Losing Your Head, Madrid style

The resignation of Florentino Perez is the final admission that the “Galacticos” policy was a failure in the most important area, on the pitch. For whilst Los Meringues have rocketed to the top of the Football Money League in terms of revenue, their failure to win a trophy for the last three seasons has produced an enormous amount of pressure for the man at the top which he was no longer prepared to tolerate.

Having failed to persuade the members to elect him five years earlier, Perez won the 2000 Presidential Elections on a manifesto that he would revitalise the Clubs’ Balance Sheet and sign the best players in the world to make the team the dominant force in Spain and Europe once again. During the election, Perez named Luis Figo as the first man he would bring to the Santiago Bernabeu and he duly delivered, earning the player the eternal enmity of the denizens of the Camp Nou. He further delivered the following year with the purchase of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for a staggering £47m, a figure that has yet to be eclipsed although Chelsea are sure to push this to the limit with their alleged pursuit of Andriy Shevchenko. The Champions League was duly delivered in 2002 with a 2 – 1 victory in Glasgow over Bayer Leverkusen, which coupled with the arrival of Ronaldo from Internazionale, seemed to signal another period of Madrileño dominance of Europe.

That this never materialised is due to the inability to recognise the key role played by Vicente Del Bosque who was sacked one day after the Spanish League was secured in 2003 for having the temerity to request an improved contract. It should never have been underestimated how much respect Del Bosque had in the dressing room, particularly with the home-grown players such as Raúl, Hierro and Casillas who had all known him from their youth and reserve team days. The folly was further compounded by the appointment of Carlos Queiroz who had no experience of the main role at a big club. This signalled the start of period when managerial revolving door nearly came off its hinges in the following three years with Queiroz, the sweatiest man in football Jose Antonio Camacho, Wanderley Luxemburgo and a host of caretakers sitting in the hotseat. Even the current incumbent, Lopez Caro, only has a contract until the end of this season.

The problem Perez created was that his vision of the team of superstars was never going to work due to the absence of a cogent plan behind the signings. In recent years, the new arrivals have come to resemble panic buying to appease fans used to big names coming into the club every summer. In some cases they weren’t even big names, irrespective of whether they were good players or not; step forward Jonathon Woodgate and Thomas Gravesen. That Perez never sought the approval of the coaching staff with his purchases further undermined the plan, highlighted most notably when Camacho publicly stated that he did not want Michael Owen to be signed. Further imbalances were caused by the departures of Hierro and Makelele that left a midfield bereft of fighters but full of ballerinas.

The only thing that Perez can say he oversaw successfully was the overhaul of clubs finances. However, that is shrouded in controversy. The sale of the Clubs training complex for $180m wiped out the debt and heralded the start of his spending spree. Unfortunately, the smell of greased palms never went away from the deal with Madrid City Council and is still subject to much speculation. The general feeling is that Los Meringues came out of the deal better than the municipality did.

The final act on this play has yet to start though. Perez has now heaped the pressure onto the players by admitting that maybe he was interfering too much and provided too great a distraction. The character of the side will be shown in the next few weeks as they seek to prove his point. Should they win any silverware this season, glory will be theirs whilst Perez will no doubt claim that the success was his legacy to the club. One thing is for certain, the scapegoat for their season is sitting there waiting to be blamed. It will be a natural human instinct for them not to waste that opportunity and escape the scorn that will be heaped on them if they fail. The Real fightback will probably begin this weekend when they entertain Atletico in the Madrid derby, a game that they will be favourites to win handsomely. Arsenal need to ensure that they then bring Los Galacticos back down to earth once again by avoiding defeat in the second leg at Highbury a week tomorrow.

Today’s tunes are from Billy Bragg, recorded at a Joe Strummer Memorial gig in 2003. As Bragg rants at one point, “this is for tuneless singers everywhere”. Bragg first came to notice on the John Peel Show, one of countless who did, famously bribing the DJ with a Mushroom Biriyani to get his debut single played. His first album, Life’s A Riot For Spy vs. Spy, was released and subsequently caught up in a distribution problem but that allied with an appearance on The Tube provided him with a solid base to build upon. Whilst I have not always agreed with his politics, he has been unwavering in his support for left wing and humanitarian causes. His most recent venture was raising funds for Rosetta Life and the Trimar Hospice. This worthwhile cause and other downloads are available from www.billybragg.co.uk.

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