A history of Welsh influence at Real Madrid
Cardiff 2017
19 May 2017

A history of Welsh influence at Real Madrid

Real Madrid head to Cardiff with the aim of defending the UEFA Champions League trophy, and while the holders can make history by becoming the first club to retain the title in its current guise, the Welsh capital has a long-standing connection with the Spanish giants.

In fact, Real Madrid's first visit to Cardiff proved memorable for all the wrong reasons, as Cardiff City claimed a shock 1-0 victory in the quarter-final of the 1970/71 European Cup Winners' Cup competition.

Almost 50,000 fans packed into Ninian Park that night in March to create an incredible and intimidating atmosphere that clearly had the desired effect as a header from Brian Clark on 31 minutes earned the Welsh side a famous 1-0 victory. It remains one of the great results in the history of the club, and while a 2-0 reverse at the Santiago Bernabeu in the return fixture dented the celebrations, it could not erase what the side had achieved in the opening match.

John Toshack had departed Cardiff City for Liverpool before that memorable European tie, but the Cardiff-born manager would make a far more positive connection when he took charge of Real Madrid in 1989.

With the legendary Hugo Sanchez in incredible form, the Mexican striker scored 38 goals as Madrid claimed the La Liga title under Toshack's guidance, his team scoring 107 goals in the process.

It remains a defining season for Sanchez and the club, but a poor start to the next campaign left their defence of the title in tatters, and Toshack departed the Spanish capital in November 1990 to be replaced by club legend Alfredo Di Stefano. However, Toshack's achievements in his first season at the club would not be forgotten, and he was entrusted with the position again almost a decade later when he returned as manager in February 1999.

His second spell would not prove as successful, despite the presence of Raul in attack, and he was dismissed in November that year having failed to make the same positive impression as his first time in charge.

The demands of the Bernabeu are such that instant success is expected, but Toshack's second tenure would prove significant in the long-term as he handed teenage goalkeeper Iker Casillas his senior debut.

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Casillas would spend the next 15-years at the club and would become one of their greatest ever players, lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy on three occasions and captaining Spain to unprecedented glory. Casillas' international success included lifting the 2010 FIFA World Cup between European Championship triumphs in both 2008 and 2012. 

Toshack would later move into international management, and took charge of Wales for a second time in 2004 following the departure of Mark Hughes. Alongside intermediate team manager Brian Flynn, it would prove to be a time of significant transition for the national team, and Toshack began to build for the future by fast-tracking a number of talented teenagers in the senior side.

Amongst those introduced ahead of their time was a highly-rated youngster from Southampton named Gareth Bale, and after impressing on his 2006 debut as a raw 16-year old, he became a key figure in Toshack's plans. However, international recognition was just the start of his meteoric rise to fame and footballing success.

In the summer of 2013, a long-running transfer saga to bring Gareth Bale to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham Hotspur was finally completed. 

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The move made the Cardiff-born star the world's most expensive footballer, and he repaid the faith by lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy in his first full season at the club.

The following summer, Bale return to Cardiff with the Spanish giants to claim the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla at the Cardiff City Stadium, as two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo enabled him to celebrate with family and friends in a stadium just a few miles from where he was raised.

UEFA Champions League success followed again in 2016, and if his side can repeat the feat in Cardiff this summer, he will become the first Welsh player ever to lift the trophy three times.

Now facing a race against time to return to fitness following his recent injury, Bale not only has the opportunity to make history if he can claim his third UEFA Champions League winner's medal, but the chance to do it in his home town. Real Madrid have already exorcised the ghost of their 1971 defeat in the Welsh capital by defeating Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup in 2014, but it is the UEFA Champions League trophy that has defined the European history of this famous club, and it is the trophy that signifies the success of so many players who have worn the famous white shirt through the annals of the club's rich past.

The stage is now set for Real Madrid to make history in Cardiff, and with it add another memorable connection to the Welsh capital.