In the 1950s-1960s, then Real Madrid CF president Santiago Bernabeu introduced a policy in the club that not only helped them dominate football in that era but is still prevalent in the footballing world 70 years later. That policy was of course: The Galacticos. It is an ideology where Real Madrid buys a flurry of high profile expensive world-class players. This philosophy focuses less on the football frontier and more on the marketing prowess, however if done right the club can win trophies as well as gain an imposing presence in the market as well. Real Madrid was able to master this combination which has allowed them to be one of the most successful clubs in the history of the sport.
In the first era under Santiago Bernabeu the club bought names like Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. This was perhaps the most successful team in history bagging 5 consecutive UEFA Champions Leagues between 1956 and 1960 and another one in 1966. Along with Europe, Real was dominant on their home soil as well, winning 12 La Liga titles between 1953 and 1969. Captained by Francisco Gento and Alfredo di Stefano leading the attack with this team was truly a force to be reckoned with.
With the unfortunate demise of Santiago Bernabeu in 1978, the Galacticos ideology died with him, or so everyone thought. 22 years later in 2000, Florentino Perez became the Real Madrid President in his second try. He had boasted an aggressive transfer policy in his campaign of buying a Galactico every summer and boy did he deliver. In order to fund his mission, Perez sold the club’s training ground for €480 million. His first Galactico signing was perhaps the most controversial signing in all history of football. One of the best players of the era, Luis Figo, under the employment of their arch nemesis FC Barcelona was bought by Real Madrid by paying his release clause of €62 million which was a world record fee at the time. On his return to the Camp Nou, Figo was met with a lot of hate and anger. Figo was regarded very highly by the Barca fans and watching him play on the other side of El Clasico made the fans feel a sense of betrayal. Then there was the infamous case of the pig-head thrown at Figo as he was taking a corner.
Although Real did not taste European glory in 2001, Los Blancos did manage to win the domestic league which they hadn’t won for the past 3 seasons. Fiorentino Perez was just getting started now. In the summer of 2001, they broke the transfer record once again with the signing of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for €75 million. Due to a lack of youth in the team Perez devised a new plan of buying not only a Galactico but also promoting youth players in the team. The addition of Zidane helped the Los Vikingos to win the UEFA Champions League once again with the Frenchman scoring in the final, but Real failed to win any domestic trophies. The following summer Real brought in Ronaldo ‘O Fenomeno’ for €45 million from Inter Milan. Even this star studded squad failed to pull off a double, still winning only a La Liga title.
The next Galactico to join Perez’s cause was the English phenom, David Beckham not only for his ability on the ball but more importantly his marketable personality and his marriage to the pop star Victoria Adams. He had a major following in Asian countries allowing Real to branch out quite heavily in the Asian markets. Although by the end of the 2005-06 season Madrid became the richest club in the world, they failed to win a single trophy in the 3 years following the aforementioned La Liga title.
The blame is largely on Florentino Perez’s reluctance to pay huge sums of money to and for defensive players. This was also the reason why Claude Makélélé left the club. Another major reason for its’ failure was presence of big players in similar roles. For instance both Luis Figo and David Beckham played in a right winger role. This led to a lot of dressing room drama and the sacking of their manager Victor del Bosque. 4 seasons later, the last Galactico of this era left the club with the sale of David Beckham to the MLS side LA Galaxy. All the while their sworn enemies of more than a century, FC Barcelona was on track to build the greatest team the world had ever seen.