Florentino Perez has overseen an ideological evolution at the Santiago Bernabeu that suggests Real Madrid will remain on top of Europe for years.
16th July 2000: A certain Florentino Perez was voted as the president of Real Madrid Club de Futbol. Replacing Lorenzo Sanz, Perez arrived with massive expectations and lofty promises. The newly-elected club supremo was expected to add glamour and trophies to an already illustrious club.
Perez did not disappoint.
Los Blancos managed to win two La Liga titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy in his first three seasons at the helm. Along with success on the pitch, Perez brought in eminent names to add to the club’s roster.
Players like Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Robinho, Michael Owen and David Beckham were cherry-picked from top European clubs, and they were branded as Galacticos who would lead Real Madrid into a radiant new era. The individual bravura of these signings served the purpose. The likes of Zidane, Ronaldo managed to light up Santiago Bernabeu and bring the supporters to the edge of their seats.
Real Madrid were creating more than just a football team. For Perez, the spectacle mattered. He wanted players who could put on a show and entertain the crowd. He wanted to own the crowd, mesmerise them even. A philosophy deeply ingrained in Roman history.
Entertaining the crowd in the Colosseum used to be a big deal for Roman emperors back in the day. A happy mob would contribute to their peaceful reign.
While the initial days of Perez’s reign seemed like smooth sailing, the cracks began to appear as the club chief continued his forays in the transfer market. Consumed by his desire to add flair and charisma to the team, Perez pushed useful, underrated and key cogs of the system out of the club.
Players like Claude Makelele were shown the door because they were not glamorous enough for the new identity Real Madrid were pretending to assume under Perez. In his words, the Frenchman was a player with average technique who chose to pass sideways or backwards.
Los Blancos had to deal with the consequences of their decisions, and the shiny new car was not as useful anymore without its engine. Club legend Fernando Hierro said at the time, “The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for Los Galácticos.”
Real Madrid failed to win a trophy between 2003 and 2006. Perez was levelled with enormous criticism, and he chose to depart. However, Perez was not ready to give up just yet! He returned with renewed ambitions and vigour in 2009. The second era of the Galacticos started taking shape as Real Madrid invested in players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Karim Benzema.
This time, Perez showed that he had learned from his mistakes. While he continued to add shiny new toys to his squad, he managed to retain the substance with style. The Real Madrid chief was no longer a man willing to sacrifice the chemistry and balance of the side and replace it with glamour.
The likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti were brought in to lead the side and they delivered. Real Madrid broke the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and ended their long wait for La Decima.
The marquee signings were supplemented with intelligent additions like Luka Modric, Casemiro, Mesut Ozil, Sergio Ramos and others. Even with the departures of Mourinho and Ancelotti, Real Madrid showed no signs of stopping.
These players helped establish Los Blancos as the top dogs of European football once again, and Real Madrid clinched two league titles and three Champions League titles under the tutelage of Zinedine Zidane.
Perez’s strategy of blending glamour with academy prospects, and smart buys had paid off. Real Madrid were a team once again. By then, it was evident that Perez knew how to build a winning team.
The question was, could he sustain the winning habit? What about the succession planning?
Fast forward to 2022, and Florentino Perez has answered those questions emphatically. Real Madrid have not only continued their winning habit despite departure of key players like Ramos and Ronaldo, they are a side who are extremely well prepared for long-term domination.
Perez’s squad is filled with players who are exceptional now, and they have the potential to get even better. The succession planning at Real Madrid has been flawless.
Players like Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior, Federico Valverde, Eder Militao, Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga have all come in and made notable impacts. With most of them in their early twenties, this side is only going to get better with experience and coaching.
Furthermore, Los Blancos have done well to fuse these prodigious young talents with experienced campaigners like David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger. And Perez has managed to assimilate all this without breaking the transfer record every summer.
Real Madrid won the league title and the Champions League this past season. Players like Vinicius and Rodrygo, who are far from finished articles, were instrumental to a glorious campaign in addition to talisman, Karim Benzema. Real Madrid have finally understood that modern football is more about organisation, process and tactical balance rather than glitz and glam.
Perez’s footballing evolution is reaping its rewards, and Real Madrid are unlikely to stop anytime soon. The likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos might be on their last legs, but Los Blancos are very much prepared for a future without them and a bright one at that. And sowing the seeds for a bright future is Perez, who has learnt from his mistakes and how.