How Florentino Perez has learned from his mistakes
Galacticos. That’s how they used to call them. Glamour and style. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Adidas, Nike…Real Madrid. Does that sound like a football team, foreseen to kick the ball to the net, week after week, on a rainy night, on a sunny day, on a dirt field or a snowy one, or more like a brand that you see on TV, as your kid pressures you to buy one of those Beckham boots?
When Florentino Perez took charge as Real Madrid president in year 2000, he had one plan, to make his team the greatest football has ever seen. His plan started to work out well. He brought in Luis Figo, in one of the most famous and shocking transfers in history. He broke the transfer record by signing Zidane a year later from Juventus, thus starting a new era known as the Galacticos. With players like Raul, Roberto Carlos, Makelele, Hierro already on his team, the success was immediate. Real Madrid won their ninth Champions League on 2002, thanks to that outstanding goal by the now manager of Real, Zidane. But the titles were just a glimpse of what this team consisted of. They were playing beautiful attacking football, and the grass looked greener for Perez and his staff. They had a calm and professional coach to manage the egos, Vincent del Bosque, who had already won a Champions League on 2000, a La Liga title in 2001, which continued with another one in 2003. But Perez had other things in mind. He wanted a Galactico every year, and he could not care less what the manager needed. Real Madrid transferred Ronaldo in 2003 and Beckham in 2004. Initially, the idea was to buy superstar players but also promote youth players into the first team, called Zidanes y Pavones, with the name deriving from Francisco Pavon, a Real Madrid academy defender, promoted at the same time Zidane was bought.
But this remained just an idea, a concept, which never worked. With the signing of Beckham, and the offload of Makelele, one of the greatest defensive midfielder in the world, Real quickly became much more than a football team. They became a brand. Shirt sales, commercials, summer tours in Asia, movies etc. quickly put Real way above other teams financially. On football pitch, on the other hand, things were starting to fall apart. Del Bosque started a feud with the board for having little impact on transfer decision making and Perez decided not to renew his contract, one day after he won the league title. A team full of attacking players were in desperate need for a defensive midfielder, but Perez refused to cash in on Patrick Vieira, because he did not want to pay large wages on defensive players.
During this period Real bought Walter Samuel, Thomas Gravesen, Jonathan Woodgate, Cicinho, etc. and all of them flopped. And the managers, coming and going every year, with little impact on decision making, also failed. Real went three years without winning major titles, and fans frustration started to grow. The cherry on top came when Perez refused to sign Ronaldinho from PSG, a highly rated talent at the time, because he was ‘too ugly’ to play for his team. While Real went on missing on trophies, Ronaldinho signed for Barcelona and enjoyed huge success. Poor results, especially in Champions League, resulted in Perez resigning in 2006. Ramon Calderon succeeded Perez, with a different approach, resulting in the end of Galactico era.
Calderon replaces Perez
Calderon appointed Fabio Capello, who went on to win the league title, on one of the most interesting La Liga seasons in history. But even during Calderon’s presidency, things were not better, and fans were not happy. On the other side, the glorious Barcelona team was just getting started. They went on to win the treble, while Real Madrid got knocked out by Liverpool in the round of 16. To make things even more frustrating, Barcelona crushed Real on their own ground by winning 2-6.
Calderon soon resigned, and presidential elections were held again.
Perez, backed by the board, won the elections and thus the ‘Galacticos 2.0’ era started.
2009-2010 season saw Real Madrid cashing in on Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, for around 230 million euros. It certainly was a sign that Perez hasn’t learn a thing from his last failure. Real Madrid got knocked out in Champions League Round of 16 by Lyon, while Barcelona became one of the greatest teams in the history. They had Guardiola as head coach and Messi, Xavi and Iniesta as main players.
Florentino Perez continued sacking coaches year after year, Manuel Pellegrini being his last victim. In 2011 Mourinho took charge of the team, initially demanding full control on the team and the transfer policy. At that time, things started to change. Real Madrid started to become more competitive, reaching semi-finals on three occasions. Real won La Liga with a record 100 points, and more important, spending smart. Di Maria, Ozil, Khedira, Carvalho, were brought, and even though they were not superstars, nor good looking as Perez wanted, they were playing beautiful football. And that’s what the fans wanted.
Real Madrid started to look more like a team, and less like a glamorous brand. They started to create a team with passion, with Ramos as a leader, and Ronaldo as a superstar. Yes, they bought Gareth Bale for a record transfer fee, but that was it. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and other players showed that Real was having a plan, and it was not just selling shirts. It was playing football and winning. And that is exactly what happened.
They won the Champions League in 2014 with Ancelotti, the famous La Decima, which the fans have been waiting for more than 10 years.
And this was just the beginning. As Barcelona were starting to look more human than the aliens we all thought of, Real started to play better and better.
Still, Florentino Perez had one more surprise for us.
He sacked Ancelotti, a decision that left the fans furious, sold Di Maria and Ozil, and brought Rafa Benitez as manager. Things immediately started to fall apart, but this team has already proved it had passion, motivation and they were united more than ever.
Benitez was sacked soon, for which Perez was not to blame. He should have not been appointed at all in the first place.
And then Zinedine Zidane came
An ex-galactico, the greatest midfielder of his generation, after hanging his boots continued his career as Perez’s special advisor in 2009, as a sporting director during Mourinho’s era in 2011-2013, as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2013, and as a Real Madrid Castilla manager from 2014 to 2016.
When things started to fall apart with Benitez, Florentino Perez knew what he had to do. A decision that raised eyebrows, appointing an un-experienced manager to balance the team and manage superstars and their egos, was highly criticized. But, similar to Guardiola when he came to Barcelona, Zidanes impact started to show. He was already part of the galactico era, as he saw his team fall from Kings of Europe, to a laughing stock. And who but him could know the mistakes Perez made? He lived them.
And who but him could have the impact to change that? After all, we’re talking about one of the masterminds of midfield, the one that made our jaws drop from the elegance and beauty he produced in football field.
He immediately gave more opportunity to players from the academy like Carvajal, Casemiro, Lucas Vasquez, Morata, Casilla, but at the same time keeping the superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo happy, thus creating a scary team full of passion. Always calm, always careful, he gained respect not only from the stars, but from the bench-warmers too. After all he is Zinedine Zidane, how can you not respect an influential figure like him?
And the results came. On his first season, Zizou won the Champions League, and continued winning it the next season, making Real the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues since it’s reshape in 1992. Then came La Liga, not to mention two Uefa Supercups and FIFA Club World Cups.
So, in the end, it may not be ‘Zidanes and Pavones’, nor it may not be flashy Beckhams boots and Pepsi commercials, but it worked much better for the team of ‘Ronaldos and Carvajals’, for they are back to where they belong, as Kings of Europe.
Real Madrid Presidential Elections will be held next summer, and at last it looks like Florentino Perez has learned his lesson, be it the hard way, he will probably win again.