Astonishment as £13.4m Woodgate joins Real Madrid

Jonathan Woodgate yesterday passed a medical and joined Real Madrid for a fee of £13.4m, a move that may have caught Newcastle United fans off guard, but was greeted in the Spanish capital with complete astonishment.

Jonathan Woodgate yesterday passed a medical and joined Real Madrid for a fee of £13.4m, a move that may have caught Newcastle United fans off guard, but was greeted in the Spanish capital with complete astonishment.

Woodgate, who is is hardly the kind of international big name Real normally splash out on, has a history of injury and has not played since last April.

What's more, Real have a strong sense of their club's good name, and it is unusual for them to sign a controversial figure like Woodgate who was convicted of affray in 2001, following the much-publicised events in Leeds town centre which resulted in an Asian student receiving very serious injuries.

"It came as a massive surprise to all of us," Jose Felix Diaz, a reporter with the Spanish paper Marca, said last night. "We all put together a list of the top 10 players that Real might want to sign to strengthen their defence and he wasn't on it.

"I think [Real president] Florentino Perez would have been happier to have signed Alessandro Nesta for example, who was the club's No 1 target. But Milan would not let him go. Woodgate's signing is a symptom that things have changed at the club and [club coach Hector] Camacho has got the man he wants."

The gaggle of Spanish journalists who had gathered at Real's out-of-town training ground in Las Rozas yesterday to witness Michael Owen's first appearance with his new team mates were bemused by the news that the club was in the process of signing a third Englishman in 12 months. "Tell us about this Woodgate guy. We know nothing about him," they pleaded to the small contingent of English reporters.

The 500-or-so fans that turned up to greet Owen were even more bewildered, most had not even heard of Woodgate. "Who is he? You say he plays for Newcastle, but we've only ever heard of Alan Shearer," one said.

Even the Real defender Raul Bravo, who was loaned out to Leeds United two seasons ago to cover the gap left by Woodgate when he made his £9m move to Newcastle, appeared rather confused by the club's decision to sign the injured 24-year-old. "If it had been down to me I wouldn't have signed another centre-back, but if the that's what the club thought was right then good for them. To be honest I don't even remember if I played against him in the Premier League."

However when Real failed to sign Arsenal's defensive midfielder Patrick Vieira a week ago, Camacho turned his attentions to a central defender who could partner Walter Samuel, the Argentine they had bought from Roma earlier in the summer.

The club were linked with Internazionale's Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Milan's highly rated Argentine youngster Fabricio Coloccini, but is a measure of Camacho's concern that he decided to gamble on Woodgate.

Woodgate has signed a four-year contract with an option for an extra year. From a purely footballing perspective, Woodgate has the quality to fit in at Real. He is certainly a better option than the lightweight players coming through the club's youth ranks. But a player who has spent much of the past two years on the treatment table, and with Woodgate's chequered past, is a huge risk for Camacho and Real.

Perez took the credit for the signing galacticos such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, but Camacho has been singled out as the driving force behind the Woodgate deal. Significantly Woodgate's profile on Real's website fails to mention any of the player's off-the-field problems in his biography.

Back on Tyneside, the Newcastle manager, Bobby Robson, wished his player well, but made it clear that the deal had been done by Freddy Shepherd, the club chairman, without his approval.

"This is an extreme, exceptional offer which, basically, we had to take," he said. "The offer has come in and the player has got wind of it. I don't blame Jonathan in a way because he's going to arguably the biggest club in the world, I think, at this moment. If you were in his shoes, what would you do? No-one is pleased that he's gone because we know what we've lost. At his best, he's the best in the country."

More English than Arsenal? Real's Premiership comparison

If Real play Beckham, Owen and Woodgate they will have more Englishman than many Premiership teams, including the champions. These are the Englishmen who played for each side last weekend:

Arsenal: Ashley Cole

Aston Villa: Lee Hendrie, Gavin McCann, Gareth Barry, Darius Vassell, Carlton Cole

Birmingham City: Matthew Upson, Martin Taylor, Emile Heskey

Blackburn: Craig Short, Michael Gray, Jonathan Stead

Bolton: Nicky Hunt, Kevin Davies, Kevin Nolan

Charlton: Luke Young, Danny Murphy, Jason Euell

Chelsea: John Terry, Wayne Bridge, Frank Lampard

Crystal Palace: Danny Granville, Mark Hudson, Emmerson Boyce, Wayne Routledge, Andrew Johnson

Everton: Nigel Martyn, Alan Stubbs, Kevin Campbell

Fulham: Zat Knight, Andy Cole

Liverpool: Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard

Man City: David James, Ben Thatcher, Danny Mills, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler

Man United: Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Alan Smith

Middlesbrough: Chris Riggot, Gareth Southgate, Ugo Ehiogu, Ray Parlour, Stewart Downing

Newcastle: Robbie Elliot, Jermaine Jenas, Nicky Butt, James Milner, Alan Shearer

Norwich City: Robert Green, David Bentley, Simon Charlton, Darren Huckerby, Adam Drury, Craig Fleming

Portsmouth: David Unsworth, Steve Stone, Linvoy Primus, Andy Griffin

Southampton: Kevin Phillips, David Prutton, Peter Crouch, Jason Dodd, Danny Higginbotham

Tottenham: Paul Robinson, Ledley King. Paul Ifil, Jonny Jackson, Jamie Redknapp, Sean Davis, Jermain Defoe

West Brom: Russell Hoult, Darren Purse, Jonathan Greening, Geoff Horsfield, Paul Robinson, Riccardo Scimeca

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