Upon Claude Makelele's departure to Chelsea and David Beckham's subsequent arrival in 2003, Zinedine Zidane quipped,"Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"
It is only fitting that Makelele be thought of as the entire engine for that Real Madrid side because after his departure the Real Madrid vehicle sputtered and stopped, suffering through three championship-barren seasons.
Makelele was the undisputed backbone of a Real Madrid side that won seven titles in three years, including La Liga twice and the Champions League once.
Steve McManaman called Makelele "the most important and yet least appreciated midfielder at Real" while Fernando Hierro echoed him, saying: "he's been the best player in the team for years but people just don't notice him".
Makelele's role at Real Madrid was invaluable yet inconspicuous. He sat in front of the back four, intercepting passes and hassling the opposition's midfielders. Although he was criticized because it seemed he only passed backwards or sideways, many failed to realize that Makelele was the starting point for many Real Madrid attacks.
Makelele's subtle brilliance paved the way for more heralded names like Zidane and Figo to work their magic up front which made a winning recipe for Real Madrid of which a pinch of Makelele was the key ingredient.
It began to unravel for Real Madrid when Makelele asked club president Florentino Perez for a pay raise. Perez rejected his request, adding insult to injury by claiming that Makelele would "not be missed" and heaping scorn upon his "lack of talent". Obviously unhappy, Makelele handed in a transfer request and was quickly snapped up by Chelsea.
Chelsea's manager at the time, Claudio Ranieri, claimed Makelele would become the "battery" of the side. His observation proved correct as Makelele was one of the masterminds behind Chelsea's first ever Premiership title (although they were managed by Jose Mourinho, not Rainieri at the time)
The position of defensive midfield is now colloquially known as "the Makelele role" and this is a fitting tribute to a man who revolutionised football and is arguably the greatest Galactico of all time.
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