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Dealing with the legacy of Lorenzo Sanz

Some thoughts on Lorenzo Sanz achievements and failings as Real Madrid president.


Its 1998. Its Amsterdam. The scoreline is 1-0 and there is a lump in Lorenzo Sanz throat.

He’s in the dignitaries box of the Amsterdam Arena, surrounded by representatives of UEFA, Juventus and every important anyone with a passing interest in football who happened to be near the Dutch capital. Though holding the lofty title of the president of Real Madrid, what he is surely feeling through that lump in his throat is something every Madridista can relate to. Its the gitters, the sort of nerves you try to swallow all the way through crucial matches, but they are impossible to hide. They make some shake, they make some irritable, they made Lorenzo Sanz walk away.

32 years of waiting. Sanz was 14 when he watched Real Madrid lift their second European Cup from the stands of the Santiago Bernabeu and was undoubtedly among the thousands that celebrated Los Blancos sixth triumph nine years later. Since then, he’d watched the club as a socio, a board member, a vice president and a president awaiting and dreaming of this exact moment and when it arrived, he spent the crucial final minutes shuffling around the far corners of the stadium, waiting for the merciful blow of the final whistle when he emerged to celebrate the long awaited La Septima.

Crying with joy, he told the media “I can die peacefully now. I told the King on Monday that I’d bring the cup to the palace on Thursday.” Bringing the trophy, that people “had really, really lived it” according to his son, through the streets of Madrid was undoubtedly the high point of a complicated and roller-coaster tenure. A construction worker by trade, Sanz joined the Real Madrid board in 1985, he was vice president under Ramon Mendoza and ascended to his dream job when Mendoza resigned in 1995.

Be it dream job or not, the prospect of taking over Real Madrid in 95 wasn’t pleasant. Nearly three decades of European drought had taken its toll with AC Milan closing within one of Real Madrid’s record in 1994. At home, the days of the Quinta was a distance memory. Barcelona had won four in a row, overtaking Madrid on the final day in two of those success. They’d even won a Champions League after decades of failure, while Real Madrid failed to even qualify, needing three seasons to make their first group stage appearance in the re-branded European Cup.

Taking a hands-on approach in the transfers, there is no doubt that Sanz played a key role in the revival of Real Madrid’s on the pitch fortunes, bringing the league title and La Septima back to Madrid. He oversaw a managerial roller coaster, partly due to his own grievances, but that he eventually trusted Vicente Del Bosque with the reigns directly led to one of the club’s most successful eras, though Sanz wasn’t in charge to see all of it. He possesses the character, trophies and story to be a legendary figure in Real Madrid’s history, however, no different than why he lost the 2000 elections to Florentino Perez, there is one large blot in Sanz’s legacy at the club.

Ascending to the throne, Sanz inherited a history of delicate fiances. Bernabeu time at the club was often spent walking the tightrope of financial safety and Sanz’s predecessor had resigned having hidden debts of up to 72 million euros. The 1990s saw the hens come home to roost as the club fiancial health began to decline and Sanz was the man caught in the middle of it. It’s here that Sanz committed his cardinal sin, faced with an ever growing rot at the club, he chose to hide the debts from club members, a move that could have seen club ownership taken away from them had Madrid fiances been probed by the relevant authorities.

When Florentino Perez stood up and challenged Sanz on the issue, his reign came to an end and despite two further election bids, Sanz was never able to regain his dream job.

Up until his untimely death yesterday, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Lorenzo Sanz’s contribution to Madrid’s successes had been sidelined. His hand in reviving Real Madrid into their third most successful era should put him alongside Santiago Bernabeu and Florentino Perez as the greatest presidents in club history, however, his lies about the health of the club cost him dear and he lived out the rest of his life with a complicated legacy amongst Madrid fans.

Now, no longer with us, it seems that we have to choose what we do with Lorenzo Sanz. Do we polish away his rough edges and embrace the man who had to hide in the Amsterdam Arena, waiting for the final whistle, or discard him as a fool who nearly cost fans their football club.

I encourage you to embrace both, no figure in history is coloured black and white and in the same way we can praise Sanz for his successes, his mistakes and failings provide us all with valuable life lessons, an equally generous gift.

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