When you cast your mind back to the beginning of this century in football you can’t help but think of some of the greats of that era. You had a super-strong Italian league with AC Milan winning Champions League titles under Carlo Ancelotti. You had a post treble Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson too. However, all the world’s best were being dragged to the Santiago Bernabéu to play for Real Madrid under the Galácticos project set up by club president Florentino Pérez.
Real had a squad that contained an embarrassment of riches. Homegrown heroes such as Iker Casillas and Raúl were supported by icons such as Luís Figo, current boss Zinedine Zidane, England skipper David Beckham, and World Cup-winning Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.
Amongst the collection of the world’s best were a number of unsung heroes who more than played second fiddle to their more famed counterparts. Arguably the best of those was trequartista José María Gutiérrez Hernández, known simply as Guti.
The Spaniard spent fifteen years with Los Blancos between 1995 and 2010. From Predrag Mijatović to José Callejón, Guti was a mainstay in a squad that was ever-changing and evolving in the quest to gain European and domestic dominance.
Starting his football career with Real’s youth sides, Guti made his breakthrough to Real Madrid Castilla in 1995. An impressive double-figure haul of goals and assists in his sole season with Real’s B side prompted then-boss Jorge Valdano to give him his first taste of first-team football.
Guti impressed almost immediately and found himself a useful impact sub under Valdano and then Vicente del Bosque. The latter would turn out to be a massively key figure in the career of the Madrid born man.
Given the competition for places in the squad with the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Steve McManaman and Claude Makélélé, it took Guti time to become a starting XI player for a side that won three Champions League titles around the turn of the millennium.
1999-2000 turned out to be the year of Guti. A famed striker as a youngster in Madrid’s younger age groups, Guti found himself thrust into the same role in the first eleven due to an injury to Spanish striker Fernando Morientes.
The man who was meant to replace Clarence Seedorf following the Dutchman’s move to Inter was now spearheading Real’s assault on the league and Champions League. Guti impressed hugely. Fourteen goals in La Liga was to be a career-best as he helped his side win the La Liga title and six goals along the way as Madrid won the Champions League were just as vital. The blonde-haired boy had perhaps finally found a place in Madrid’s star-studded side.
However, the temptation of Brazilian Ronaldo was too much for Florentino Pérez to ignore and the Inter striker was soon on his way to the Spanish capital following a stellar World Cup. Guti found himself shoved back into midfield but now with a newfound respect due to his exploits in 99-00. From this point on, he never really looked back, although his goalscoring record would never quite be the same.
He established himself as a central midfielder who aimed to link defence and attack. His dream role was in the number 10 slot but it wasn’t until 2006 that he would get to taste that role as it belonged to Zinedine Zidane.
Following the Frenchman’s retirement in that year, Guti finally became Real’s true Trequartista. In behind the striker, Guti was famed for his excellent through ball playing abilities. His ability to get in between the opponent’s midfield and defence and lay on passes for the likes of Ronaldo and Raúl saw him at his brilliant best. Although his goal tally wasn’t what he had produced in the past, his ability to provide for his teammates made him a mainstay of Fabio Capello’s Madrid side that won La Liga in 2006-07.
Madrid themselves then hit something of a slump. The departures of David Beckham, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos as well as club icon Raúl left the club in transition. A strange time ensued with Bernd Schuster and Juande Ramos taking over the managerial hotseat. The side remained fairly successful on the field winning the Copa del Rey and La Liga in that time, but in Europe they floundered.
Ramón Calderón was replaced by Florentino Pérez as the club’s president and thus came the term of the second Galácticos. Guti had been through this before and despite the arrival of Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Karim Benzema, he still managed to cling on to his first-team spot.
In the summer of 2010, aged 33, Guti decided a change of scenery was due and he made the move to Turkish Super Lig outfit Besiktas.
In his fifteen first team years, Guti returned 542 appearances and 77 goals, putting him in the top twenty all-time appearance makers for the club.
Guti had achieved a career at Real that by rights he shouldn’t have. Real’s big spending and Galáctico squads that reigned during Guti’s years as a player shouldn’t have given him any hope of making it with his hometown club but he more than proved himself worthy.
Despite the arrivals of some of the game’s greats, he held his own as a first-team player under seven different coaches but perhaps one black mark on his copybook was his lack of international recognition.
Albeit the Spanish national side of the time was one of the world’s best, Guti made just 13 appearances for Spain during his entire career with not a single one of those being at a major tournament. Despite his former Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque being the coach for a stretch, he still couldn’t force his way in.
All in all though, this slight blot cannot take away the fact that Guti is one of this century’s most gifted technical midfielders who defied the odds to have a career that as a boy he could only have dreamed of. Hats off to the legendary Guti Haz, Madrid could certainly use a man of his calibre in their squad right now.