Galactico. A word that has been used to praise, deride and mock a generation of superstar footballers who have walked through the door of the Bernabeu. Denoting a player’s superstar or ‘out of this world’ status, it has often hung like an albatross around many a Madrid player’s neck, their pricetag added even more unwanted pressure from a hungry Spanish press that lurk around like sharks for any opportunities for the player to slip up. After Madrid picked up their eighth Champions League title, with a team consisting of seven Spaniards and the only household name being a young Iker Casillas, Lorenzo Sanz seemed like a shoe-in for the upcoming presidential elections at Real Madrid, while Madrid-based businessman and conservative politician Florentino Perez was on a hiding to nothing before the election race began. In fact, Sanz was so confident of his victory he had decided to call the election early while his stock was high among the Madrid fanbase. However Perez had an ace up his sleeve, something which would usher in a new era of signings, not only at Madrid but in world football, and it all started with a certain Mr. Luis Figo. As the election approached, Perez noticed that Figo was in the midst of difficult contract negotiations with Barcelona and that his current buyout clause (approximately £44 million) was not beyond the realms of possibility. So Perez approached Figo and his agent, José Veiga, and offered him $25 million to join Real Madrid if Perez was elected president, and if Perez wasn’t elected, then Figo gets to keep the $25 million. It seemed like money for nothing given Sanz’s popularity, as long as word didn’t get out about Figo agreeing this. Since Perez’s election hinged on the promise that Figo would join, word got out that Figo had agreed to sign for Madrid, as long as Perez gets elected. Barcelona were unable to stop the transfer (unless they paid a $34 million penalty clause to get Figo out of the agreement) and on the 24th July Real Madrid President Florentino Perez announced the signing of Luis Figo for a world record fee and the Galactico era began. A year later followed Zinedine Zidane for yet another world record fee, this time €77.5 million and a year later he repaid that fee by scoring one of the most iconic Champions League final goals of all time with a masterful volley against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park. From then on, however, things took a turn for the worse. The signing of Ronaldo Nazario in the summer of 2002 seemed like the next step for a plan that had made Real the most feared club side in Europe at that time, but the Ronaldo they signed was not the Ronaldo that had left La Liga in 1997 for a world record fee. Serious long term injuries had kept Ronaldo out for almost two years at Inter Milan and robbed him of the pace and mesmerising dribbling abilities that had made the Brazilian such a success during his time at Barça.
The 2002-03 La Liga title provided a reasonable return in Ronaldo’s first season but the following summer exposed the flaws in Perez’s policy. While playing hardball with the all-action defensive midfielder Claude Makelele over a new contract, Perez signed the most recognisable, most marketable and most brand-friendly face in football, the Englishman David Beckham, who took Makelele’s place in the team and cleared the way for the Frenchman to head to Chelsea, where he would pick up two league titles in three years. Madrid meanwhile had “added an extra coat of paint to the Ferrari while taking out the engine”, according to Zidane and Makelele’s absence could clearly be felt, since it required the likes of Zidance, Figo and Beckham to put in far more defensive work than they would have liked, inhibiting their creative output in the process. The result was three trophyless years in which Perez was criticised for focusing too much on Madrid’s marketing opportunities in Asia and America, while neglecting the success on the pitch (many suspected at the time that Perez put pressure on managers to always pick the Galacticos, meaning those players essentially controlled the dressing room), all of which lead to his resignation in 2006. Make sure you get the logo in… Perez with his lucrative assets Following his successor Ramón Calderón’s resignation in the midst of a vote-rigging scandal, Perez was back on the scene in 2009 when he was the only candidate who could raise the almost €58 million necessary to stand for presidency. That summer saw an estimated €261 million spent on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso. That season saw this new-look Madrid side collect 96 points in the league, but crucially they finished second place to Barcelona, were knocked out in the Champions League round of 16 by Lyon and crashed out of the Copa del Rey in the round of 32 with a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Alcorcón. The following summer was more subdued, but key additions arrived in the form of Ángel Di María, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, but most importantly there was a change in the managerial dugout, with Jose Mourinho, the man who had the previous season won that coveted Champions League title with Inter Milan and, what made him most alluring for Madrid was that he had knocked out Barcelona, touted as the greatest team of all time, in the process. Barcelona still picked up the league title, and yet another Champions League, but Madrid had already made their first dent in the Pep Guardiola-Barcelona hegemony: a tight, cagey 1-0 win in added time over the azulgrana in the Copa del Rey final had denied Barça their second treble. Sergio Ramos may have dropped the trophy under the bus during the celebratory parade, but the message had been sent: Real Madrid were back. The 2011-12 season saw the Real Madrid squad finally embrace full-blown Mourinhismo: one the one hand they were masters at the transitions, or counter attacks, with Ronaldo’s pace and Özil’s ability to find a pass when running with the ball at speed meant they scored a La Liga record 121 goals on their way to winning the Primera División title, their first in four years. Mourinho had also transformed the centre-back pairing of Pepe and Sergio Ramos from a wet-behind the ears duo to fully committed ‘shithouses’ who would kick, scratch, foul and taunt their opponents at every opportunity. Mourinho ushered in a bitter new chapter to the Barceona-Madrid rivalry and can be seen here poking Tito Vilanova in the eye After a disappointing 2012-13 where Mourinho had reached tipping-point and fallen out with almost every member of the Madrid squad, the Portuguese was sacked and replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. Crucially, however, the Galactico lineage had continued with Gareth Bale signed for yet another world record fee, the fifth time Perez had broken the world record. Bale’s signing paid off after only one season, as his arrival coincided with the fruition of the rest of the Madrid squad, who finally ‘clicked’ under Ancelotti. It was Bale whose fantastic solo goal won the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, and on the 24th May 2014, in the 94th minute, 1-0 down in the Champions League final against their cross-town rivals, it was Sergio Ramos, Florentino Perez’s only Spanish signing during his first term as Real president, who leapt up to convert Luka Modric’s corner into a goal. It seemed like the coaching of Mourinho and Ancelotti had mixed together to create a side whose mentality was to never admit defeat, and during extra time against Atléti, Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo all scored to seal Madrid’s first Champions League title in 12 years. This moment seemed to be the peak of the one-star-signing-every-summer policy that Perez had more or less stuck to throughout both his reigns at the Bernabeu. After a stellar World Cup performance, James Rodriguez became the latest Galactico, but Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez were both sacked in the next 18 months while trying to accommodate him (without any success) in an already-attack-minded midfield with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. It was only after Zinedine Zidane’s arrival in January 2016 that he dropped Rodriguez in favour of defensive midfielder Casemiro to create a more balanced midfield and relieve Kroos and Modric of their defensive duties allowing them to focus on their attacking output. In a move which reverse engineered the Makelele saga 13 years previously, Zidane opted against the flashy, expensive acquisitions in order to pick who was right for the team. Gareth Bale was also slowly phased out of the lineup, with the manager instead opting for the far less glamourous Lucas Vázquez to take his place. While Perez was initially hostile towards this change, the three Champions League titles in a row quickly convinced him this was a decision that should be left to Zidane. The transfer policy also shifted during Zidane’s initial three-year reign. Madrid decided against a new, flashy acquisition each summer, with Zidane preferring to keep the squad more or less the same to improve cohesion and familiarity, which clearly paid of with the aforementioned ‘three-peat’. Álvaro Morata was bought back from Juventus for €30 million in the summer of 2016, but that was largely so that Madrid could cash-in on his sale to Chelsea for €65 million the next summer. A year later, Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos were the only new signings for the club, and they were youngsters who would come in as squad players, meanwhile James Rodriguez was sent out on a two-year loan to Bayern Munich since he was gradually falling out of the picture at Madrid. Neymar Jr’s signing changed football forever, though not necessarily in a good way That summer also saw a shift in the market that had been unseen ever since Figo and Zidane’s arrivals at Madrid. Paris Saint-Germain, with the financial backing of the Qatari royal family, paid the €220 million release clause of Neymar Jr, more than doubling the previous record, and taking football finances into a stratosphere previously unexplored by even the riches of Madrid, Barcelona or Man Utd. With it brought an inflation of transfer values with the likes of Coutinho, Dembele and Mbappe all going for at least €100 million that very summer. With revenues only gradually rising year on year for Real Madrid, it became clear that they were unable to keep up with the ever-expanding transfer fees paid by owners who didn’t care whether their clubs made a profit or not. By 2018, as Ronaldo announced his goodbye from the Bernabeu with 4 Champions Leagues in the last 5 years to boast of, Madrid announced the €45 million signing of 18-year old hot shot Vinicius Jr, dubbed the ‘next Neymar’ and a clear indication of where Perez’s transfer policy was heading next – instead of paying hundreds of millions of euros for the current superstars, as Perez had been doing ever since he stepped through the Bernabeu doors for the first time, the aim was to scout and sign up the next big thing from South America for a far cheaper transfer fee, even if it was still more than RCD Mallorca had spent in their entire history. After a dismal 2018-19 that saw three different managers take charge, including the return of Zidane, Perez realised that 2019 was a summer for an overhaul, with a total of €352.5 million spent that summer, comfortably dwarfing 2009’s total of €261 million. That included €155 million spent on the trio of Rodygo, Luka Jovic and Éder Militão, all under the age of 22 in a clear sign of the shift in priorities for Perez’s targets. Ferland Mendy was brought in for €45 million to compete with Marcelo for the left-back berth, and an eye-watering €115 million was spent on 28-year old Eden Hazard, who has so far scored one goal for the club, missed a combined 8 months of action through injury and whose £400,000 per week wages make him an expensive flop and perhaps the last time Perez will hedge his bets on an overpriced 28-year old with no resale value. So is this the end of the Galactico era? Perez won’t want to risk another €100 million on a player who will be hard to force out and could easily underperform in a new environment, especially when COVID-19 has reduced matchday income to close to zero. Madrid made no new signings in the summer of 2020, with the recalling of Martin Ødegaard from his loan at Real Sociedad making him the only new face in the squad. There is, however, murmurings that the Perez’s frugality this year allows them to afford the hottest prospect in the world, Kylian Mbappe, this summer, alongside whisperings that Erling Haaland will be brought in to eventually replace Karim Benzema, but as things stand Madrid do not control the market like they once did and they are not the only go-to destination nowadays, but their name alone should make them an attractive prospect for future targets, combined with a young, hungry dressing-room that should see a few Ballon D’Or winners in the future