What Does Real Madrid's Pursuit of Lionel Messi Say About State of Los Blancos?

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2016

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 30:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 30, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Figo. Perez. A pig's head. 

When it was reported in late January that Real Madrid had made three failed bids to sign Lionel Messi from Barcelona since 2011, one's mind was instantly transported back to the summer of 2000 when Real Madrid pulled off a move of such magnitude and Luis Figo became the last player to directly cross football's greatest divide.

Almost two decades have passed since, but still the story and the images of it live strong: Real Madrid's now-president Florentino Perez polling his club's members. The conditional contract. The political instability. The unveiling. The crushing blow to Barcelona. The pig's head thrown at Figo from the stands on his return to the Camp Nou in a Madrid shirt—all of which was revisited here at Bleacher Report by Richard Fitzpatrick. 

Now it seems Perez has wanted to replicate that summer. Per the Press Association (via the Guardian):

The Partido de las Doce programme on the Cadena COPE radio station claimed representatives of Real approached the Argentinian in 2011, 2013 and 2015, but were rebuffed on each occasion.

The report claimed the first approach in 2011 came at a time when Cristiano Ronaldo was being linked with a move to Manchester City. In June 2013 it was reported that a Real executive – on instruction from the club president Florentino Pérez – made a renewed attempt after they had lost out to Barcelona in the pursuit of Neymar.

The final attempt was made last year, according to the report, after Barcelona had dominated Real in Europe and at home, but again they were knocked back.

That Perez and Madrid have attempted to sign Messi shouldn't really surprise. In Perez's tenure, luring the game's biggest names to the Bernabeu has been the club's modus operandi, Figo followed by Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez as galacticos. 

This is just what Real Madrid do, yet the bids for Messi might also suggest other things have been at play. 

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 5:  Real Madrid's striker Luis Figo waves to crowd after scoring a goal on a penalty shot against Anderlecht 05 December 2000, during their Champions League group D match in Madrid.  (Photo credit should read MARC ALEX/AFP/Getty I
MARC ALEX/Getty Images

Last summer, Fitzpatrick ran another special here at Bleacher Report breaking down the strained relationship between Perez and Ronaldo. "The adopted son Perez never wanted," he wrote of the Portuguese.  

Such an assertion may sound absurd given that Ronaldo was signed at the beginning of Perez's second tenure, but the deal for Ronaldo was actually done by his predecessor Ramon Calderon, per Fitzpatrick:

Calderon left office in January 2009, a month after the deal was inked but before it had been officially announced. Perez returned for his second coming as president in June 2009, yet he balked at signing Ronaldo, even though there was a £30 million penalty clause in the contract in case any party withdrew from the deal.

"The problem was that when Florentino came, he said, 'This is not a player for Real Madrid'," says Calderon. He didn't like to receive inheritances that he couldn't be proud of in the future. He thought, 'This player is not mine. I'm not going to take advantage of this.' He said, 'I think I can have two or three players for the same money. I don't see Cristiano Ronaldo playing at Real Madrid.'

Perez was subsequently talked around by director general Jorge Valdano, but the uneasiness has continued to linger in the political world that is Real Madrid.

Now the report of the club's attempts to sign Messi gives further weight to the notion of Perez and Ronaldo's difficult coexistence. Hypothetically, signing the Argentinian would damage the Portuguese's position of power in the Spanish capital, while the failed bids themselves point to an internal recognition of Messi's dominance over the club with Barcelona during Ronaldo's time. 

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 23: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates beside Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Bernabeu on March 23, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

This is political, too.

What must be remembered about the Figo deal is that it was about far more than simply signing the world's pre-eminent player. For Perez, it was a power grab. 

In the lead-up to Perez's bid for the presidency in 2000, the club had won the European Cup under the reign of Lorenzo Sanz. They'd won it two years earlier as well. Thus, Sanz's position was strong; Perez needed a trump card to sway the electorate. Figo was it. A decade-and-a-half later, Messi would be something similar, which perhaps suggests Perez has felt the need to strengthen his position. 

Across the last 12 months, opposition toward the president has been growing due to a string of lows in 2015. There were the heavy defeats to Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the absence of trophies, the sacking of the popular Carlo Ancelotti, the misguided hiring of Rafa Benitez, the David De Gea saga, Iker Casillas' ugly exit, the Copa del Rey debacle, the ongoing failure to sign a sporting director and, above all else, Barcelona's supremacy.

This season chants of "Florentino resign" have been heard at the Bernabeu after a long period of dissatisfaction, fans aware of the flaws in Perez's presidency. For Perez, Messi—no matter how fanciful the idea—would be the man to win them all over again and cement some sort of legacy. 

Thus, the third of the reported bids in 2015 might be seen as an indication of desperation. One is to be expected. Two? OK. But three? Three says much about how far the balance of power has tipped against Madrid in world football's biggest rivalry and what the club under Perez has deemed necessary to reverse it.