Anyone who believes the spectacular climbdown by football’s elite indicators the finish of the street for European Super League plans doesn’t start to know the mindset of Florentino Perez, one of the scheme’s primary proponents.
In a approach, we have been right here earlier than. This is just not the first time Perez has tried a radical reinvention of simply how soccer ought to be marketed round the world – and solely the most naive consider it is going to be his final.
In 2000 Perez stood for election as Real Madrid president on the wild, seemingly unachievable pledge he would convey Luis Figo from primary rivals Barcelona to the Bernabeu. Furthermore, he claimed if he failed to take action he would personally pay the membership charges of all the membership’s season-ticket holders the following season.
Perez had satisfied Figo’s agent to signal a contract containing a prohibitive clause with monetary penalties that may have enabled him to do exactly that if he was elected and the Portuguese winger’s transfer fell by. If they backed out of the deal, Figo’s facet agreed to pay Real Madrid (in what was then pesetas) an quantity equal to about £26.2m, which was principally the complete value of season tickets for a 12 months.
It was not as reckless an settlement as one may think as a result of at the time Figo was seeking to enhance his phrases with Barcelona. What higher approach, thought his agent, to strengthen his hand than by threatening Barcelona? What had been the probabilities of Perez successful the election anyway? He’d been defeated in an earlier run for the position and the membership, beneath the presidency of Lorenzo Sanz, had received the Champions League that 12 months and likewise two years earlier in 1998.
For Real Madrid, it was a win/win. The poaching of Barcelona’s talisman opened previous wounds at Barcelona about Madrid stealing Alfredo di Stefano from beneath the noses of the Catalans in 1953. Perez received the election and Figo’s goose was cooked.
The arrival of Figo was only a tasty starter for the banquet of riches about to come back Real Madrid’s approach as Perez set about making the membership the greatest and one of the wealthiest in the world by bringing in its greatest and most costly gamers. It was a recreation of Disney, an enormous model that owned – and attracted – the greatest manufacturers, on this case the likes of Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham.
The reality it did not completely succeed on the pitch turned virtually irrelevant. Perez, at one level, instructed Beckham might play right-back and Zidane centre-back to make approach for different ‘Galacticos’, a time period the gamers deeply disliked because it made them sound extra like enterprise property than footballers.
Much of their time, notably in the important pre-season interval, was spent selling the membership, assembly sponsors, ‘urgent the flesh’, slightly than getting in the proper kind of form to face a troublesome marketing campaign. On one such tour, one participant remarked that “getting to actually play a game felt like we were having a day off”.
The chickens lastly got here residence to roost in the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-final in opposition to Monaco. Real Madrid received the first leg 4-2 however as the gamers had been strolling off at half-time of the second leg with the rating at 1-1, a despairing Zidane turned to France and Monaco winger Ludovic Giuly and stated: “We are all knackered.” Real Madrid misplaced 3-1 and went out.
Perez’s Galactico coverage had taken Real Madrid from the verge of chapter and turned the membership into a world model. On the pitch, they didn’t win a significant trophy for the three seasons after successful the league in 2003. It mattered not a jot. Perez was re-elected in 2004 with 94.2% of the vote.
It is that sort of feast that he tried to breed final week by pushing the membership in direction of a brand new European Super League and, with it, income that may, with the assist of some cost-cutting, have paid for a aggressive squad and the rebuilding of the stadium.
It would even have helped Real Madrid modify to the new actuality of having to struggle off what Perez calls “club states”, particularly Paris St-Germain and Manchester City. In his eyes, they’ve modified the guidelines.
Back in the Galactico period, the membership’s progress appeared inextricably linked to that of his civil engineering firm and vice versa. From 2000 to 2002, ACS Group went from being an organization predominantly concerned in nationwide initiatives with a turnover of between 3.4bn pesetas and 4.4bn pesetas to at least one with a rising worldwide profile and a turnover of 10.7bn pesetas in 2003.
On the pitch, although, Perez had destroyed the important steadiness between the authority of the supervisor – a place he had little respect for – and the position of the gamers. Admitting he had “spoilt the footballers”, Perez resigned in 2006. But very quickly it turned clear it was “hasta la vista” slightly than “adios”. The presidential seat was too appetising to Perez, for causes together with the status that got here with it – status that might be translated into key networking alternatives, together with for his personal rising firm.
When he returned in 2009 he continued along with his Galactico coverage till the signing of James Rodriguez from Monaco in 2014 – after the Colombian’s starring position at that summer season’s World Cup – fell flat. Since then he has developed the concept to attempt to combine skilled gamers with younger ones in the hope the latter develop to grow to be stars, with the signing of Eden Hazard the exception.
The interval introduced Real Madrid blended fortunes by their requirements – the conspicuous success of 4 Champions Leagues, together with three on the bounce between 2016 and 2018, balanced by simply three La Liga titles out of a attainable 12.
A civil engineer by commerce, along with his Real Madrid duties Perez’s position as chairman of ACS means he has oversight of one of the main building firms in the world, using greater than 190,000 staff with a income in 2019 in extra of £34bn.
He has a private share of 12.5% of the firm and a private wealth estimated at round £1.6bn. He has usually maintained he isn’t motivated by cash and that what he values most is what he has achieved by onerous work, professionalism and energy slightly than the staggering accompanying wealth. Put in a different way, energy has acquired a a lot larger pull for him than the cash that comes with it.
But there are some issues neither energy nor cash can have an effect on.
In 2012, after what everybody believed was a profitable six-year battle with most cancers, Perez’s beloved spouse, Maria de los Angeles Sandoval, died aged 62 following a large coronary heart assault.
They had married simply six months after they met, when she was 20 and he was 23. It was a love affair that may final for 42 years. Always by her husband’s facet, she was his rock, the girl who stored Perez’s ft firmly on the floor whereas at all times offering unfailing help. It was she who persuaded him to surrender a life in politics to focus on his enterprise profession and it was he who taught her a love of soccer and of the membership he had supported all his life.
She died two days after watching the membership’s reserve facet, Castilla, play at Cadiz in a Segunda B play-off match. Five years in the past Perez felt unable to attend when Real Madrid had been drawn in opposition to Cadiz in the Copa del Rey and final week after they travelled to the Carranza stadium for the first time in the prime flight since his spouse’s demise, Perez was as soon as once more conspicuous by his absence.
As turned obvious to a world viewers over the previous week, Perez is just not afraid of confrontation and controversy and by no means has been.
In February he examined optimistic for Covid-19 however had no signs. “Not even this dreadful virus wants to take him on,” one wag commented.
Perez is highly effective, energetic and an incredible negotiator. He has used his affect to transform the VIP seating at the Bernabeu right into a discussion board for the change of favours, networking at the highest degree, with politicians, artists, bullfighters and athletes. Most of the greatest names in Spanish public life have been current at a Real Madrid match.
But alongside the pleasant method through which he strikes round these circles, he is aware of easy methods to work behind the scenes. His capability to manage the public message is famous (his final two interviews got to pleasant journalists) and he feeds info through WhatsApp to new arrivals at key media retailers who’re grateful for the contact. In that approach they grow to be his loyal troopers.
He has by no means been scared of going through down the greatest names at the membership. In a conflict with captain Fernando Hierro in 2003 – the similar night time the staff received the league title and supervisor Vicente del Bosque was sacked – the Spanish worldwide defender pressed a finger into Perez’s chest as he was telling him what he thought of the president’s actions. Perez advised him to cease: “I am not one of those referees you talk to like that, you know.”
Within a couple of days, a proposed new contract was withdrawn and Hierro, who had performed greater than 600 video games for Real Madrid, adopted Del Bosque out of the door.
Despite paying fortunes each in switch charges and wages to Galacticos, Perez might be notoriously stingy in paying many of the gamers what they had been price.
He promised to extend Claude Makelele’s wage however went again on his settlement, as an alternative promoting him to Chelsea. With Makelele of their facet, Real had received six trophies, together with two La Liga titles and a Champions League. But he didn’t match the Galactico look.
“We will not miss Makelele. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents and 90% of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways,” Perez stated. But with out him they struggled, whereas Chelsea received back-to-back Premier League titles after signing him.
When Cristiano Ronaldo was bemoaning what he perceived as the lack of respect being proven to him, he advised Perez: “I will bring you 100m euros and you can let me leave.”
“Don’t bring me 100m euros,” replied Perez. “Bring me the money that I can replace you with Lionel Messi.”
So, what of his future and that of Real Madrid now the proposed European Super League has collapsed?
The try and create the ESL is just not one thing that has occurred in a single day. It has been three years in improvement, which makes the spectacularly incompetent method through which it was unveiled to a shocked footballing world much more exceptional.
All these pals and colleagues Perez has labored with and completed favours for in the previous are going to be wanted now greater than ever to elucidate his facet of the story. He is, in the eyes of many, the primary protagonist on this entire affair, though to be truthful to him he was no keener on the concept of a European Super League than Josep Maria Bartomeu, his reverse quantity at Barcelona till he acquired his marching orders from the membership this season.
Both males had been desperately captivated with the mission, not least as a result of they noticed it as a approach out of the monetary gap they’d dug themselves into with their respective golf equipment. But it’s Perez’s refusal to confess that this was his primary motivation, coupled with an insistence that what he’s doing is for the profit of all soccer and a complete refusal to supply something remotely akin to an apology, which means he has been branded as the satan incarnate in the entire affair.
The concept that the breakaway mission is now going to be kicked into the lengthy grass by no means to be seen once more is wishful pondering. Similarly the notion that this was completed purely out of greed, whereas not utterly incorrect, is simplistic. In an interview this week Perez sought to defend his actions, saying soccer needed to change or die, whereas refusing to concede his plans had been lifeless in the water.
Now 74, Perez has been in the position of Real Madrid president for a complete of 18 years. Earlier this month he was re-elected unopposed for an additional 4 years. Of course there may be nothing to cease anybody from standing in opposition to him in subsequent elections, though the reality any potential challenger has to have been a member at the membership for no less than 20 years and manage to pay for behind them to ensure a minimal of 15% of the membership’s finances (£538m final 12 months) has so far tended to discourage any opponents. He modified the guidelines to make it more durable to problem him.
Speaking on Spanish tv, he stated: “I haven’t done anything in 20 years against football. I have enough credibility and history with Real Madrid for people to think I am working on this because things have changed and football has to change too.”
In a messianic message that hardly anyone in soccer agreed with, he declared: “I don’t own Real Madrid, its members do. What I am doing is for the sake of football.”
The plan is off the desk for now, however Perez’s historical past tells us it’s unlikely now we have heard the final of it… or of him.
Guillem Balague writes an everyday column all through the season and likewise seems each Thursday on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily podcast, when the focus might be on European soccer.
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