The French World Cup winner, now assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti, was the cornerstone of the first Florentino Perez project and a new strategy in football and marketing.
Florentino flexed his muscles. Juventus tired in telling Madrid that there was "no way" the Spanish side would sign Zidane. But Florentino found a way. Perez coincided with Zizou at a gala in Monte Carlo and passed the player a serviette, upon which was scribbled a question: 'Do you want to play for Real Madrid?' Zidane was passed a pen, he wrote 'Yes' and the French World Cup winner moved to Spain in a 75 million euro move in the summer of 2001.
Flown in to a military airport to avoid the expectant Madrid media, Zidane bemused his new audience as he spoke in French at his unveiling. Nevertheless, as both he and his president addressed the press pack, the message was clear: Madrid was building the best team in the world, with the planet's finest footballers. And Zidane was the cornerstone of the Perez project, Part 1.
It was a bold, brave strategy. Previously, clubs like Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester United had been able to hold on to their best players with relative ease when other top teams came calling. But the Perez plan to make Madrid the most glamorous and grandiose club on and off the pitch was appealing to the world's top talents - and there was plenty of money to make it happen.
Zidane's first two seasons were a success. A stunning strike from the Frenchman himself delivered La Novena - a ninth title in the European Cup/Champions League in 2001-02. The Intercontinental Cup came next in the summer and then La Liga in 2002-03. Suddenly, Madrid was the dominant force Florentino had hoped the club would be - even if the president had only been in charge for the last of the club's three Champions League wins in five years.
Zidane's Madrid move in 2001
|5||The Frenchman, bizarrely, wore the number five shirt at the Santiago Bernabeu.|
|6||Zidane won six titles at Madrid, including the Champions League in 2002, when he hit the winner.|
|12||The millions Madrid was due to pay Zidane in the final year of his contract. The player chose to retire instead.|
|75||Madrid paid Juventus 75 million euros for Zidane, but with inflation he would still be the world's most expensive player.|
|216||Florentino Perez paid a total of 216 million euros for Galacticos Luis Figo, Zidane, David Beckham and Ronaldo.|
|225||Zizou played 225 games for Real between 2001 and 2006, scoring 49 goals for the Spanish side.|
Zidane's final campaign came in that very season and proved something of a disappointment. At almost 34 the midfielder looked slow and beyond the peak of his powers, although he did go on to shine at the World Cup in Germany, leading France to the brink of a second title before his ill-fated headbutt on Marco Materazzi and defeat on penalties to Marcello Lippi's Italy.
Perez, however, has long maintained that his policy of signing the world's most expensive players is the correct one.
"One hundred million can be cheap and 20 million can be expensive," he said in 2009. "Zidane cost 73 million and he was the cheapest player we signed ..."
The construction magnate was referring to monies accrued through merchandising, shirt sales, lucrative preseason friendlies, image rights and so on. Zidane, on arrival, was the world's best player and the Frenchman made Madrid a greater global brand. So even though success on the pitch was at a premium, the former France captain is estimated to have paid back his transfer fee, and more, over the course of his five-year spell - all through merchandising and sponsorship.
Seven years on, Madrid finds itself in a somewhat similar situation. Florentino presides over the world's richest club, yet success on the pitch has not quite lived up to expectations. Just one Liga title, one Copa del Rey and a Spanish Supercopa in Perez's second spell is insufficient return for such significant investment. But the president will not be swayed. For Figo and Zidane in his first spell, read Ronaldo and Gareth Bale this time around. "The best players are not expensive," the club chief reiterated in the summer, as Madrid set out to spend 100 million euros on the Welshman.
It all started with Figo back in 2000, but Zidane was, and remains, the ultimate Galactico for Florentino. The Frenchman's signing was a huge statement of intent and defined a strategy which has changed the face of modern football - off the pitch. And with Zizou back alongside coach Carlo Ancelotti and being groomed to lead the club in the future, Perez will now hope he helps Madrid mark an epoque on the pitch as well.
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