Through over 100 years of history, Real Madrid has become one of the most recognizable names in world football. But how did they get there? In partnership with Howler magazine, The Center Circle is embarking on a multi-part journey from the roots of this historic club to the Cristiano Ronaldo era it enjoys today. If you consider yourself a Real fan, or really just a soccer fan in general, this is for you. Finally, do you see that “Hala Madrid” graphic right above this? You can click on that to open up Howler’s incredible Real Madrid timeline, replete with informative tidbits, pictures, and some cool graphics. Scroll through each section, zoom in to read, and enjoy.
Part X: The Galacticos Rise & Fall
From glory to horror, hero to zero. At the start of the 2000’s, Real Madrid promised to return to the fabulous heights of the 1950’s. The roster brimmed with attacking talent and a capable, soft spoken coach balanced the egos. Expensive foreign players blended with native talent to dazzle the world and the term “Galacticos” (Galaxies) was dubbed. However, halfway through the decade, the wheels fell off. Thus, the 2000’s is an era of both joy and regret. Joy at what happened, Regret at what could have been.
By the time construction magnate Florentino Perez was elected President of Real Madrid, the team already boasted world class players in Raul Gonzalez, Fernando Redondo, and Fernando Hierro. Still, Perez was ambitious, and few socios did the math when he simultaneously promised to erase the club’s debt while stealing Luis Figo from rivals FC Barcelona. Spend money to eliminate debt? Really? According to the Perez school of economics, one spent money to acquire star players which led to success but also jersey sales, ticket sales, and sponsorship deals. On a basic level, Perez was and is right.
Perez landed Figo, but his best decision was to retain the services of Vicente Del Bosque as manager. The big, bushy mustached Spaniard had been a fixture for Real Madrid during his playing days, and uniquely understood both the media demands and the pressures felt by the players. In that sense, Del Bosque was similar to Miguel Munoz during the 50’s: a former player that was trusted by the locker room, even if he was not a flashy interview or a self-proclaimed genius tactician. In 2000, under Del Bosque’s leadership, Real Madrid won the Champions League, beating Valencia in the finals with goals from Fernando Morrientes, Steve McManaman, and Raul.
Thus, the question was asked: where did Figo fit into the Champions League winners? In his first season, Real Madrid lost in the semifinals of the Champions League to Bayern Munich. They did win La Liga, though, so Del Bosque remained safe. More importantly, that summer, Real Madrid smashed the world transfer record by signing French playmaker Zinedine Zidane from Juventus. The purchase paid off that very season, as the club won another Champions League trophy with a stunning left-footed volley by Zidane in the final against Bayern Leverkusen.
Trophies. Talented players. Was this the dawn of an era? Could Perez’s Euros and Del Bosque’s management create a juggernaut? That summer, Perez signed Brazilian striker Ronaldo. El Fenomeno lit the La Liga nets aflame and Real Madrid won the league. They also reached the semifinals of the Champions League, but lost to Juventus. More importantly, Perez had started to distrust Del Bosque. Perez wanted trophies and goals and attacking players, while Del Bosque had this odd habit of fielding holding midfielders like Santiago Solari and Claude Makelele in key games. That summer, the two had a row and Del Bosque left, along with Claude Makelele (who went to Chelsea). Captain Fernando Hierro also left the club.
In their place, Perez signed David Beckham from Manchester United. He also signed Portuguese Carlos Quieroz as head coach, a curious decision given Quieroz’s role as a drill sergeant right-hand man at United. The team failed to win a title for three years, cycled through coaches, and the only notable signing was Sergio Ramos from Sevilla. In 2006, fans had enough and elected Ramon Calderon as President. He brought in Fabio Capello for a classic clean up job, and the Italian managed the team to a La Liga win in 2007.
Yet again, Capello was little more than a one-year rental. Like Del Bosque, his discipline and defensive balance were viewed as weaknesses. Instead, the club brought in former player Bernd Schuster as coach and signed promising Dutch starlets Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. The team won another league and Schuster kept his job, but the team was a far cry from the Champions League glory of the earlier part of the decade. Even worse, rival FC Barcelona had rode Ronaldinho to waves of success and had a little pibe in the wings by the name of Lionel “Leo” Messi.
Things reached a head in 2010, when Florentino Perez was re-elected President and smashed the world record for transfers by signing both Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, despite an excellent La Liga season, Manuel Pellegrini’s Madrid fell to 2nd place to Guardiola’s Barca juggernaut. Even worse, the team again failed to advance past the Round of 16 of the Champions League. Perez decided Pellegrini was not up to par. Instead, he coveted again a Portuguese manager, but this man was no Quieroz – he was “the Special One.” And he would lead Madrid to dizzying heights but also maddening lows…..