Monday, June 22, 2009

Florentino Perez Saved My Summer - and yours too

Real Madrid is a club that is mired in constant crises. For all its historical greatness, the new millennium has been a cruel mistress for the club dubbed the best of the 20th century by FIFA. Though the club won its ninth, and so far its last, Champions League in the 2001-2002 season, it has had a rough go of it for the past few years. After winning the 2002-2003 league title, Real Madrid entered into its longest title drought in over fifty years, failing to win silverware for three years before Fabio Capello's triumphant return to the Bernabeu. Before his arrival, Madrid underwent a series of mini and mega crises including a revolving door of coaches, players and after Florentino's fall from grace, presidents.

In 2006-2007 Cappello's side caught a Barcelona team that had set the world afire the previous year in the Champions League and La Liga, winning both. But Capello's vision of the game was the antithesis of what Real Madrid stood for as an entity. Shown the door after a stellar season, Bernd Schuster promised to return "footballing excellence" to the Bernabeu. In truth, Schuster did little more than build off of an incredible team spirit and will to win that Capello had instilled in the team. If Capello's league title was called "La Heroica," then Schuster's 2007-2008 could have been dubbed "La Continuacion," for it was little more than that.

Much of this extended crisis resulted from Florentino's "galacticos" signing policy that was as remembered for the signings of Zidane (and his historic volley in Glasgow), Figo, Ronaldo, and Beckham, as it was for tossing away Makelele and Hierro, team players and stars in their own right, like so much trash. The club, however, was in economic ruin when Florentino arrived and he saved it financially thanks to some creative deal making - a fact any madridista recalls fondly. While Madrid may have returned to its winning ways and picked up two consecutive leagues, the inescapable truth was that it did so in unimpressive fashion, playing a brand of bland and insipid football that aside from testicular fortitude offered little to the demanding Bernabeu.

Add in a corrupt president in Calderon, an ebb in the youth system, and the rise of perhaps the best Barcelona side in history (winning the only treble in Spanish football history), a 6-2 drubbing in the Bernabeu, and the fifth consecutive exit in the first knockout round of the Champions League, and by Real Madrid's standards a spectacular crisis was on hand. Certainly fun for the many haters out there, but dreary for madridistas like myself. Enter Florentino Perez.

Within a week of his uncontested return to the presidency, Florentino had chosen Real legend Jorge Valdano as his General Director and Zidane as his personal adviser. Rebuffed by his own first choice, Arsene Wenger (likely in a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of the lack of stability at the club), Florentino quickly snapped up Valdano's first coaching choice, Villareal 's Manuel "the Engineer" Pellegrini. Pellegrini's unwavering allegiance to attacking football, knowledge of the Spanish game, and (somewhat) proven track record overrode other concerns. Less than a week later, Kaka was signed for 65 million euros. Shortly afterwards, Cristiano Ronaldo was signed for 96 million euros. Suddenly, a Madrid side that had lacked both stars and creative flair since Zidane's departure had two FIFA World Players on its roster again, and every madridista on earth was ecstatic and full of hope once more. The push for Villa, Benzema, Ribery, Xabi Alonso, and Maicon was on, and once again Madrid fans could see the (white) light at the end of the tunnel.

But Florentino has done more than save my summer - he may have saved yours as well. What's that you say? You hate Real Madrid, and even more after this post? Fear not, I'll explain how he saved your summer too. Obviously, he saved mine by signing Kaka and Ronaldo, pushing for several other great players, inflating the market so that we're likely to see huge transfer fees across the board and thus making life difficult for our rivals to sign players after we've signed our priorities. Throw in the fact that Barcelona's president and top directors seem to have forgotten their treble and simply CANNOT stop talking about what Madrid's doing (inferiority complex anyone?) and Madrid's back on the map in a big way, and no one in a white jersey has kicked a ball in weeks!

Florentino saved your summer because once the Confederations Cup ends, all you'll have to look forward to is the Gold Cup (or should I say, an extra U.S. v. Mexico game) and the transfer market. A transfer market that had been expected to be one of the worst in history thanks to that little thing called the global economy. But in came Florentino splashing around money like Tony Montana in South Beach circa 1983. Sure, the prices were driven up by Madrid, but so was the need to buy. Manchester United is now holding a cool 96 million euros, missing its best player, and Tevez can't be signed. Benzema anyone? It always fun watching a negotiation with Aulas isn't it? Suddenly, Ibrahimovich is worth 80 million euros, Villa wants out, Manchester City and Chelsea want everyone under the sun, Inter's willing to sell, and Tevez is going to Liverpool, Chelsea, or Manchester City - despite a great offer from Manchester United!

Not to mention, Real Madrid HAS to get rid of 6-14 players, none of which have left yet. That is to say, some talented players, like Robben, Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Van Nistlerooy, and Drenthe may be making moves to "lesser" teams, and shaking up the middle table teams in Italy and England.

In effect, a number of teams we thought might stand pat, are out shopping. Several quality players that weren't on the market, may be now. Not all of this can be attributed to Florentino, but some of it can be. How many times have you trashed Madrid this summer already for the ludicrous sums of money spent on two players? Do you ever wonder if Kaka and Ronaldo can play together? Who's Real going to let go and since it's a known fact they must go, will they get fleeced on the deals? Who will Manchester United sign? And have you realized that on the club side of world football, Real Madrid is relevant again without winning a game?

Don't get me wrong, there are concerns. The galacticos era ended poorly. Indeed, just the new coach and first two signings of this new Florentino era have raised questions regarding the control and input afforded to the coach, economic stability, economic responsibility (drastically overstated in my opinion), the undervaluing of Spanish players, the endless problems between Real Madrid and Valencia, Florentino stumbling over the same rock again, and many, many others. The rumors of possible future signings also raise doubts. Soon enough, Ill post on these and other issues.

But for now, I'll go ahead and bask in the clean white light of our signings, the return of a gentleman to the presidency, and (hopefully) the return of footballing beauty to its home - the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

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