clingfilm and wrapped it round my leg.
“I was thinking to myself ‘what ?! I’m at Real Madrid and you’re putting grass on me’. He looked like Captain Birdseye!
“I started wondering if the club thought it was all in my mind and I’m not really that bad? Scans weren’t showing anything, but I knew I wasn’t alright because I couldn’t run, so I started thinking psychologically ‘Do they think I’m deluded? Do they think I’m soft? Do they think I’m lying?’ “
Woodgate’s Madrid nightmare was brought to an end in the summer of 2006 as he secured a return to English football with boyhood club Middlesbrough. To add insult to injury, the Spanish side would clinch a La Liga crown soon after his departure.
“The year I left, they won La Liga, and I’m not gonna lie, I was absolutely devastated because I wasn’t there,” Woodgate added. “But I got back fit playing for Boro and back in the England squad, and the one thing about me as a player was that I would never give up, always kept on going and tried to find something within.”
However, the defender would continue to see his career blighted by injury at Boro. But Woodgate stubbornly refused to allow such setbacks to bring his career to an early end – admitting he spent the majority of his career playing through the pain and pretending he was fitter than he actually was.
“Most of the games I played with an injury,” he confessed. “I’d try and trick my mind if I felt my hamstring in training, and tell myself I did not feel that to try and play. I wanted to stay on.
“At Middlesborough, during Ben Gibson’s debut, I said to him ‘you’re going to have to cover me here’ as I’d pulled my calf, but I wanted to stay on until half time – I could not handle the fans ‘groans of’ not again ‘, and walking off to that is not a nice feeling.
“I was embarrassed that my body kept letting me down. The embarrassment of having to come off. My last game for Madrid was against Arsenal and towards the end of the session before the game I got a slight hamstring strain and I’m trying to kid myself, because I wanted to play in the game.
“Ten minutes in, my hamstring went. I’d been injured so much at Madrid, and I knew I was running out of chances because they’re not going to keep you forever if you keep getting injured.
“It was the walk of shame. You come off in a stadium of 90,000, and you just want the ground to swallow you up.”
AFP / Getty Images)
The center-back, who amassed just eight England caps in the end, went on to play for Tottenham and Stoke City before bringing the curtain down on his crocked career back at Boro in 2016. While Woodgate refuses to dwell too much on the past for the sake of his own sanity, he admits part of him will always be left wondering what might have been.
“You wish you could change different things but if I look back now and thought ‘bloody hell’, my mentality would be all over the place because there were so many things that did not go right. Because my body let me down in certain situations. If I went and thought ‘I wish I’d done this, I wish I’d done that’, my head would go crazy.
“It should have been a lot better than it was, that’s the big thing. When I think about Madrid I think ‘Oh my God’, but my body let me down. I know for a fact that I could have played there, and I could have been a success there but injuries were an absolute killer. “