The Galacticos. A highly paid, highly skilled, very expensive group of individuals. An era in Real Madrids history which has become ingrained in the image. An era which was instigated when Florentino Perez first took presidency of the Madrid club in 2000.
His reign lasted until 2007, and whilst he claim credit for the team of Galacticos fielded, many of the team were signed pre-Perez. During his reign, the likes of David Beckham, Zidane, Ronaldo & Luis Figo all joined Los Blancos for large sums. All coming with high expectation, and high marketing value for Perez and co.
Amongst those part of that era were Fernando Hierro, Raul, Roberto Carlos and Guti, to name but a few. All of whom were deemed part of that Galactico team, despite not being signed for the money the likes of Zidane & Figo were.
In fact, all 4 of those aforementioned players won 2 European cups before Perez took over from Sanz as Madrid president. Overcoming Juventus in 1998 & Valencia in 2000, to win their 7th & 8th European cups.
Between 2000 and 2007, the trophies dried up for Real Madrid, despite their vicious and forthright transfer policy. Perez’ forceful policy did not turn out to be as fruitful as he would have liked, as most would have expected. Returning just two La Liga titles and single Champions League in his reign.
Vincente Del Bosque was in charge for those title wins, but was soon sacked in 2003 after an apparent falling out with some senior players. An argument around the wages of Claude Makélélé caused Del Bosque to lose the faith of Makélélé himself, alongside Morientes, McManaman and Hierro.
The sacking of Del Bosque was a shock to those not savvy to that information. As to the outsider, he was seen to have carefully balanced the egos of several superstars. All of whom would be wanting to play as much as possible, but managed to form a cohesive unit, resulting in trophy wins.
Why did it fail?
There are several opinions as to why the Galactico’s ‘failed’ as a team. The idea of this squad of elite footballers failing is based on the expectation put to them. But the expectation of fans, the media and Perez himself was to win every competition, in style.
Some put the failure down to the lack of attention paid to the defensive side of the game. Despite holding immense talent in those areas, any additions seem to fail. Perez was reluctant to pay high wages to the defensive player as they lacked the glamour of those who attacked. Makélélé was deemed a world class defensive midfielder at the time, a pioneer of that role on the pitch, but his decision to leave was due to wages.
The big money signings that were made by Perez in the defensive areas, all flopped. The famous signing of Jonothan Woodgate a prime example of the lack of care and detail put into that side of the recruitment policy. Add to that list Walter Samuel, Thomas Gravesen, Cicinho, Carlos Diogo and Pablo García who all failed to live up the expectations. Even Sergio Ramos, who is now a Madrid legend, was not up to standard until Perez left the club.
Soon after the Del Bosque departure, and Beckhams arrival, Perez sought after Carlos Queiroz, assistant manager at Manchester United. Queiroz was pressured into picking the most high profile of player, much to the detriment of the chemistry and fluidity of the team.
Perez was insistent on enhancing the market value of the club, ensuring the most popular players around the world were on the pitch, wearing the white of Real Madrid. Steve McManaman famously called this the ‘Disneyfication of Real Madrid’ in his book.
A single season without a trophy, and Queiroz was out. The next manager to see out a full 12 months in charge of the Galactico’s was Bernd Schuster, from July 2007 to December 2008.
End of an era
The first Galactico era seemingly began it’s end in the 2005/06 season, when Real Madrid lost out to Arsenal in the Champions League round of 16. They went out of the competition having failed to score in both legs against the London side.
It wasn’t until the following season that the Galactico team is really seen to have finished. Zidane retired and Ronaldo left for AC Milan. Incomings were Cannavaro from a relegated Juventus and Van Nistelrooy who fell out of favour at Manchester United. a combined 21 million was paid for the two players, not such a ‘Galactico’ transfer window.
Calderon took over from Perez as president and hired Fabio Capello, who was intent on pushing out all of what he deemed ‘deadwood’ at the club. Capello enforced his change of tact by famously dropping world superstar David Beckham for long periods of time, publicly shaming the England international on occasion.
The final nail in the coffin for the Galactico era was the departure of David Beckham, the final of Perez big four signings to leave the club. A signing who epitomised the transfer policy of the era. A fantastic player in his own right, but was brought to the club as a marketing tool than a footballing weapon. He departed for LA Galaxy in a bid to enhance the popularity of the game stateside.
A failure? Or just underwhelming?
The entire Galactico era was built to bring glory and money alongside that to Real Madrid. Money was definitely obtained, being named the world richest club in revenue during the 2005/06 season.
But for 200 million euros spent on 4 individuals, and a return of only 2 European Cups and a single La Liga title? Failure may be deemed an excessive word to use. Maybe underwhelming is more suitable. But is set a precedent for the inflation of money in the football world.
It’s success, or perceived lack of it, also spurred Perez on to return and try again. Which he did, and the arrival of Kaka sparked off a brand new Galactico era.