When Florentino Perez was voted in as president of Real Madrid in 2000, the club members also voted in a new style of footballing doctrine. One where at least one world class superstar was tempted to Santiago Bernabeu each summer, regardless of how they would fit into the structure of the team. This era of the ‘galacticos’ ended in 2006 when Perez resigned. But now he is back, looking for a second crack of this elitist philosophy- and looks like he means business.
Perez’s inauguration in 2000 was predominantly down to his promise to the club fans of bringing in Luis Figo from bitter rivals Barcelona that summer. He duly delivered. The worlds greatest player, Zinedine Zidane, joined the revolution in the following year. The third year of the reign of Perez saw Brazilian striker Ronaldo swap Italy for Spain. David Beckham was snapped up from Manchester United in the summer of 2004, sparking a further boom in publicity and sponsorship.
In the first couple of years of the policy it brought success- Real winning two La Liga titles and a Champions League in in Perez’s first three seasons. The team was playing to the tune of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo. All was rosey.
But Perez made several misdemeanours which hurt the progress of his club. He refused to spend big money on ‘defensive players’, preferring to put his faith in mediocre defenders such as Francisco Pavon and Raul Bravo. Claude Makelele was also refused a wage increase for the same reasons, paving the way for his move to Chelsea—a move which coincided with the downfall of the galacticos.
“We will not miss Makélélé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and ninety percent of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways….Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélélé to be forgotten,” Perez famously commented at the time of Makelele’s Chelsea transfer.
The truth was that Makelele was the under rated insurance in the Real Madrid team—the linchpin that allowed the likes of Figo and Zidane to roam freely. Indeed as David Beckham joined the side, Zidane summed things up perfectly:
“Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
In one observation, one sentence, the world’s greatest footballer of the time had summed up all that was fundamentally wrong with the galacticos era. The lopsided, Hollywood nature of the team meant that substance was replaced with glamour, team cohesion surrendered for individual flair. Performances soon began to go downhill.
Now Perez is trying to do it all again. This second generation of galacticos so far includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Albiol and Benzema-mostly even more attack minded, showy players. Could this hint at a return to the selection of players based on reputation rather than form?
How can a football club accommodate so many top players? Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Raul, Sneijder, Robben, Huntelaar, Higuain, Van der Vaart, Van Nistelrooy etc and perhaps more to follow? Yes, some are bound to leave, but still, so may top players can surely not be given enough pitch time to keep them happy.
The signing of all these players in such a short space of time means that the team will need time to gel. With Real Madrid fans demanding nothing less than the title, there is unlikely to be any time for this. New manager Manuel Pellegrini has been given a thankless task and it would not surprise me if he is disposed of before the season is out.
Perez should learn from the past and concentrate his funds around solid defenders and wily anchormen. The signing of Albiol and links with Maicon and the ‘underpaid’ Ashley Cole show he may have learnt some lessons but he needs to strengthen further.
Otherwise the return of the box office galacticos is set to disappoint audiences worldwide again.