Madrid old boys get final chance to shine

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The Independent Football

Next Saturday's European Cup final was meant to provide Real Madrid with the chance to show off just what can be achieved with £250 million. Instead, last summer's big spenders and the hosts of the final have to suffer the embarrassment of two of the players they let go 10 months ago appearing in the showpiece.

"Maybe it's worth waiting outside their stadium to see what players they let go this summer," said Arsène Wenger of the decision to sell Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Neither player wanted to leave, and the coach, Manuel Pellegrini, wanted to keep them both. No one listened as they were packed off to Internazionale and Bayern Munich respectively.

One has already won a league medal this season, the other is likely to do so today. Both have won their national cup competitions and one will get his hands on the European Cup – a trophy Real Madrid lost sight of back in February when Lyon bounced them out of the tournament.

Robben and Sneijder are only the most recent examples of Real's now infamous errors of judgement. They will be joined on the pitch on Saturday by three other players shown the Bernabeu door.

Esteban Cambiasso was dumped in 2004. Similarly out of place was Walter Samuel, a no-frills central defender who was signed in 2004 and was always going to need a season to adapt to Spanish football. He was never given that and moved to Inter, where he has won three leagues and two cups. Cambiasso has won four leagues and three cups since his departure.

The Inter striker Samuel Eto'o left Madrid in 2004, signing for Barcelona, where he became the club's third all-time top scorer. All will have their told-you-so moment in the Bernabeu as another Champions' League season reaches its climax without the club who have won it nine times but have failed to get past the last 16 for the past six years.

And it is for Sneijder and Robben that the return is most gratifying. In the face of overwhelming evidence that they got it wrong, Real have made much of Sneijder's nocturnal dalliances in a failed attempt to make it seem they were moving on a troublemaker when they shipped him out last summer. Robben's injury record is the excuse for selling the Dutch winger.

But the former has been exemplary off the pitch and Robben's goals have powered Bayern to success. "We had to sell them to bring in Kaka and Ronaldo," Real have argued, forgetting that Kaka has been a failure and Ronaldo played at centre-forward in a team crying out for the width that Robben once gave them.

Both players were sold to fund a £250m tilt at the treble. Real, apart from their European disappointment, were knocked out of the Spanish Cup by a team of part-timers and will today complete a trophyless season unless Barcelona slip up at home against lowly Valladolid.

Flogged to fund the treble, it is highly possible that Sneijder and Robben will go into Saturday's final with a chance of winning the treble at their new clubs. They will no doubt swap stories before the game and shirts after it. Whoever wins, Real will have been the losers again.

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