“Madrid’s plan is that there is no plan, there is no project. The plan is Florentino Pérez”
Florentino Perez’s 13-year old reign at Real Madrid was basically summed up by this single comment in a piece by Marca, the staunchly pro-Madrid newspaper. Born and brought up in Madrid, Perez joined the ranks of fans adoring the city’s, and undoubtedly, one of Europe’s biggest clubs at the age of 5.
Perez is hailed for his sheer financial genius, guiding Real Madrid to huge margins of profits and clearing the club’s various outstanding debts and in the process making it the highest-valued European team by Forbes. Not for nothing is this civil engineer's net worth at$1.49 billion. Yet, Perez has faced a lot of vitriol from the fans time and again with the 85,000 supporters at the Santiago Bernabeu screaming “Florentino out” for every disappointing result, most notably the recent 0-4 humbling against Barcelona. Sounds like a job being under-appreciated, right? Well, every coin has two sides to the story.
On June 24, 2003, two days after winning the La Liga, Real Madrid, to the shock of the football world, announced in a press conference, the sacking of their manager Vicente Del Bosque, and letting go of Captain Fernando Hierro. The then-sporting director Jorge Valdano sat in the press conference with a visibly bizarre looking expression and struggled for words as to why the sacking took place.
The reason stated was “all clubs need to refresh their squads every so often to avoid staleness and encourage new competition.” The decision invoked strong reactions from amongst the players who had previously expressed disgust in the way the club was ran by Perez. This episode would perhaps be the first-traced example of Perez’s short-sightedness when it comes to matters pertaining to football.
At this juncture, it must be remembered that Perez was appointed for his first stint with an array of promise.
After a failed presidential bid in 1995, Perez once again campaigned for it in 2000, under the same promises he did previously- a bid to cure the financial problems of the club and reverse the mismanagement by the previous boards, with an added promise of bringing Portuguese superstar Figo from Barcelona. This time, the campaign succeeded decisively, and he became the new President of Real Madrid. With a potential crisis at Camp Nou under the disastrous leadership of Joan Gaspart and the signing of one of the world’s best players, Real Madrid were expected to dominate Spain for an unprecedented time.
The 2000/01 saw them race to the league title on the back of the exploits of Figo and Raul. This was followed by winning the Champions league in Glasgow, famously remembered for Zidane’s golazo and Iker Casillas’ exceptional performance. However, Zidane’s arrival caused a shift in balance in the squad for the worse, and it was only compounded when Zidane’s form deteriorated to the point where the Bernabeu faithful hurled boos at him. The club finishing third, 9 points adrift of champions Barcelona. Perez immediately secured the signing of Ronaldo to secure the title back to Real.
However, Vicente Del Bosque was sacked at the end of the season, even after winning the La Liga. Perez later famously quoted in a book that, “he didn’t understand physical fitness, he didn’t know tactics, he didn’t know how to manage a squad”. The signing of David Beckham, in spite of the right wing position being stocked with world-class players, and the sale of Claude Makélélé to Chelsea for being a defensive-minded player were the biggest blunders of Perez’s first stint as President. His reasons for Makélélé having an ‘average technique, slow pace and backwards or sideways passer’ were famously retorted by Zidane who said: “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
For all his on-field short-sightedness though, Perez did a marvelous job with the club's books. He cleared the club’s debt by selling off Real Madrid’s training ground to the government, Real's earnings jumped to approximately € 480 million and built a new stadium named ‘Ciudad Real Madrid’ in Valdebebas, Madrid. His strategies of venturing into an untapped Asian market and securing 50-50 splits of star players’ image rights were considered as innovations of the highest order and soon other clubs across the continent were following suit. However, due to the lack of success, Perez quit as President in 2006 stating the club needed a new direction.
It was Déjà vu when he once again became the President in 2009. He continued with his Galactico policy with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Mesut Özil and Gareth Bale arriving as the galacticos, to name amongst the few. Although what also continued was the musical chairs strategy with his managers, with five different managers flitting in and out in his second stint at the club.
The recent sacking of Rafael Benítez to make way for an inexperienced manager in Zinedine Zidane, Perez’s 11th appointment overall, baffled many. Benitez was sacked in just five months, after signing a three-year contract with the club, and it came at a time when Real are pretty much in the race for the title and the coveted Champions league and were eliminated from the Copa Del Rey only for allegedly fielding an ineligible player. New stint, same story.
Florentino Perez has, time and time again, displayed his expertise on the financial side of the game. Real Madrid are poised to announce football’s first £1bn kit deal with Adidas, certainly making it the highest-ever kit deal in the game.
However, what he has time and time again proved as well is his apparent obsession with the best attacking players in the world with no regard or knowledge of the positional importance or the type of players the club particularly needs. Like the fans, the mere thought of Barcelona leaving Madrid far behind is an unthinkable prospect for both the Board and the Management. The myopic view of only considering one season at a time and not realizing the importance of continuous progress sums up Perez’s philosophy with the club – no end goal. Maybe hiring a director of football to exclusively deal with the footballing matters is the first step? That’s there to seen.
The humiliating prospect of being perennial second-best to Barcelona without a sufficient blue print for the future will not only have a devastating effect for the club’s hierarchy, but also to its faithful fans as well. It's high time Perez understands that the success created off the field is as important as the success created on it, and such matters are best left to people who hold the expertise.
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