This is a three part series. Read part one here.
June 1st 2009, Florentino Perez won his second term as Real Madrid president — a term that is still on-going. “Won” may not be the correct term, as he was the only candidate running, but no one would have predicted he would be in a position to be elected again just over a year earlier, or on May 7th 2008, to be specific.
After Perez stepped down in 2006, the Real Madrid election was won by Ramon Calderon. The Spanish lawyer beat out rival Juan Palacios by a narrow margin and was tasked to recover the club from recent turmoil — three barren years with no titles and seeing a resurgence of rivals Barcelona, who capped off a strong era by picking up a coveted champions league title.
Considering the hand Calderon was given, the situation on May 7th 2008 was quite remarkable. Real Madrid won the league in his first year as president (a historic end-of-season run that surely deserves its own article). He still had the courage to replace his title winning coach, Fabio Capello, and had even a better second season with new coach Bernd Schuster.
On May 7th 2008, Real Madrid got a historic pasillo — a guard of honour — from their arch rivals Barcelona as they had famously secured their second straight La Liga title under Calderon’s reign the week before. The humiliation of their rivals continued with a 4-1 thumping at the Santiago Bernabeu — allowing Real Madrid to secure the double in the Clasicos that season. Real Madrid secured this back-to-back domestic triumph in dominating fashion, finishing eight points ahead of second place Villareal and a whopping 18 over their arch rivals from Catalonia. While things in the Champions League still needed work (Real Madrid had been crashing out in the round-of-16 for a few years straight), Calderon was in a position anyone would envy. He had his coach in place, built a backbone of a team that just secured a dominating second league title win, and was successful in most of his transfer moves with great value from players like Wesley Sneijder, Gonzalo Higuain, and Marcelo all joining during his presidency. How can anyone imagine in he’d have to resign just eight months later?
Florentismo 2.0 – Return of the Jedi
Florentino Perez’s second term started in June 2009. As what seems customary these days, Real Madrid followed up their excellent 07/08 campaign with a terrible one, finishing nine points behind Barcelona in the league race and crashing out once again in the round-of-16 in the Champions League, seeing Barcelona win that as well. The only way to look was up.
Perez went to work immediately, and to no one’s surprise his work would include a lot of moves in the transfer market. But there were changes to his famous “Zidanes y Pavones” policy from his first term, and hence the birth of Florentismo 2.0.
Perez still believed in bringing the best and biggest stars in the world (and at the time, it didn’t get bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, who were his first two signings). What did change was his recognition of the needed balance in the squad. We finally saw Perez open the wallet to bring quality in positions that he would have kept for the “Pavones” to fill in the past, like defensive holding midfielder Xabi Alonso and central defender Raul Albiol.
We can see some consistent patterns in the period between 2009 and 2014 with Perez’s transfers. This period saw Real Madrid acquire loads of talent across all positions: Striker (Karim Benzema), Forward (Ronaldo), Winger (Gareth Bale and Angel Di Maria ), Attacking Midfielder (Kaka, James Rodriguez, Isco and Mesut Ozil), Central Midfielder (Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos), Defensive Midfielder (Casemiro and Asier Illarramendi), Center Back (Albiol, Raphael Varane) and Full back (Fabio Conterao).
Analyzing Real Madrid’s transfer activities during Florentismo 2.0, we can see Perez did find balance, showing that he can open the cheque book for talent across any position. It was also clear that he targeted players entering their peak years, or even younger. While Calderon had no qualms about getting players at 30+ if they can help (Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson, to name a few), Perez rarely did the same. In fact, of the 31 players purchased during this period, 81% were 27 or below, and only three players were 30 or above (one of them, Hamit Altintop, came on a free transfer).
This strategy also helped the club balance the books better. During Calderon’s three years, Real Madrid were heavy net spenders, but towards the later years of Florentismo 2.0, the club did manage to receive good value selling several players, either above purchase price or at least at no loss (using them for several years and selling them at no loss than they were purchased).
Some flaws did seem to remain, with some players being added that didn’t have a natural tactical fit, or were duplicates in certain positions. There also seemed to be a belief that all superstars can just work together, and that it was up to a good coach to sort this out. Reality was, results were inconsistent — at best.
Florentino had good — but not great — success during Florentismo 2.0. The team came very close in Liga several times till 2012, but history rarely remembers who finished second. They did eventually win Liga in 2011/2012. Their UCL form also recovered — stopping a run of six straight round-of-16 exits by making three straight semi-final appearances before obtaining the long-coveted “La Decima” Champions League title in 2014.
In part three, we’ll look into ‘Florentismo 3.0’ — the final evolution of the Real Madrid transfer policy under Florentino Perez influenced by the FIFA Fair Play Rule (FFP). and emergence of many financial powers in Europe. We’ll also look at the risks that may lie ahead.