Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Michael Owen, Claude Makelele, Robinho. All these extraordinary players in the same team, seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yet Florentino Perez managed to assemble all these legends of the game to play for Real Madrid. Never before had football witnessed such a splendid group of players playing with each other but Real Madrid did the impossible. Consequently, glories and achievements were expected to follow. However, does two La Liga and just a single Champions League in six seasons justify this ambitious project and the immense effort put into it?
Let’s rewind back to the 1950s. The decade when the biggest club competition of all time, the UEFA Champions League, was inaugurated and for the first five seasons Madrid had its name all over the trophy. The club had its Galactico policy at that time signing superstars like Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, and Raymond Kopa. For the next four decades or so, the club showcased inconsistent results winning just two Champions League titles. So, when Florentino Perez announced his candidacy for Real Madrid’s presidential elections in 2000, he promised to bring a revolution within the club.
Real Madrid’s Galacticos: Dream turned into reality
Perez becomes President
Perez’s promise to bring Luis Figo to Real Madrid from arch-rivals FC Barcelona played a decisive role in his victory and he did keep his promise signing the Portuguese that summer. Figo’s signing initiated what was known as Zidane y Pavones, later referred to as what we all know today as the Galacticos. Perez declared that the club would follow the policy of bringing superstars to the Bernabeu every season. French maestro Zinedine Zidane was signed next summer followed by the Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002, the England captain at the time David Beckham in 2003, Michael Owen in 2004, Robinho, and Sergio Ramos in 2005.
Initial success and growing problems
In the first three seasons, success and glory followed. Two La Ligas and the club’s ninth Champions League were accomplished. It seemed that this policy was a win-win situation for Madrid generating both financial and sporting success. However, in 2003 the true objective behind this huge project came out. One of the best defensive midfielders at the time, Claude Makelele was denied an improved contract by Perez and was consequently allowed to leave the club that summer. His replacement was David Beckham. Zidane, who was among those who supported Makelele said, “why does the Bentley need another layer of golden paint when you remove the engine”. Beckham was more than just a footballer, his personality and looks meant that he could be used as a brilliant business asset. However, Beckham preferred to play on the right side of the wings and Real Madrid already had Figo playing in that position. This meant that the club had two superstars playing in the same position and the two players had to constantly rotate positions and with Makelele leaving the club, it seemed like a self-dug hole Madrid was finding itself in.
The Makelele-Beckham issue was only one of the many problems that the Galactico Policy had to face. The surprising sacking of Vicente del Bosque in 2003 raised many eyebrows. The Spanish coach had the ability to balance the egos of superstar players. In his absence, the Galacticos failed to a form a coordinated team and accordingly results did not reflect. The club had four manager casualties in the following four seasons indicating instability. Some poor transfer decisions like not retaining Samuel Eto’o also displayed the hollowness of this Galactico policy. Steve McManaman described this as the “Disneyfication of Real Madrid” in his autobiography. Surely this seems to be like a huge well-planned project horribly gone wrong, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t a total failure.
Madrid’s path to becoming the biggest in the world
At the onset of the 21st century Madrid was nowhere near the status it enjoys now in terms of revenue, worldwide support. Real was struggling to keep pace with clubs like Manchester United. At present, we all would agree that Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world, but that wasn’t quite the case just 2 decades ago. So, the amount of effort put in by the club’s hierarchy in just over a decade surely deserves praise. Signing all these superstars meant that Madrid earned a huge fan following and earned huge revenue due to that. With the signing of David Beckham, the Los Blancos even reached the Asian market. Every football fan would dream of witnessing such a star-studded squad and Real Madrid made their dreams come true earning good financial value in the process. Perez sold the club’s training ground for a mammoth 480 million Euros and freed Madrid of all its debts. This provided stability to the club in terms of revenue and by 2005-06, Real Madrid became the highest revenue earning club in the world. The stress given to the financial aspect of the game shaped the success that Real enjoys nowadays.
The Galactico policy initiated by Florentino Perez may not have delivered results on the pitch but off the pitch it revolutionized Madrid. Learning from his mistakes, Perez had a much more successful second Galactico era in terms of sporting success signing players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and winning several accolades in the process.