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Pre-season Chronicles: The Galactic Beginning in China

Revisiting Real Madrid’s first pre-season tour of China in 2003

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David Beckham of Real Madrid is mobbed by the media as he arrives for his first press conference Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

While the primary goal of pre-season is to prepare the squad physically and tactically for the arduous season ahead, it is also the perfect time for teams to embrace the spotlight, perhaps even fulfill some sponsorship obligations, and cater to worldwide audiences. From NFL venues to exotic training camps, Real Madrid has left no stone unturned in the club’s drive to expand into new territories and fan bases.

In recent years, the United States of America has been Madrid’s preferred destination to advertise its appeal, enjoy some sun, and get the fitness regime going. However, Madrid have encountered eventful pre-season tours outside of the USA too.

Real Madrid has conducted four pre-season tours in China in the last couple of decades (in 2003, 2005, 2011, and 2015). The first trip in 2003 foreshadowed how Florentino Perez wanted to promote his Galactico plan and build the Real Madrid brand around it across the globe.

Former AFC General Secretary Dato’ Peter Velappan questioned Real Madrid’s motivations for their Asian tour at that time. Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, insisted that the goal was not merely economic but to allow supporters outside of Madrid to watch ‘Los Galacticos’ up close. His comments, however, were received with skepticism because it was evident that financial gain played a large role in the trip.

The club signed a six-year deal with Asia Sports Development that guaranteed a minimum profit of 22 million euros in the first three years, with the potential to reach 40 million euros if the business was successful. In the early 2000s, it was a big deal to earn that kind of sum from pre-season tours. Asia Sports Development was also in charge of promoting the Madrid brand in the region.

Due to the pure frenzy the Galactic cavalry of the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo Nazario, Zinedine Zidane, and the newly signed David Beckham caused, the Chinese media even suggested that, as compared to other European clubs visiting China a few years ago, the Real Madrid squad was more of a tourist attraction than the sightseers themselves. Apart from doing well on the business side of things, Real Madrid won big (4-0) in their very first game in China at the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing. Fernando Morientes, Figo, and Javir Portillo were on the scoresheet.

Roberto Carlos and David Beckham of Real Madrid share a joke

Madrid came back to China a couple of years later. They had Tokyo and Bangkok on their itinerary this time as well. Florentino Perez had sacked three managers within that timeline, including Carlos Queiroz, who, of course, managed the team in 2003. Real Madrid returned to China in 2011 after Florentino became president again in 2009. Madrid played in Guangzhou and Tianjin for the first time in 2011. Four years later, they added Shanghai to the list of Chinese cities visited.

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