While the European Club football season formally shuts down for summer breaks from early June to August, the busy summer transfer season gets underway — with daily reports, rumours, and gossip about who may be moving where and filling fans with hope of strengthening their respective team.
Any football fan that indulges on the transfer silly season will surely remember the summer of 2000 as a turning point not just for our club Real Madrid, but for the transfer market as a whole.
Real Madrid were coming off their second Champions League title in three years, which, following a previous drought of 32 years, was a phenomenal achievement. European football’s most glorified club was finally back with the elite, and looked like they had the backbone needed to continue to succeed at the highest of levels. Soon to be legendary players such as Raul, Roberto Carlos and Clarence Seedorf were entering or soon to enter their peak years. The club president at the time, one Lorenzo Sanz, sought to leverage this success by calling for early elections and solidifying his status as the de facto president of Real Madrid, believing the Socios wouldn’t vote for anyone else after securing that long coveted La Septima, and soon after La Octava. He knew the Real Madrid fans have always been thirsty for success. But not all success is created equal, and Madridistas had a special place in their hearts for bringing home the Champions League title (previously the European cup) — the symbol of being the best club in all of Europe.
Mike Tyson famously once said: “Everyone has a plan till punched in the face.” Enter Florentino Perez, whose entrance on the European Football stage could be rightfully described with Tyson’s metaphor. Florentino committed to the fans that if he was elected against Sanz, he will secure the signing of Luis Figo — not only one the best footballing stars in the world at the time, but one of the captains of their great rivals, FC Barcelona. He backed this commitment with a promise that if Figo didn’t arrive, he would personally cover the membership fees for all 83, 000+ Socios the following year from his own pocket. The rest, as they say, is history.
This ushered in the first era of Perez, which not only secured Figo in a way that felt like a hostile takeover of their rivals, but also launched his “Galacitco” transfer policy — what I call ‘Florentismo’ 1.0.
Perez said he wanted to see the very best players in the world all at Real Madrid — as it should be. He romanticized about the age of Santiago Bernabeu, seeing Real Madrid win title after title and becoming the true “greatest show on earth.” In order to fulfill this policy, something had to give, so he argued that a lot of other roles will be filled with youth products coming from the academy. It seemed like the perfect plan — buying the world’s greatest players while simultaneously investing in the youth academy to fill in gaps.
Perez’s plan started with success. Real won the league title two out of three years and added another Champions League title — all at a time where their greatest rivals Barcelona couldn’t recover from the loss of Figo. But the success didn’t last for long.
Unfortunately, what seemed so simple and magical on paper didn’t hold up on the field. Let’s breakdown Florentismo 1.0. Perez argued that the world’s best players will always make the team stronger and will find ways to work together. Results, however, were average at best. Many of the world’s best are used to being the focal point and playing with the ball a lot. Sharing this role and opening space for others was not something they were accustomed to, while managing egos made the situation even more complex.
The second gap was the youth academy supply of players to complete the team. Perez famously coined the phrase “Zidanes y Pavones” as how his model will work, and that title gives it away immediately. Pavon, bless his heart as he was a hard-working player with great ambitions, got to be the poster boy of this failed experiment. While Castilla has actually produced dozens of high-quality players that started for many teams across Liga or Europe, very few have been at the level to be regular starters at Real Madrid. If the Zidanes and Pavons would have been a “Zidanes and Ronaldos” situation, we may have been writing a lot more about Real Madrid’s success in that era.
The reality is, after a strong start, Florentisim 1.0 failed miserably. Plugging players on a sheet list and hoping their aggregate skill would make them better didn’t work. Coaches struggled for tactical fits, superstars didn’t like being played out of positions nor did they enjoying playing supportive roles. The “Pavones” were simply not good enough to play for this club, and everything came crashing down. After three straight seasons with no titles won, Perez stepped down and that was the end of the Galactico era.
Or so we have thought. In part two, we’ll discuss Florentismo 2.0 — how Perez came back with a revised Galactico transfer plan, the aftermath, and where are we today. Part three will ensue.