By Tom Dean
Seeing Martin Braithwaite score for Barcelona at the weekend reminded me of that bizarre moment in history when Thomas Gravesen signed for Real Madrid.
Even as I’m writing this I’m not entirely sure whether that’s an accurate or fair comparison but it brought those memories flooding back and I’m certain it’s not just because they’re both Danish.
Barcelona surprised everyone when they were desperately searching for a striker to replace the injured Luis Suarez and ended up landing on a £15million move for Braithwaite.
A move to Catalonia would’ve seemed impossible even to the man himself when he left Middlesbrough for Leganés last year having spent the second half of the previous season on loan there.
And it arguably should’ve remained impossible as the Spanish giants required special dispensation to recruit a player outside of the transfer window back in February with relegation-threatened Leganés denied the same privilege.
The 29-year-old managed just nine goals during his season and a half in the Championship but has struck seven goals in La Liga this season, including the one against Mallorca on Saturday – just one fewer than Barcelona’s £100million man Antoine Griezmann has managed.
The circumstances surrounding Gravesen’s move from Everton to Real Madrid back in 2004 were indeed less controversial but the similarity instead seems to lie in the likelihood of the future move during the time spent playing in England.
Gravesen had spent five seasons at Everton earning himself a reputation as a no-nonsense midfielder and the nickname ‘mad dog’ before Madrid came knocking for his services in what was a bizarre summer transfer window for the club.
The Galacticos project was complete with Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham each having joined in the previous four summer windows – now it was time to raid the Premier League.
Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate arrived in the summer and when Vanderlei Luxemburgo was named head coach in December, he made it his top priority to bolster the midfield – enter Gravesen.
What seemed most strange about the transfer back then was essentially just the aesthetic of it.
Madrid had gone through the process of recruiting the most talented and pleasing-on-the-eye team of stars money could buy and now they decide to throw a bloke who looks like a contract killer into the mix with them.
On reflection, what makes the move even stranger is that Luxemburgo was looking for someone to fill the defensive midfield position left vacant since the sale of Claude Makélélé but Gravesen had never played in that role.
Despite not being exactly what Los Blanocs were looking for, the Dane was given a run in the team and even bagged himself goal in a 4-0 win over Espanyol.
However a second trophyless season and the arrival of Fabio Capello as head coach signalled the end of Gravesen’s spell at the Bernabaeu.
In the summer of 2006 he was sold to Celtic with Capello’s departing message: “He’s just a little bit peculiar. I don’t mess with him, he works well tactically. His behaviour is like this, and I don’t like it, everything has to be done like he wants it to be done”.
Capello went on to enforce a mass squad overhaul in Madrid as Los Blancos won the 2006/07 La Liga title, meanwhile Gravesen ebbed into obscurity returning to Goodison Park on loan before retiring aged 31.
Failed transfers or ‘flops’ are of course nothing new but the sub-category of surprise moves to big clubs is a niche that the likes of Braithwaite and Gravesen share almost exclusively.
Other names that spring to mind include Steve Sidwell, Julien Faubert and more recently Kevin-Prince Boateng and Odion Ighalo but none of them hold a candle to the Danes.
It’s one thing to be a big fish in a small pond but very rarely do clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid deviate from their traditions of signing the very best players the world has to offer.
It makes you wonder who could be next… Robert Lewandowski can’t keep this up forever and Ivan Toney has been sensational for Peterborough United this season…
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