Spanish Inquisition: Was Florentino Perez Born To Be Real Madrid’s President?’s Ashish Sharma argues that Senor Perez is the only person who can give Real Madrid what they want. Success on the pitch for the fans, and wealth off it...

Let’s be clear from the start. Florentino Perez probably knows as much about football as the Barbie doll does about the offside trap. We are after all talking about a man who refused to give a pay hike to Claude Makelele, the lynchpin of his first generation Galactico team, thus allowing him to sign for Chelsea. He even described the French midfield general as having “average” technique and lacking in “speed and skill”.

Madrid, ofcourse, didn’t win a single trophy in the next three years after Makelele’s departure. He allegedly didn’t want to buy Ronaldinho because he was “too ugly” to sell shirts, and dismissed coach Vicente del Bosque and his captain Fernando Hierro a day after they had won him the league title in 2003. Perez wanted a more tactical and modern coach and brought in Carlos Quieroz, who went on to make a pig’s dinner of his managerial career at the Santiago Bernebeu. And only this summer, Perez had to be persuaded by both his director-general, Jorge Valdano and coach Manuel Pellegrini to pay Liverpool full whack in order to get Xabi Alonso. 

But while Florentino knows very little about football, he does know about business and he knows how to be successful.  

The 62-year-old is a self-made billionaire, and as president of the construction and engineering company ACS, he is the sixth richest person in Spain. His personal fortune is close to $2 billion. He used his influence and business sense to transform Real Madrid into the richest club in the world. When he first became club the supremo in 2000, he ushered in the era of the Galacticos.

As Perez battled to knock Manchester United from the perch as the world’s wealthiest club, he did so by investing millions bringing in the best players. His mantra then, as it is today, is simple. You have to spend money to make money.

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He has frequently claimed that Zinedine Zidane was his cheapest signing, as he made back his transfer fee, and much more, from merchandising, shirt sales and sponsorship deals. And the same would apply to David Beckham’s case. Perez quickly saw what English clubs were doing with regards to expanding overseas markets, and thrust his team onto planes on far flung tours of the Far East and the USA in pre season, maximising the marketing value of his Galacticos. 

And while Florentino brought in financial stability and dragged the club into the modern world in a marketing sense, he was also giving fans what they wanted on the pitch. In his first stint as president, he made breathtaking signings taking stars from his biggest rivals.

Luis Figo walked out of Barcelona, Zidane became the most expensive player in the world when he left Juventus, Ronaldo joined from Inter, Beckham from Manchester United and Michael Owen from Liverpool, although the pint-sized striker he had a less than successful spell in the Spanish capital. But such was Perez’s pulling power that he can lure emblematic heroes from rival clubs.

Madridistas were not just thrilled to have the best wearing all white but that they had come from the biggest teams around Europe. Madrid were the wealthiest club in the world and had won the Champions League and two La Liga titles in his first three years in charge. But this was not the start; in fact it was the end. After 2003 football mistakes such as those outlined above, led to a three-year barren spell and in 2006 the Galacticos empire was over as quickly as it began.  

In June 2009, when Perez came back in to start his second era, he promised an even more outrageous project than the one before. And didn’t he deliver.

Within a week, Madrid and indeed football fans worldwide were left in a complete spin as Kaka was prised away from Milan and then the world record was once again smashed when Cristiano Ronaldo signed from Manchester United. Karim Benzema joined from Lyon and Xabi Alonso from Liverpool as the construction magnet ushered in another dynasty of superstar players. Another cycle of thrilling talent on the pitch with marketing value off it is now underway. 

But in truth Perez is doing nothing new. If anything he is simply going back to the ideology of the club’s founding father, Mr. Real Madrid himself Santiago Bernebeu. In 1953 Don Santiago instigated the first Galactico policy and turned to foreign players by signing Alfredo Di Stefano. Ferenc Puskas then followed and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Senor Perez’s predecessor, Lorenzo Sanz, and his successor, Ramon Calderon, had their fair share of successes on the pitch, but neither had the ability nor the charisma to replicate Bernabeu’s grandiose philosophy.  

This weekend at the club’s General Assembly, while announcing that the club has a debt of €327 million, Perez also talked of plans for a Real Madrid theme park in their sprawling state of the art training complex at Valdebebas, which Perez built in his first tenure as president. He also plans to revamp the Estadio Santiago Bernebeu.

This week, former Merengue striker Emilio Butragueno is in Canton in China representing the club at a business fair and to undoubtedly spread the good word while he’s there. Meanwhile after last Sunday’s win at home to Xerez, Los Blancos climbed to the top of the league table.

Yes, they may have a whopping debt, as do most of Europe’s superpowers. It’s nothing unusual in today’s world of business and football. But it’s Perez’s ability to recoup his investment quickly that makes him the ideal man to run the juggernaut that is the ‘Casa Blanca’.

It’s back to business as usual for Florentino and Real Madrid. And as he said, it’s as if he never left. 

Ashish Sharma,