These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.
I was 11 years old — just beginning my Real Madrid journey — when Real Madrid lifted La Septima. Too young to really feel emotionally attached to anything that happened on a football field. (My entire world in the 90s was centred around Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. I, like any other awkward Persian-Canadian boy, wanted to be like Mike.). I didn’t really become a die-hard football fan until that summer, when Zidane broke Brazil’s back in the World Cup final. Later, Raul’s iconic shush in the Camp Nou gave birth to my Madridismo.
But even if I wasn’t entirely invested in the ‘98 final, I could tell how much it meant to my dad. He hadn’t seen Real Madrid lift the European trophy since 1966 in Brussels, where he caught it on a black-and-white screen in Tehran. He was a fan ever since that day where Gento captained the Yé-yé era to an incredible European crown. 32 years passed. Few people can actually be lucky enough to experience what that must’ve felt like. Imagine the cage our souls were trapped in for 12 years, when Sergio Ramos’s goal in Lisbon finally released us into deliriousness. Now imagine what Mijatovic’s goal must’ve done to the fans with his goal against Juventus, ending a 32-year drought.
It was Lorenzo Sanz who signed Mijatovic two years prior from Valencia. We are indebted to him for that alone.
But Sanz’s legacy is far from that moment in isolation. He built something. Something special. In his first summer as Real Madrid president, Sanz signed: Mijatovic, Davor Suker, Ze Roberto, Clarence Seedorf, Christian Panucci, and Bodo Ilgner. Mijatovic brought the seventh; Suker scored 29 goals in his first season when Real Madrid won the league; Panucci was important filling an awkward right-back void after Chendo’s decline; Ilgner was great; Roberto Carlos revolutionized the left-back role; and Seedorf was one of the engines of the team’s two major trophies in the first two years of Sanz’s presidency. (In addition, Seedorf was also one of the coolest dudes around.)
In the ensuing years, Sanz kept building the team which formed the eighth Champions League title, surrounding Raul, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Hierro, and Fernando Redondo with: Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman, Michel Salgado, and Ivan Helguera. That spine gave us great memories.
On top of that, he brought in manager Fabio Capello, then prematurely sacked him after Capello won the league title. Later, Sanz was probably vindicated, replacing Capello with Vicente del Bosque — one of the three most successful managers in Real Madrid history.
Sanz did so much in so little time as the club’s president. He took over at a difficult time, as Ramon Mendoza had resigned midseason, and the club was suffering from a strange transition with the Quinta del Buitre declining and fading. Young faces like Raul were just emerging. Other transitory players — Michael Laudrup, Luis Enrique — were leaving in the summer. Ivan Zamorano was leaving too. Sanz turned everything around about as well as you could.
But it should tell you something that we are now, more than anything, appreciating who Lorenzo Sanz was a man. He left his mark on this club in so many different ways. His sons, Lorenzo Jr and Fernando, played in the Real Madrid basketball team and football team respectively. They both lifted trophies. Fernando was part of that magical night in Amsterdam, lifting the Champions League haul alongside his father.
Neither of them were able to say goodbye to their father as he passed. Such is the cruelty of COVID-19. It has isolated loved ones in unimaginably painful ways.
20 years has passed since Sanz left his post at the club, in the summer where he lost the summer elections to Florentino Perez.
Players loved Sanz — especially those that were signed by him.
“It’s one of the saddest nights of my life.” Mijatovic said tonight.
Sanz’s relationship with Mijatovic is akin with Florentino’s with Benzema now — that of a father and son.
“I still can’t believe it. I considered him as a father. I had so much love for him,” Mijatovic said.
”He was a very important person in my life. We still sent each other messages, had a meal together every now and then, we were united.
”In life, there are people that leave a mark on you and Lorenzo was one of them.
”He did everything for me, he signed me and then we experienced lots of things together.
Roberto Carlos, one of Sanz’s marquee signings, also spoke about his relationship with the former Real Madrid president:
“He helped me grow as a footballer and especially as a person. He was always very loving to me and when I needed him he never abandoned me professionally and personally.”
Sanz lived a full life, and leaves behind the legacy of being one of Real Madrid’s most important presidents ever. It’s heart-breaking to see the manner in which he was taken away from us, in midst of a rabid disease that has altered the world we live in. If we are to take anything away from this, it’s to take this virus as seriously as we can, and to do our part to ensure its containment.
At the very least, we should be thankful for Lorenzo Sanz’s legacy. As Mijatovic said tonight, “We’ve lost a president that marked an era.” Enjoy your dinner this evening, Don Lorenzo, alongside Santiago Bernabeu, Alfredo di Stefano, and Ferenc Puskas.