David Beckham. Ronaldo. Zinedine Zidane. What a team Real Madrid and Florentino Perez had assembled in the early 2000’s and an absolutely underwhelming and quite frankly embarrassing failure that turned out to be. Sure they won silverware but that was the bare minimum that those group of players should have achieved and that’s pretty much all they achieved. Over-hyped mediocrity. How on earth did it happen? The Spanish capital was home to some of the greatest players to ever grace the game and the team did show sparks of its undeniable quality, especially in the early stages of its formation and they had a team full of players who inspired a whole generation of young footballers, Zidane with his amazing eye for a pass and tenacity for the game, Beckham who possessed arguably the best crossing ability of all time, Roberto Carlos with the birth of the over-lapping fullback, Ronaldo with his uncanny knack for finishing, the list goes on. Despite all the quality they had, they could never truly reflect their immense price tags in terms of success on the football pitch. Whether this was because of internal politics within the club or simply the fact the team was extremely over-rated, the question still goes begging, was the Galacticos project a failure and more importantly, is Perez’s new generation of Galacticos even bigger failures than the original Galacticos?
The whole idea of the Galacticos started when Florentino Perez was elected Real Madrid president in July 2000 after he vowed to clear the club’s immense debts as well as sign Portuguese international and Barcelona winger Luis Figo from their arch-rivals, should be elected. True to his word, he actually acquired Figo for a then world-record fee of £37m, a figure which looks minuscule in the footballing world today. This started off the Galactico era, in which at least one ‘Galactico’ was signed every summer. Real Madrid won the 2001 La Liga title with relative ease, finishing 7 points clear of 2nd place Deportivo La Coruna. Summer of 2001 is when they signed arguably their biggest and most influential player in the form of Zinedine Zidane for a world record fee of £46m, breaking Figo’s record in just over a year. Zidane was a huge success in the Spanish capital both footballing wise as he scored the Champions League winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen, a venomous volley with his weaker left foot after the ball was put in by fellow Galactico Roberto Carlos. He was done well commercially, as he broke the record of the most shirt sales in Madrid history during his time at Madrid. He was followed by David Beckham the following year for £25m from Manchester United, as well as bringing in Walter Samuel for around £17m before buying Ronaldo from Inter the year previous. In the years to come, they would sign huge players in world football such as Robinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Michael Owen amongst others. Most were made in vain however, as the Galacticos won their last piece of silverware in 2003 as they secured La Liga crown. The final three years of the Galacticos era were underwhelming to say the least, as they lost out on the La Liga trophy twice to Barcelona and once to Valencia. The Champions League was no saving grace for them either, being knocked out in the quarter-finals and then in the round of 16 for two successive seasons in a row. The failure of the Galacticos was down to one core aspect; the departure of Claude Makelele. The French midfielder was an integral part of Real Madrid’s team and arguably is one of the best holding midfielders ever, he provided a solid base in midfield which allowed his more technically gifted team mates less defensive responsibility and the freedom to express themselves creatively in the final third. Following a dispute with Perez after being denied a higher wage as he was woefully underpaid compared to his more ‘commercial’ team-mates, he was sold to Chelsea in 2003. Real Madrid failed to win a trophy under Perez until he eventually resigned in 2006.
After Perez’s resigned, Ramon Calderon took over as club president and this brought the end of the Galactico policy which had been instilled in downtown Madrid by Perez. In Ramon’s first season in charge he brought in Fabio Cappello as manager and this proved to be successful as the won the La Liga title in 2007, their first in 4 years. Although in true Real Madrid fashion, the Italian was sacked come the end of the campaign. Real went on next season and retained the La Liga crown comfortably as the Real finished top, 8 points ahead of 2nd placed Villarreal and a massive 18 points ahead of arch-rivals Barcelona. They failed hopelessly to retain it for the 3rd year in a row as they lost a huge 10 games in the league and finished runners-ups to Barcelona, 9 points behind. On the 1st June 2009, Florentino Perez was reinstated as Real Madrid president was promised big transfers, and boy did he deliver. He bought in Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso from Liverpool for a combined £35m, but these prices had nothing on the first two Galacticos of the new era. Perez brought in 2007 Ballon D’or winner Kaka from AC Milan for a world-record fee of £56m on the 9th of June, only to absolutely smash that record 3 weeks later, then they paid Manchester United a whopping £80m for the services of the best player in the world at the time, Cristiano Ronaldo. They also purchased players such as young French striker Karim Benzema from Lyon for a fee of £25m, meaning they spent nearly £200m in the summer of 2009. It yielded no success, as they went on to finish 2nd in the league, and get knocked out of both cup competitions in early rounds. For the 2010/11 season, they acquired Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil following the South Africa World Cup and this again yielded little to no success, as they again finished runners-up in the league to Barcelona, halted in the CL in the Semi-finals, but did win the Copa Del Rey. In 2011/12 they didn’t purchase any huge names, but did manage to win the league title, amassing 100 points in the process. The 2012/13 season was again a somewhat a disappointing season, losing out on the League title but did win the Supercopa De Espana after bringing in another modern time Galactico, in the form of Luka Modric from Tottenham for £33m. The 2013/14 season was arguably Real’s most successful season in a number of years, even without a league title. This season saw the departures of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil, but Spanish star Isco from Malaga for £23m and Gareth Bale was brought in from Tottenham for an amazing £85m, becoming the most expensive player ever. They won the Copa Del Rey, beating Barcelona in the final and won La Decima, their 10th European trophy after beating cross-town rivals 4-1 in the final, a feat they tried and failed to achieve for 12 years. The following season saw them bring in Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez and although they won the UEFA Super Cup, it was nevertheless a disappointing season. They currently sit 3rd in the league and it looks likely that they will again finish the season with no silverware, after a quite frankly embarrassing summer deadline day where they failed to capture long-term target David De Gea from Manchester United because of a dodgy fax machine. Should have got your deals wrapped up sooner Florentino.
Three trophies in 6 years in the first Galacticos stint and 6 trophies in 8 years means that Perez’s 2nd go at the Galactico policy was somewhat more successful but they have been absolutely and utterly shown up in both the league and Europe by Barcelona, who have 18 trophies since 2009 and more recently, Atletico Madrid have been showing Real up, even with their small budget compared to Real’s seemingly bottomless funds. With tensions very high in the Bernabeu and star man Cristiano Ronaldo more than likely leaving, this could finally see the end of the Galacticos and Perez’s time at Real. What an utterly disappointing and underwhelming project the Galacticos project has been, with stupid amounts of money (£730m in total) resulting in extremely short-term success and long-term failure.