By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Florentino Perez is under pressure. The Real Madrid president was all smiles on Sunday as he stood alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and announced that the Portuguese would be staying for another five seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu. But after another summer of lavish spending and the controversial sale of Mesut Ozil, this Perez project must now deliver the greatest prize of all: La Decima.
When the construction magnate returned to the presidency in 2009, he promised to create a "spectacular team" that would become a "point of reference" in world football. And he had learned, he said, from past mistakes. His second spell, he assured, would be different.
Florentino's first tenure captured the imagination with a stunning side, fantastic football for good measure and some wonderful wins, yet the Galactico era ended in disappointment as results failed to accompany the huge investment on stars such as Zinedine Zidane (€75 million), Luis Figo (€60m), Ronaldo (€46m) and David Beckham (€35m). During his six years as Madrid chief, the club claimed only seven trophies: two Liga titles, two Copas del Rey, two Spanish Supercopas and one Champions League crown - La Novena.
|INS & OUTS AT MADRID THIS SUMMER
|PLAYERS BROUGHT IN
|Asier Illarramendi||Real Sociedad
|PLAYERS SHIPPED OUT
|Kaka|| AC Milan
Florentino finally left in 2006 and Madrid claimed back-to-back Primera Division titles under his successor, Ramon Calderon. Results in Europe remained poor, however. Calderon stepped down in early 2009 following a voting scandal and after Barcelona won it all in 2008-09, Perez decided to put himself forward for a second spell.
"The excitement has returned," his campaign slogan announced. And as he rode to power on a huge wave of support from both fans and the media, optimism was at a high. Past misdemeanours had seemingly been forgotten.
In any case, the excitement had returned - and so had the big-name signings. Kaka came first for €65m, then Cristiano arrived at a world-record fee of €94m. Plus Xabi Alonso (€35.4m), Karim Benzema (€35m) and more.
Under Manuel Pellegrini, Madrid produced the finest league season in their entire history as they finished with 96 points. But that was only good enough for second as Barcelona reclaimed La Liga. Meanwhile, humiliation in the Copa del Rey (with a damaging defeat to Segunda B side Alcorcon) and a sixth successive last-16 exit in the Champions League (to Lyon) spelled the end for the Chilean coach.
So Florentino turned to Jose Mourinho and three titles in as many seasons brought some reward, while Real improved in Europe by reaching the Champions League semi-finals three years in a row. Still, however, Madrid have remained somewhat in the shadow of Barca and, tellingly, La Decima is ever elusive.
So Perez remains under the spotlight. With Carlo Ancelotti now in charge, the Madrid president has perhaps the coach he wanted in the first place, but the significant summer spending has highlighted the need for success on the pitch to justify the vast sums splashed on Isco (€30m), Asier Illarramendi (€38m) and, in particular, Gareth Bale.
The Welsh winger's arrival for a fee of around €100m has raised eyebrows and caused criticism from far and wide, particularly given the current climate of economic downturn in Spain, while many Madrid fans are furious at the sale of Ozil to Arsenal for €45m on the last day of the transfer window.
One of Bale's first duties as a Madrid player was to sport the club's new clementine kit for the Champions League, and as Madrid embark on their latest challenge for Europe's elite competition, selling shirts remains a key aspect of the Perez philosophy.
Cristiano's contract is part of that, too, but if Florentino really wants to restore Real's name to the greatness and glory of bygone days, when the club were considered football's finest, then that must start with La Decima.
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