Real Madrid are one of the greatest clubs in football history and they have had several great teams throughout the years, some of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen. Much is written about Florentino Perez's first Galacticos era with the likes of Figo, Zidane and Luis Ronaldo, but that might not even be the finest Real Madrid side of the past 25 years.
The Galactico project was set in motion in the summer of 2000, right after Real Madrid had won their eighth European Cup beating Valencia in the final, with the highly controversial signing of Luis Figo from arch-rivals FC Barcelona.
Newly elected president Florentino Perez's policy consisted of signing one "Galactico" every summer, which he did by getting Zinedine Zidane in 2001, Luis Ronaldo in 2002, David Beckam in 2003 and Michael Owen in 2004. At the beginning of the 2004/2005 season, Real Madrid's squad was worth nine Ballon d'Or/Player of the Year awards (three for both Zidane and Ronaldo, two for Figo, one for Michael Owen).
However, contrary to expectations, the Galacticos weren't that successful. From 2001 to 2006 (Zidane's retirement), and despite the fact that their main rivals FC Barcelona were in the midst of an unprecedented crisis under Joan Gaspart, Real Madrid only managed to win the league twice, losing it twice to Valencia (2002 and 2004) and twice to Barcelona (2005 and 2006).
This clearly shows that Real Madrid were unable to firmly dominate the league; two titles in six years must be considered disappointing for a team which contained the best players in the world at the time. They even finished fourth in 2004.
The Galacticos also failed to establish a dynasty in Europe; sure, they won the club's ninth Champions League in 2002 but they never had a firm grip on the European game as their Di Stefano-led side once had or even as the current Barcelona side have.
It would probably be an exaggeration to claim that the Galacticos experience was a failure, but it certainly wasn't as successful as Florentino Perez and the Real Madrid fans expected. After Vicente del Bosque was sacked in 2003, the Galacticos never won anything meaningful again.
But while much is said about Los Galacticos, there's a Real Madrid side that was arguably much better and tends to be overlooked/underrated (in contrast with the overrated Galaticos): their famous Quinta del Buitre (1985-1990), with a completely different yet more successful philosophy.
Real Madrid were going through a mini-crisis in the early '80s. After winning their 20th league in 1979/1980, they failed to recapture the league title for five consecutive seasons. For a club like Real Madrid, five years without a league title is a lot. But the pillars for success were being built for what would be one of the most successful periods in the club's illustrious history.
The term La Quinta del Buitre refers to "five men with unique styles that were joined by destiny to thrill the world with their football" (according to a Marca columnist), five products of the Real Madrid academy who would lead the team to great success: Manolo Sanchis, Martín Vázquez, Michel, Miguel Pardeza and Emilio Butragueño.
Despite the emergence of these great talents, Real Madrid would still fail to win the 1984/1985 league, losing to Athletico Bilbao on goal differential. In order to end this drought, the club appointed Luis Molowny for his fourth spell as a Real Madrid manager. The success was immediate.
With a team built around the Quinta del Buitre and the addition of some of the best outside talent (Hugo Sanchez, Miguel Tendillo, Paco Llorente, Francisco Buyo, Bernd Schuster, Chendo, Rafael Gordillo and Antonio Maceda), Real Madrid would go on to win five consecutive leagues in absolutely dominant fashion, under Molowny, Leo Beenhakker and John Toshack. Their last title in 1990 still remains one of the most dominant seasons in the league's history, with the club scoring a record-breaking 107 goals and Hugo Sanchez alone getting 38.
La Quinta del Buitre managed to dominate the league in a way Los Galacticos could only dream of. But there's something that makes this a very underrated side: They were probably the greatest-ever side not to win the European Cup.
They did win the UEFA Cup twice (1985 and 1986) but were unable to get their hands on the European Cup, ingloriously succumbing to other great sides of that era like Guus Hiddink's PSV and Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan. The late '80s were full of great sides (Steaua's invincibles, Arrigo Sacchi's Milan, Bayern Munich, etc.) and only one team could lift the Cup each year; this golden Real Madrid generation were unlucky never to win it, hence perhaps why they are not held in as high regard as they should.
Butrageño would stay at Real Madrid till 1995, only to see his club dethroned by another all-time great side: Johan Cruyff's FC Barcelona, who won four consecutive leagues, benefiting from two last-day Real Madrid slips in Tenerife.
That's right, Madrid lost the league on the last day in Tenerife not on one, but on two occasions, 1992 and 1993. On both occasions, Real Madrid needed a win on the last day in Tenerife to secure the title but they lost on both occasions, handing the title to FC Barcelona, 3-2 and 2-0. They were even 2-0 up in 1992, but ended up losing 3-2. You just can't make this stuff up.
Tenerife is certainly among the most hated clubs for long-term Real Madrid supporters, and one of the favorite clubs for FC Barcelona supporters.
Like Butrageno, Michel left his boyhood club in the mid-'90s. Miguel Pardeza and Martin Vasquez also left the club, and Sanchis would be the only one to complete his playing career at Madrid, winning the European Cup title that had eluded his fellow canteranos in 1998 and 2000, curiously with a much weaker side than the Quinta del Buitre, also benefiting from a much lower level of competition.
Like Miguel Pardeza said, titles alone don't make justice to the importance of La Quinta del Buitre. The exciting talents of these five canteranos from La Fabrica (Real Madrid's youth academy) revived a club in crisis and put Real Madrid on top of the sport again.
One must wonder why Real Madrid stopped doing something that brought them so much success; despite all the big-money signings under Perez, this amazing team with a homegrown core remains one of the most successful sides in the club's history, which makes it odd that Perez simply chooses to ignore the academy, which continues to produce great talent (just ask FC Barcelona who made the most of Samuel Eto'o's, a Real Madrid canterano, talents).
FC Barcelona have been the dominant club in Spain (and Europe) for the past decade with a philosophy based on a homegrown core and some fine outside talent. Maybe, just maybe, the best way for Real Madrid to counter this is not by buying the world's best players at premium fees, but to once again look at the cantera and trust the talent they have at home.
After all, that was how they built their most successful side since the legendary Di Stefano and Puskas team: the also legendary Quinta del Buitre.
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