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On Florentino Perez, and his role in the upcoming El Clasico

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Author’s Note: the following is a precursor to an upcoming tactical preview of El Clasico, which will be published on Friday afternoon.

For all of his faults, there can be no denying that Florentino Perez is man who knows what he wants. After enjoying great success as a businessman and civil engineer, Perez decided to focus on a new venture and set himself an ambitious goal: to assume the Presidency at his favourite football club, Real Madrid.

Building on the experience he gained during his part-time role as a politician, Perez’ initial campaign strategy was astute, and in hindsight was based on nothing but fact. He alleged that the incumbent President, Ramon Mendoza, was grossly mismanaging the club’s finances, and while it wasn’t enough to win the election, Mendoza stepped down later that year admitting that the club was in significant debt.

The Vice-President, Lorenzo Sanz, then assumed the position and helped to spearhead a revival in the club’s fortunes. Under his guidance, Spain’s most famous club brought in star players from Eastern Europe and went on to end a 32 year drought by claiming not one, but two UEFA Champions League titles in 1998 and 2000. However, in spite of that success, the financial problems remained as prevalent as ever and as such, the core of Perez’ campaign strategy remained the same.

With the spotlight turned on the club’s dire financial situation, Perez was the front-runner even before he applied the coup de grâce – that infamous promise to recruit Luis Figo, FC Barcelona’s star player at the time. And so, Perez cruised to victory, setting himself a new goal in the process – a goal to transform Real Madrid into the world’s most financially successful football club, thus facilitating the recruitment of Los Galacticos.

Of course, the desired impact of all of this was that with the finances and star players serving as the foundation, Real Madrid would naturally go on to achieve an extended period of unrivalled success on both the domestic and European front. Logically, it all made sense and as Perez engineered a plethora of big-name transfers financed by an influx of new revenue from the Far Eastern market, the world watched on in fear, knowing that Real had the majority of tools required to dominate.

Yet, while Perez was open about his desire to recruit the very best and lead Real Madrid to success, he has never quite shown the same desire and drive to promote and prioritise the concept of balance within the team – in fact, his unrelenting pursuit of those primary goals has come at the expense of balance. Fundamental and tactically integral players such as Claude Makelele were discarded to make way for the next star attacking talents, while the idea of signing central defenders fell lower and lower on Real’s list of summer priorities with each passing season.

Managers were rarely afforded the time to instil a culture and ideology on the team, and Perez’ focus on the short-term was proving detrimental to the club. Los Galacticos had been an unbridled failure and Perez, seeing the error of his ways, stepped down under heavy pressure in 2006.

With time to reflect on his Presidency, Perez had ample opportunity to identify the missteps that has caused his demise – yet in announcing his return to the fold in 2009, he soon began to resemble a broken record.

A new era of Galacticos were recruited amongst much fanfare, and after a trophyless season to kick-start his second tenure, it was only with the hiring of Jose Mourinho that the concept of tactical balance would be addressed. The Portuguese coach ensured that at least a portion of Real’s limitless spending power was reserved for functional, dare I say defensive players.

Ricardo Carvalho and Sami Khedira were immediately added to the squad and served perhaps a greater, more important short-term purpose than the star offensive acquisitions, each of whom were ineffective in Mourinho’s El Clasico debut, a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s rampant Blaugrana. Once again, Perez’ focus on the spectacular had come back to haunt his club.

In some ways, the crushing defeat was the wake-up call that the club needed; Mourinho, whose managerial style was almost vindicated by the result, came out of the aftermath with greater power and responsibility. He’d tried it Florentino’s way and after such a resounding loss, he now had the power to make Real Madrid play his way. While they couldn’t recover in the title race, the early signs were positive.

After being demolished in November, Real’s record against Barcelona was much improved in the remainder of the season and the seeds had been planted for them to build on that progress headed into the following season. With Perez’ influence somewhat waning on the day-to-day activities, there were no star offensive signings; instead Mourinho transferred in Fabio Coentrao and Raphael Varane to shore up an improving defense.

The end result: a La Liga title and further vindication for Mourinho. While his success was short-lived as the arrival of Tito Vilanova helped the Blaugrana reclaim their La Liga crown, the core of the team that he developed provided a solid foundation for Perez’ next saviour to build upon as Carlo Ancelotti captured the hearts of Real supporters across the globe by delivering that elusive 10th European Cup – La Decima – in quite dramatic fashion.

Despite falling behind on the night to city rivals, Atletico, Real gradually increased the pressure and as Ancelotti expertly tweaked the balance of his side as Atletico drew more and more weary, the tide of the match began to turn. A late equaliser from Sergio Ramos sent the match into extra-time, and courtesy of their momentum and greater attacking talent, Real eventually ran away with the game to secure an emphatic victory.

Perez watched on with a gleeful smile on his face; La Decima was his, and Real would surely build on this triumph to dominate for years to come, wouldn’t they?

Evidently, Perez misunderstood whatever conclusions were to be drawn after that match as he took the success as proof that his revised Galactico policy was paying dividends. All of Ancelotti’s hard work was disregarded and no fewer than two of the three midfield starters on that night were shown the door; in their place came new Galactico talent, fresh off impressive showings at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

A dedicated pivote in Sami Khedira was replaced by the more offensive minded Toni Kroos, while Angel di Maria, having shown great promise in transitioning to a more dynamic, box-to-box role was sold to make way for flavour of the month, a more orthodox number 10 in James Rodriguez.

Ancelotti’s switch to a 4-3-3 had been a tactical masterstroke in 2014, but stripped of two of its most integral tactical cogs, the machine simply stopped working as Real began the defense of their Champions League crown. After another trophyless season, Perez lost patience and made Ancelotti his scapegoat – never mind that his meddling had played such a direct role in their regression.

The appointment of Rafael Benitez lent credence to the belief that Perez’ influence at the club was total; an unfamiliar and less than pragmatic team selection in the Clasico in October was met with rumours that it was Perez himself who had dictated the selection and playing style. Benitez refuted those claims, but the final score was indicative of the opposite as Barça humiliated Los Blancos at the Bernabeu.

And when Benitez was sacked just a couple of months later, Perez and Real Madrid once again turned a blind eye to their wider problems. While it may be early into his reign as head coach, Zinedine Zidane’s incarnation of Real Madrid appear to be as susceptible and naive as ever. The personnel and the playing style remains unchanged; the balance of the team has not been addressed and as a consequence, Real continue to fail to live up to expectations when faced with a competent opposition.

In the build-up to this Clasico, their weaknesses remain as glaring as ever – join us tomorrow for a detailed breakdown and analysis, as we focus on how Luis Enrique and FC Barcelona can capitalise on these shortcomings.

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