Los Galácticos: the first era of Florentino Pérez

The first term of Florentino Pérez's time as president of Real Madrid was a very iconic period in the last of couple decades in world football due to that policy of signing "galactic" players, that is, high-profile world stars who contributed from the football and commercial side of things.

That period, which lasted 6 years, had different key moments that greatly marked what would become Pérez's second term at the helm of the Madrid club. Here we review some of those moments.

Florentino Pérez
Florentino Pérez

2000 elections

Lorenzo Sanz had been the president of Real Madrid since 1995 and his management brought some important trophies, highlighting the two UEFA Champions League titles won in 1998 and 2000. However, Sanz had not been able to solve the club's economic problem since the accumulated debt reached almost the 300 million euros mark.

In this scenario, the 2000 elections arrived to choose the new president of Los Blancos with Sanz as the main candidate and Florentino Pérez, a successful Spanish businessman who had already been a candidate in 1995.

The football side of things favored Sanz but the economic wasn't. It was for this reason that Pérez's proposal caught the attention of the voters. Pérez promised to sign Luis Figo, the main star and benchmark of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid's eternal rival, which would have a great sporting benefit and a huge commercial impact. That promise guaranteed Florentino Pérez's victory in the elections.

Beginning of the Galactic era

Pérez fulfilled his promise and paid Figo's termination clause, making him the first of the "Galacticos" in addition to bringing Jorge Valdano as Director of Football and keeping Vicente Del Bosque as coach, outlining what would be "his" Real Madrid. Additionally, the club signed players with a less media profile such as Makelele, Flavio or Solari, at the recommendation of Valdano and sold Fernando Redondo for being someone who supported Lorenzo Sanz and Nicolás Anelka for their constant controversies.

In that first season, Florentino Pérez took steps to guarantee the loan for the construction of a new sports city for the club that would guarantee better training facilities and would include premises that would increase the club's income. In that first season, Real Madrid won the Spanish league.

The best season

For his second season, Florentino Pérez opted to keep a large part of the team with the important addition of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus, breaking the record for the most expensive signing in football history up to that date. 2002 was the centenary year of Real Madrid, so the main aspiration was to win the three main titles that the club disputed each season: Copa del Rey, Liga and UEFA Champions League. The first was not possible due to the defeat against Deportivo la Coruña in the final by 2-1.

They finished third in the league and "only" managed to lift the UEFA Champions League with Zidane's famous volley against Bayer Leverkusen. The following year, Ronaldo was the "galactico" chosen to reinforce that Madrid side, this being the only signing of the club for that season. The end result was that Real Madrid once again won La Liga, the Intercontinental Cup and the European Super Cup.

Zidanes and Pavones

Since his second season, Florentino Pérez had only signed "galácticos" because of his Zidanes and Pavones philosophy, which, in other words, was the formation of a team that mixed world class stars (galácticos) with players from the club's youth teams. This philosophy had a downside, and that is that "middle class" players were not valued and this led to, for example, in 2003, Makelele, an essential piece of the team, deciding to sign for Chelsea or Fernando Morientes going on loan to AS Monaco, a team that would end up eliminating Madrid in the UEFA Champions League that very season.

In addition, after differences between Del Bosque and Pérez, the coach was fired and replaced by the Portuguese Carlos Queiroz who, until then, was Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United. That same year, the only Real Madrid signing was David Beckham and the only title was the Spanish Super Cup. The team suffered enormously from the lack of depth in the squad and the loss of Makelele when it came to retrieving the ball.

Michael Owen
Michael Owen - a late galactico
Queiroz's spell at Real Madrid lasted only one season and for the following he was replaced by José Antonio Camacho, who was a club player for more than 15 years and is known for being a strict and disciplined coach. The team was reinforced in defense with the addition of Jonathan Woodgate from Newcastle United (who did not play a single official match that season due to injury) and Walter Samuel from AS Roma, both of the best defenders in their respective leagues, in addition to the signing of the new "galactico", Michael Owen, from Liverpool.

Despite this, Camacho understood that the title of "galactic" gave those players a special treatment that was not compatible with his philosophy, so he decided to resign. His position was filled by Mariano García Remón, another former club player who had come along with Camacho to be his assistant.

García Remón started as an interim while Florentino Pérez found a permanent coach, Arrigo Sacchi being his first choice. However, the Italian, aware of Pérez's way of managing the club, decided to decline the offer and accept that of being the new Director of Football. Halfway through the season, Real Madrid hired Vanderlei Luxemburgo as coach on the recommendation of Sacchi and signed Thomas Gravesen with the intention of filling the role that Makelele once had and who was never replaced by the club.

The End of Los Galacticos

The Brazilian coach had a good end to the season although he made a change in the tactical system where Figo was a substitute and left his place to Owen, playing with a diamond in the middle with two forwards, a very offensive formation that favored the team.

For the 2005-06 season, and understanding that the philosophy of Zidanes and Pavones was not profitable sportingly, Real Madrid made signings of a different profile, among which a young Sergio Ramos, Robinho, Julio Baptista or the Uruguayan Pablo García stood out. Likewise, Figo, Solari and Cambiasso headed to Inter Milan and Michael Owen to Newcastle United.

Inconsistency was the dominant tendency of the team during that season and a disappointing game against FC Barcelona led to the sacking of Luxemburgo and the promotion of Juan Ramón López Caro from Real Madrid Castilla. In February 2006, on matchday 25 of the League and with a rather heavy climate within the club, Real Madrid fell 2-1 to RCD Mallorca and left Los Blancos 10 points behind Barcelona, who were leading the league. All this led Florentino Pérez to resign from his position as president, acknowledging some errors in his management of the team.

The era of "Los Galacticos" is a reference in many ways in the world of football because it left many lessons both in the sports field and in the economic and commercial field because, although Real Madrid did not win any trophies since the start of the 2003-04 season until the end of 2006-07, the club's huge debt in 2000 had been reduced considerably.

Florentino Pérez himself was the one who learned the most from that stage since his second term has been much better on both fronts.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.