Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Latest Football News and Opinions From 90 Minutes Online

A Real Eye-Opener

Various Euros Notes

Lionel Messi's recent departure from Barcelona has rightly shone a light on the financial state of La Liga- but surely the harbingers of impending monetary collapse for the Spanish top flight, pre- salary cap, were Real Madrid's Gálacticos. When Florentino Peréz went big after securing the presidency at the Bernabeu, and incredibly, in a sense, it was allowed to happen twice!



The first part of the plan was another former Barca man, as Luís Figo was persuaded to cross the divide should the civil engineer & businessman win his bid for election at the turn of the millennium. He was subsequently welcomed back to the Nou Camp by a pig's head in acrimonious scenes following the first coup of an initial six-year term.


Possibly making things more than a little awkward was the fact that team-mate Michel Salgado's wife is the daughter of Lorenzo Sanz, the predecessor to Peréz!


“By the second or third corner I turned to Luís Figo and said: ‘Forget it, mate. You’re on your own’. I used to offer Luís the chance to take the short corner, drawing up close to him near the touchline, but not this time. “


Interestingly enough a key part of Peréz's strategy to oust Sanz was highlighting financial problems- which he'd later contribute to- as well as alleging mismanagement by previous boards. The promise of tempting the Portuguese midfielder was the icing on the cake & enough to get 94.2 % of the vote & usher in what was termed a Zidanes y Pavons policy- Francisco Pavon's name used to promote a strategy of young players from the canteras (youth teams) finding a route to the first team alongside established stars like Zinedine Zidane, the latest name to be bandied about a year after Figo's arrival.


"He dominates the ball, he is a walking spectacle and he plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot. He makes it worthwhile going to the stadium – he's one of the best I have ever seen."


So said by no less than Alfredo Di Stefano, whose own arrival via Millionarios of Colombia in the early Fifties was somewhat shrouded in controversy as Barcelona also claimed to have reached an agreement to sign him for a fee of £150 million Italian lire, only slightly less than the £150 billion of the same currency handed over to Juventus for the man he later saluted from the stands. Indeed, Alfredo's arrival could be seen as part of Real's first galáctico policy of sorts under Santiago Bernabeu, as he was followed to the stadium which bore the then- president's name by Ferenc Puskás, Raymond Kopa, José Santamaria & Francisco Gento.


The next addition to the modern pantheon was Ronaldo from Inter Milan, his shirt sales breaking records. But a note of retrospective caution came from former Real boss Fabio Capello- "He [Ronaldo] was more talented [than Cristiano Ronaldo] and if he took care of himself like the Portuguese does, his performances would have been even more incredible."


Which raises the question of just how feasible the Zidanes y Pavons policy actually was, the consensus shifting from Galáctico as a term of endearment for the standard of player brought in, to a byword for a certain largesse on Peréz’s part as the Pavons increasingly found themselves squeezed out of the picture at the- in an entirely apt phrase- expense of the Zidanes. The arrival of David Beckham from Manchester United, in the wake of interest from Barca, was seen as much an extension of the player's own brand as another opening of the apparently blank Madrid chequebook.


In light of which, the president's words at his unveiling feel more than a little hollow!


"He is a great player who is going to become part of the club's great history. He is a man of our times and a symbol of modern-day stardom and what is certain is Real Madrid have signed Beckham because he's a great footballer and a very dedicated professional. His team spirit is unsurpassed and he is one of the best English players of all-time and if only because of that he is with us."


And within a year of the Galácticos becoming regular back page fare something had to be done to address mounting debt, Peréz selling the club's training ground to Madrid's city council for £436 million to clear at least some of it while allowing him to continue his real pet project.


All a far cry from the Quinta del Buitre of the late Eighties, a focus on the Pavons of the day spearheaded by Emiliano Butragueño bringing perhaps less attractive football than Madridistas in the stands had been used to, but still bringing the sort of success expected of the club with five La Liga titles. By comparison the Galácticos won only two, their Champions League win in 2002 perhaps deemed of greater importance than the two UEFA Cups of their predecessors?


In hindsight perhaps not the all- conquering behemoth they seem to be remembered as in posterity. Nevertheless, Peréz was not dissuaded from hoovering up a few more star playthings & added Michael Owen from Liverpool, Santos youngster Robinho & Messi's new Paris Saint Germain team- mate Sergio Ramos from Sevilla in successive seasons.


The 2006-7 season proved the end of the first Galáctico era, but it was to be a brief respite as Ramon Calderon made way for Florentino to return in time for the 2009-10 season amid allegations of corruption. A similar promise to spend big to guarantee domestic & European success yielding the signings of Kaká from AC Milan, Karim Benzema of Lyon, Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo making a similar leap to Beckham, Xabi Alonso following in Owen's footsteps, Ángel Di Maria from Benfica, the Spurs pair of Luka Modrić & Gareth Bale, & Monaco's James Rodriguez.


In a sense it's carried over into this season, David Alaba the cheapest of the lot in arriving on a free transfer from Bayern Munich, following on from Thibaut Courtois & Eden Hazard of Chelsea, Ferland Mendy from Lyon & Luka Jović of Eintracht Frankfurt in successive seasons.


It's tempting to suggest Peréz is looking to recapture the glory days of winning La Decima, a tenth European Cup, under Carlo Ancelotti in reappointing him for this season, Bale also back via a loan return to Spurs last campaign. Although La Liga will surely be keeping tabs on a club debt of 901 million Euros, behind only Barcelona on a staggering £1.15 billion, as the business of football continues to generate equal coverage with what goes on on the pitch helping to generate the revenue apparently all too easily gambled away, the Galácticos something of a case study.

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