El Clasico in focus: Method in Perez madness at Real Madrid
In July 2000, a new era dawned over the Madrid skyline. The Bernabeu, home to the city’s first football team still stood proudly, on the Paseo de la Castellana, one of the longest and widest avenues in the city, perhaps apt. It could easily symbolise the fact it has been a long road to success.
Florentino Perez was elected the president, with the promise of wiping out €270m worth of debt and modernising the club’s facilities. However, it was perhaps the signing of Luis Figo from fierce rivals Barcelona that really set in motion a chain of events that would, for a couple of years at least, establish them as the best side in the world.
A spell of heavy spending accumulating some of the globe’s best footballers, was coined as the ‘Galactico era’ by Real’s ambitious president. Zinedine Zidane, Brazil striker Ronaldo, English wide pair David Beckham and Steve McManaman, and 2006 World Cup winning Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro followed; while in the 2001/02 campaign they won the Champions League, adding to a La Liga title the previous year.
Success that was brief, though purely a quick fix. It papered over widening cracks at the football club that slowly began to get worse after Perez fired winning coach Vicente del Bosque. With Barca starting to develop a new method built on youth, and retaining their philosophy of attractive football, Los Blancos started to decline and, in 2006, Perez resigned his post.
His successor, Ramon Calderon, was far more pragmatic, and thriftier. The plan was evident, eke out egos and bring in a coach that knew how to win.
Fabio Capello promptly delivered the title for the first time in four years, and Calderon’s reign brought about a period of stability, though they could not realistically get anywhere near the ‘tiki-taka’ Barcelona team that was arguably the best football side ever to have graced the game, marshalled by mercurial Lionel Messi.
Three years later, back came Perez. Older? Yes. Wiser? Seemingly so. More ambitious? Ruthlessly.
In the summer of 2009 he spent £250m on Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Brazil playmaker Kaka, plus others. The first title of his second spell in the Bernabeu boardroom came two years later, however, when Jose Mourinho made it four different league trophies after managing in as many European leagues. Summer after summer, more money was spent and more ‘Galacticos’ followed.
Germany pair Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, who recently won the World Cup in Brazil; Croatia pass-master Luka Modric, Argentina attacker Angel Di Maria and Portugal wingback Fabio Coentrao joined young Spanish trio Isco, Asier Illaramendi and Dani Carvajal in other annual arrivals under Perez.
You can add Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos to this superstar roster recruited over the last couple of years. Finally, Real won La Decima last season, otherwise known as a 10th Champions League/European Cup crown.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, it seems Perez has found the correct combination, with the club 11/10 to win La Liga this season. There’s no doubt that he won’t stop spending on ‘Galacticos’; after-all, they serve a far higher purpose which is a fundamental part of their business model. Shirt sales, and player sponsorship, a revenue stream that the club takes a substantial cut of.
Signing big names, just for the sake of selling shirts regardless of his manager’s ability to accommodate them in the team may not be the perfect model, and the Perez approach could be calming down after bringing in just two players in the summer.
More crucially, he is also standing firm on fees for sales of players, and the £60m fee the club received for Di Maria in the summer, added to the £42.4m Arsenal paid for Ozil suggests Perez is becoming even more business savvy.
Real don’t need a squad of ‘Galacticos’. Just a few star players, plus a sprinkling of youth is surely the way forward, as demonstrated by Barca. More importantly, as has been evidenced and no doubt the biggest lesson learned by Perez, the coach is key.