Saturday, October 11, 2014

The beginning of the end of Galacticos in 2003-2004

     In July, 2000, Luis Figo, the captain of Barcelona, made a controversial move from Barcelona to arch rival Real Madrid shortly after the ascent of Florentino Perez to Real Madrid's presidency. Perez had promised to bring Figo to Real Madrid if he was elected President of Real Madrid and he wuld later promise to bring one superstar to the team every year. This transfer marked the first of many Galactico transfers to Real Madrid.  In the next two seasons, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo would arrive.  In the beginning, things were looking good at the Spanish capital.  Real Madrid won the Champions' League title in 2002 and then, a league title the following season.  However, everything started to fall apart in the summer of 2003 when David Beckham moved to Madrid.
     At end of  the end of the 2002-2003 season, Captain Fernando Hierro and Coach Vicente del Bosque were released. The club did not sign any replacement for Hierro, but planned to use homegrown central back Francisco Pavon as its starter.  The original Galactico policy was actually not just only about signing superstars every year.  Perez also promised to promote youth team graduates such Pavon to the first team.  He even coined the term Zidanes and Pavones for his Galactico policy using Pavon as his poster boy.  To be fair, Pavon looked impressive when he filled in for the injured Hierro the season before.  When Hierro returned to the starting lineup in Spring of 2003, he played poorly.  In fact, he was blamed for Real Madrid's elimination at the Champions' League by Juventus.  For coach, President Florentino Perez hired Carlos Queiroz, who worked with Figo at Sporting CP and Beckham at Manchester United.


       The signing of David Beckham, a right wing, created an issue on the starting lineup because Luis Figo was the best right wing in the world and the club could not fit both superstars on its starting lineup.  People expected Luis Figo to move to the left wing and Beckham to the right, Claude Makelele who was probably Real Madrid's most important player the season before anchoring the midfield. Real Madrid used this dream lineup at least once during its preseason tour of Asia.  This lineup was probably the greatest assembly of Real Madrid players since the 1950's. However, during the summer, Makelele demanded a pay rise, but President Florentino Perez refused to pay defensive players the same salary as his Galactico offensive players. Oh well, Makelele was sold to Chelsea. Beckham moved to the midfield while Figo remained as the starting right wing. This dream lineup did not happen.

Deam lineup that never happened
     The preceding season, however, started well.  The team was leading the league table and reached the Final of the Copa Del Rey. But the team collapsed shortly after the Madrid train bombings in March, 2004.  Before the bombings, the team only lost one league matches.  But for the next 11 La Liga matches after the bombing, Real Madrid only managed 3 victories.  They finished 4th on the league table.  And six days after the bombings, Real Madrid lost to Real Zaragoza at the Final of Copa del Rey.  For the next three years, the team went "trophyless".

       Most people blamed the collapse of the team on the departure of Makelele and Hierro that created a defensive vacuum in the lineup.  The team was filled with great attackers, but the central backs and defensive midfielders were not up to standard.  For the next few years, while the media focused on the Galactico signings, Perez actually signed Jonathn Woodgate, Walter Samuel, Sergio Ramos, Thomas Gravesen and Palbo Garcia to solve the club's defensive and midfield woes, but all of them failed.  Sergio Ramos who joined Real Madrid at the age of 19 would learn his trade as a rightback for many years before he matured into one of the best central backs in La Liga and led the team winning La Decima in 2014.   Perez resigned on 27th February, 2006.  Figo left the summer before, Zidane retired 4 months later and Ronaldo moved on the following December.  It marked the end of the first Galactico era.  Real Madrid would win its first trophy in 3 years the season after Perez's departure.  Meanwhile, Francico Pavon left the club in 2007 after an unremarkable career at the club.  He never lived up to Zidanes and Pavones tag.

        One interesting thing that also happened during the season was that while Real Madrid searched for a central midfielder, a player who would become one of the best central midfielders in the world was sitting on the bench.  Esteban Cambiasso was a backup player while Beckham struggled as a central midfielder.  He transferred to Inter Milan at the end of 2003-2004 season.  

Please also see my All-Time World Cup Team Index.

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