For most young footballers, they aspire to play for the likes of Real Madrid: in front of packed crowds, under the lights of the Santiago Bernabeu and walking out to the Champions League anthem on European nights.
It is what many young boys can only ever dream of; to play for arguably the biggest football club in the world, with world class players. So when Ezequiel Garay arrived at Real Madrid from Racing Santander in 2008, it would be fair to think it was one of the highlights of his career.
Few players get to call the Santiago Bernabeu their home and play there on a regular basis but, for Garay, the Argentina defender admits he was glad to leave the Spanish giants for Benfica in 2011.
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The 29-year-old made just 25 league appearances for Los Blancos in his two seasons at the club and struggled to cement his place in the starting XI, under former Real boss Jose Mourinho.
Garay was highly regarded upon his arrival in the Spanish capital, but things didn't go as the defender had planned. And indeed his career did go on an upward trajectory after he left Real Madrid for Portugal.
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Regular game time with Benfica, in turn, improved his international fortunes with Argentina, while also helping the club to win three major trophies - including the Primeira Liga in 2014.
La Liga return
A subsequent move to Russia, with Zenit Saint Petersburg, may have been considered a backward step in his career, but the Argentina international has since returned to La Liga, after a five-year absence.
And with Garay set to come up against his former club later in the season, the defender will not be looking back at his past at the club with any regrets.
"I respect Real Madrid as an institution," Garay admitted, as per Goal. "But I still say that the best decision of my career was getting out of the club, because a footballer likes to play and I did not.
"I do not regret leaving there as the three years I spent at Benfica after leaving Real were spectacular.
"At Benfica I had my best years as a player. I was very happy, I won important things."
Now back in Spain, Garay will be determined to make a bigger impact on La Liga with Valencia after not being afforded the opportunities with Real Madrid.
Could Ezequiel Garay have become a key player for Real Madrid, had he been a prominent feature in Jose Mourinho's plans? Have your say in the comment box below.
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