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Galácticos (Spanish for galactics) were expensive, world-famous Real Madrid football players recruited during the "galácticos" policy pursued in the first tenure of Florentino Pérez's presidency at Real Madrid, where he purchased at least one galáctico in the summer of every year.
The term itself carries both positive and negative meanings. Initially, it was used to emphasise the greatness of signing superstar players and the construction of a world class team. Later the term attracted a more negative connotation; galáctico becoming synonymous with prima donna and used to deride the transfer policy and side (or team) built under it, following media perception that the policy at Real had failed to deliver expected levels of success.
In the culture of Real Madrid, the Galácticos period is often contrasted with the Quinta del Buitre era of the late 1980s. The Quinta del Buitre played a more physical and less appealing style of football and were made up of homegrown players, unlike the foreign stars who became the Galácticos.
The term has occasionally been used to describe teams in other sports that have been perceived to follow a similar policy. For example, British rugby union commentator Martin Gillingham called French club Toulon a "band of galácticos" in 2012 due to a wave of signings of international stars by owner Mourad Boudjellal.1
The first galáctico era is considered to be synonymous with the presidency of Florentino Perez between 2000–2007, or from Real Madrid's signing of Luís Figo during summer 2000 to the departure of David Beckham during summer 2007.
However, the origins of the Galáctico policy date as far back as the 1950s when the architect of the policy, President Santiago Bernabéu Yeste after whom the club stadium is named, signed star players the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa, Jose Santamaria and Francisco Gento in succession, to achieve Real Madrid's finest era of dominance. The Florentino Pérez era brought:
The principal galácticos were:
- Luís Figo (£38.7 million from Barcelona) - joined in 2000
- Zinedine Zidane (£46 million from Juventus) - joined in 2001
- Ronaldo (£30 million from Internazionale) - joined in 2002
- David Beckham (£25 million from Manchester United) - joined in 2003
In addition, Michael Owen (£8 million plus Antonio Núñez from Liverpool - joined in 2004) is considered by some to be galácticos. Owen's transfer fee was not as large as the other Galácticos, and although he did mostly feature as a substitute, he had the highest goals to minutes played ratio in the Spanish league while he was there.
Several other players were often considered to be a part of the galácticos legacy due to their influence on the team during that period despite either being signed previously to the reign of Pérez or being graduates of the Madrid youth system, these often included:
- Raúl - Graduate of youth system
- Roberto Carlos - Signed pre-Pérez
- Iker Casillas - Graduate of youth system
Robinho was also signed during Pérez's first term as president but is not generally regarded as galácticos due to the fact that he wasn't considered established world-class player when he first arrived in Madrid, but rather promising youngster with huge potential.
Though Real Madrid had already won two European Cups (1998, 2000) under the presidency of Lorenzo Sanz; Sanz lost his re-election bid to Pérez. Pérez had won, partly by promising expensive new signings and an aggressive new transfer policy, in particular to sign Luís Figo from rivals FC Barcelona.
Pérez sold Real's then training ground Ciudad Deportiva for €480 million; this allowed Real to clear their debts, build a replacement training complex (at a fraction of the cost) and have significant funds for investment in the playing side. The deal was later investigated by the EU on competition grounds on the prompting of several unnamed clubs - no charges were brought.
After the purchase of Figo, for a world record transfer fee, Pérez sought to buy at least one world-class superstar player (a galáctico) each summer during the transfer season. It was broken a year later by the purchase of Zidane from Juventus. The galáctico policy was initially called Zidanes y Pavones. The name came from Zidane and Francisco Pavón, a youth product from Real Madrid — the idea was to sign one major superstar per year and promoted youth players from within.
Immediate success followed, with Real winning La Liga in 2000–01 and 2002–03 and claiming the UEFA Champions League in 2001–02, with Zidane scoring the winning goal in the final. After winning the 2002–03 La Liga title, Real Madrid added another galáctico - David Beckham from Manchester United.
The galácticos' policy resulted in increased financial success based on the exploitation of the club's high marketing potential around the world, especially in Asia. Its economic model led it to finally overtake perennial leader Manchester United as the world's richest club by revenue in 2005–06. Real Madrid became the biggest club in the world due to the fame of its galácticos and the resources they generated.
Real were expected to continue their level of dominance in the domestic and European game after 2002, with the signing of Beckham expected to strengthen the team. However, following seasons would see limited success on the pitch, with Real failing to win any trophy for next three seasons after their 2003 league title. In the same period, rivals FC Barcelona won the 2006 UEFA Champions League and successive La Liga titles, with Real failing to progress in European football or attain domestic success.
Several reasons have been proposed in the mediacitation needed for the failure of the galáctico policy:
- A lack of interest in defensive talent harmed the team, as potential transfers were overlooked because Pérez did not want to pay large wages to defensive players. Claude Makélélé departed the team shortly after the signing of David Beckham when the club refused to raise his relatively low salary, despite being widely considered as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world and a key to the team. Negotiations to sign Patrick Vieira from Arsenal in 2004 failed for similar reasons. The defensive players signed by Pérez during this period, namely Wálter Samuel, Thomas Gravesen, Jonathan Woodgate, Cicinho, Carlos Diogo, and Pablo García all flopped while playing for the club. Even Sergio Ramos, who joined Real for €27 million in the summer of 2005 from Sevilla FC, failed to shine until Pérez's departure in 2006. Francisco Pavón, the poster boy for Zidanes y Pavones policy, never lived up to expectation and left the club in 2007.
- The shock sacking of coach Vicente del Bosque, twice Champions League winner and shortly after Real's 29th league championship in the 2002–03 season. It was widely believedby whom? that there was a political split, with del Bosque and his players (Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman and Claude Makélélé) on one side, and Pérez on the other. Three of the aforementioned players had backed a significant wage raise for Makélélé and all of them left the club shortly after del Bosque's departure. More importantly, del Bosque was able to balance the many different modern player egos in the star studded team, considering that several galácticos were competing for the same position and had their playing time reduced. Consequently, the superstar players placed together failed to form a cohesive footballing unit — having a large number of very talented, renowned individual footballers did not effectively translate into a great footballing team.
- Lack of stability and interference by Pérez. A week after the arrival of Manchester United player David Beckham, Carlos Queiroz, who was an assistant manager at Manchester United, was appointed the new coach after Vicente del Bosque was dismissed. Queiroz was allegedlycitation needed forced to pick the star players, regardless of form or performance on the pitch and having limited input into tactical decisions. Queiroz was sacked after only one trophyless season in 2003–04, with Real suffering in subsequent years from high turnover in non-playing staff, with four managers and four directors of football in the four years following del Bosque's sacking in 2003.
- The galácticos policy meant that players were picked not according to form, but rather according to their reputation.citation needed The aim was to collect the best players in the world. There were also allegationsby whom? that some, in particular Beckham, were picked because of their marketing potential off the pitch. This ultimately led to what Steve McManaman later described in his autobiography as the "Disneyfication of Real Madrid." This also led to galácticos' in poor form, getting increased minutes over more successful bench players, such as Michael Owen scoring four more league goals than Raúl during the 2004–05 season, despite receiving significantly less playing time and being in better form throughout the season. Owen would leave the club after only a year in Madrid.
- Signings for non-footballing (marketing) reasons.citation needed David Beckham, a natural right winger, joined the club in 2003 partly due to Beckham's huge popularity in Asiacitation needed when Real Madrid already owned another right winger, Luís Figo, meaning that one or the other was forced to play out of position in many games (Beckham in central-defensive midfield or Figo on the left wing). One director was, reportedly, quoted saying that Beckham was signed for his good looks and Ronaldinho, who joined Barcelona the same summer, was too "ugly" to play for Real Madrid.citation needed Ronaldinho would lead the powerful resurgence of Barcelona while Real Madrid failed to win any trophy for three straight seasons.
- The 2003 pre-season tour that allegedly catered more to the needs of the club's marketing than to its players' preparations. Shortly after Beckham joined the club, the team embarked on an 18-day summer tour in Asia, to cash in on his worldwide appeal. It included exhibition matches in Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok, which alone earned the club 10 million euros. Somewho? compared the tour with the first visit of The Beatles to the US in 1964. Although lucrative and generating wide publicity, the preparation value of the Asia was questionable, considering that the long 2003-04 season lay ahead. It was exhausting for the players, as endless rounds of publicity engagements and restrictions on the players' freedom of movement (due to the team hotel being besieged by fans). Most players admitted that they preferred a low-profile training camp and/or to have been home in Spain for the pre-season, instead of playing meaningless show matches against low quality opponents.2
- Poor transfer decisions. Though Real Madrid owned 50% of Samuel Eto'o's contract with Mallorca since 1998 and had first preference over his signing if he chose to leave Mallorca, Pérez sold their rights to Eto'o in 2004, arguing that Madrid already had the best two strikers in the league (Ronaldo and Raúl) and that there was no place for another non-European Union player. Eto'o himself also ruled out a move back to Real Madrid thinking that he, being a forward, would be a surplus at Real Madrid. Yet Real Madrid signed another forward, Michael Owen, the same summer. Eto'o would help Barcelona to the 2004–05, 2005–06 and 2008–09 La Liga titles as well as the 2005–06 and 2008–09 UEFA Champions League. Meanwhile, Owen, the alternative signing to Eto'o, left after one season after failing to secure a starting berth at Real.
The decline in the team's on-field performance had seemingly hit a nadir in the 2005–06 season, exiting in the UEFA Champions League to Arsenal in the Round of 16 without scoring a goal in either leg. Pérez resigned as club president on 27 February 2006 after Real Madrid lost to Mallorca, and was succeeded by Ramon Calderon.
The final season of the galáctico era is considered to be the 2006–07 season. There were new signings such as Fabio Cannavaro and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Fabio Capello was hired as manager by President Calderon with a mandate of "reining in the players and clearing out dead wood". Capello balanced the team out and moved away from the previous attacking approach used by previous managers. Capello dropped several of the (previously perennially selected) galácticos — notably David Beckham — for periods of the season. However Beckham was returned to the team during the second half of the season and considered by many to be one of their better performers at the time, after he signed with LA Galaxy for the upcoming season as well as regaining his place on the national team.3 The team finally overtook Barça, who had been first place for much of the La Liga season, on 12 May 2007, and held the for the rest of the campaign; they tied Barça in points but won La Liga due to the tiebreaker on head-to-head superiority. The team's performance in the Champions League still disappointed with their elimination to Bayern Munich on away goals, the team initially enjoyed a 3-2 first leg win at home, but the second leg away was a 2-1 loss with Roberto Carlos failing the control the ball on kickoff which led to Roy Makaay scoring at 10.12 seconds, the fastest Champions League goal in history. Despite winning La Liga, Capello was sacked at the conclusion of the season.
The final end of the first galáctico era is considered the departure of Beckham to join Major League Soccer side the Los Angeles Galaxy after the 2006–07 season. Beckham's contract was due to expire after that season, however club president Calderon favored re-signing him. Beckham's decision to sign with LA Galaxy in January 2007 was as a result his treatment and benching by Capello, who responded publicly saying that Beckham would get no further chances on the first team, though Capello was forced to backtrack on that declaration.4 Beckham was the last of the big four to move on, with Figo having joined Internazionale two seasons prior, Zidane retiring after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and Ronaldo moving to Milan half a season before Beckham's departure.
The 2008–09 season saw Real eclipsed by rivals FC Barcelona, who completed The Treble including beating Real to win La Liga by a wide margin of nine points. Real were humbled in the Champions League 1st knockout round by Liverpool, suffering a 1–0 loss at the Bernabéu and a heavy 4–0 at Anfield. The defeat marked the fifth successive season of early Champions League exits, with Real not making the quarter-finals since 2004. To make things worse, they lost both their El Clásico games, and crashed out of the Copa del Rey to third-level Real Unión. The team was widely derided in the press. Manager Bernd Schuster was sacked midway through the 2008–09 season, with the team perceptibly in decline, despite the efforts of Juande Ramos, who kept the team with 19 successive victories, shortening the deficit to only six points (initially, Barcelona led by 12). It was all brought to an end when a rampant Barcelona later defeated an exposed Real Madrid 2–6 with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Thierry Henry being the stars.
In addition, Real president Ramón Calderón resigned in January 2009 after corruption allegations, and having failed to secure notable transfer targets for the club.
The resignation of Calderón resulted in a presidential election in mid-2009, returning Florentino Pérez to the presidency. Pérez again pledged to go on a spending spree to return the club to European and domestic competitiveness, notably with his vocal claims of an attempt to sign A.C. Milan's Kaká. Just 24 hours after his appointment, Manuel Pellegrini was unveiled as Juande Ramos' replacement as manager. After much speculation linking him to the club, Kaká was duly signed for a then world record fee of £57 million on 9 June 2009. On 11 June, Manchester United revealed they had accepted a shock offer of £80 million (a new world transfer record fee) for Cristiano Ronaldo. United gave Real until 30 June to complete the deal. On 26 June, Real Madrid and Manchester United signed the final agreement for the transfer of Ronaldo, which became effective on 1 July. That same day, it was confirmed that Olympique Lyonnais had accepted an offer from Madrid for Karim Benzema.
On 29 July 2009, it was announced that Real and Liverpool had reached an agreement for the transfer of Álvaro Arbeloa to the Spanish club. A fee of €4 million, the same amount Liverpool paid for the player in January 2007, had been agreed between the clubs and the player would sign a five-year contract with Real. On 4 August, Real Madrid and Liverpool again agreed terms for the transfer of Xabi Alonso to the Santiago Bernabéu. A fee of €34 million was to be paid by Real for Alonso. Other players that came to Real Madrid were Raul Albiol, Ezequiel Garay, Esteban Granero. Also Antonio Adan became third goalkeeper through the youth system.
In their first year the second era of galácticos failed to win any trophy. They were crushed 4-0 against Alcorcón on the Copa del Rey, then they were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 for the sixth consecutive year (losing to Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 on aggregate). They were also unable to win La Liga despite setting a club record 96 points. Once again, Real Madrid suffered from poor transfer decisions as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who were transferred to Internazionale and Bayern Munich respectively because they were considered surplus to requirements, each played key roles as their clubs reached the UEFA Champions League Final at the Santiago Bernabéu. Manuel Pellegrini was sacked and José Mourinho was appointed manager. Even before the 2009-10 season had concluded, the team was actively courting Mourinho, who had successfully managed Inter to a semi-final victory over Barça in the Champions League (Real Madrid fans were pleased that this denied Barça the opportunity to win the Champions League at the Bernabéu5) en route to achieving a continental treble. Mourinho was released by Inter after a record breaking compensation package was agreed on 27 May 2010. Real Madrid continued the spending spree by signing players Ángel di María, Sami Khedira, Sergio Canales, Pedro León, Ricardo Carvalho and Mesut Özil.
On 20 April 2011, the second galácticos era managed to obtain their first trophy in a 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the decisive goal in extra time. They also managed to get past the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in seven years, reaching the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Barça where the first leg was marred by refereeing controversy. In La Liga they finished as runners-up to Barça, being defeated 0-5 in the 13th round, and drawing 1-1 in the 32nd round, thus achieving their first point in the last six matches against the Azulgranas.
In the 2011–2012 season, Real Madrid won its 32nd title under the management of José Mourinho with a record-breaking goal scoring figure, a record goal difference and most away wins among several other records in a single season in La Liga history. This included a 2-1 win over Barça at Nou Camp on 21 April, Barça's first home loss of the season, which extended Real Madrid's lead in the table to seven points with four matches left, and let Pep Guardiola to concede the league title. In the Champions League, the team reached the semi-finals where they faced Bayern Munich (managed by Jupp Heynckes, who had previously led Real Madrid to its 1998 Champions League title), losing the first leg 2-1 and winning the second leg at home 2-1 (with former Real Madrid player Arjen Robben converting a penalty to level the aggregate score). Bayern won 3-1 in the ensuring penalty shootout which saw spot kicks of galácticos Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká saved by Bayern's Manuel Neuer as well as a missed penalty by Sergio Ramos.6
In the 2012-13 La Liga season, Real unfortunately failed to defend their title. Their long awaited La Decima was also stopped by Borussia Dortmund, who beat them 4-3 on the aggregate. However, they proceed to the Copa del Rey final, with city rival, Atletico Madrid as their opponent. Unfortunately, a superb performance by Thibaut Courtois denied Real their 19th Copa del Rey title, Atletico needed an extra time winner to clinch the title. Jose Mourinho said that 2012-13 season has been a failure, and the worst ever in his career.
Although 2012-13 season yielded no trophies except Supercopa de Espana (where Real beat Barcelona 4-4 in the aggregate). Real were lucky to lose the first leg 3-2 due to a goal keeping error by Victor Valdes. The return leg saw Barcelona dominate play but their defensive frailties proved to be decisive and Real barely managed to get past Barcelona. Real beat Barcelona in five of six meetings in the whole season including the trashing of Barcelona 3-1 at Camp Nou. Another great victory over Barcelona came on La Liga round 26, where Real beat their rival 2-1 by using substitute players (such as Morata, Callejon, Essien). Barcelona used a full squad.
In the Champions League, Real also beat the newly-crowned English champions, Manchester United, 3-2 in a game marred by controversial refereeing decisions. Manchester United drew the first leg at Bernabeu 1-1 and were in control leading the game 1-0 through a Ramos own goal when Nani was controversially sent off for a tackle on Arbeloa. The game turned after Nani's sending off with Modrid and Ronaldo scoring crucial goals which sealed the win for Real Madrid. Real also obtained a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over a new European powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund, in the second leg of the semi-final. Dortmund had thrashed Real Madrid in the first leg 4-1 through 4 goals by Robert Lewandowski.
- Kaká (€60M from Milan) - joined in 2009
- Cristiano Ronaldo (€96M from Manchester United) - joined in 2009
- Karim Benzema (€30M from Lyon) - joined in 2009
- Xabi Alonso (€36M from Liverpool) - joined in 2009
- Mesut Özil (€12M from Werder Bremen) - joined in 2010
- Ángel di María (€25M from Benfica) - joined in 2010
- Fábio Coentrão (€30M from Benfica) - joined in 2011
- Luka Modrić (€39M from Spurs) - joined in 2012
- Paris Saint-Germain 2012-
- Zenit Saint Petersburg 2012-
- Anzhi Makhachkala 2011-
- AC Milan 2010
- Manchester City 2008-
- Chelsea 2003-
- Los Angeles Galaxy 2007-
- Gillingham, Martin (2012-03-27). "Top 14: Toulon are the Galácticos of the rugby world". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- "Globetrotters Real back at base after Asian tour". CNN.
- Sinnott, John (10 June 2007). "LA deal revived Beckham - Antic". BBC News.
- "Real Madrid sack manager Capello". BBC News. 28 June 2007.
- "Madrid revels in Barcelona's exit". CNN. 30 April 2010.
- Winter, Henry (26 April 2012). "Bayern Munich reach Champions League final after beating Real Madrid in dramatic penalty shoot-out". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
- Hughes, Matt (August 29, 2009). "Real Madrid’s new galácticos take to the stage". The Sunday Times (London).
- "Perez dreams of Galácticos return to the Bernabéu".
- Lowe, Sid (May 13, 2009). "Lock up your galácticos - Florentino Pérez is poised to return to Real Madrid" (blog post). The Guardian (London).
- "Halftime for Real Madrid’s neo-Galácticos".
- "The Spanish Revolution".
- "Schalke's Galácticos Raul and Huntelaar Hand Them Three Precious Points".
- "A takeover bid for Hochtief: Battle of the builders". The Economist. October 28, 2010. "Mr Pérez, best known as president of Real Madrid football club, with its Galácticos of expensively acquired talent..."
- Holley, Shaun (November 3, 2011). "Ospreys tan ban proves a winner". The BBC.