Galácticos (Spanish for galactics or superstars) are expensive, world-famous Real Madrid football players recruited during the "galácticos" policy pursued during Florentino Pérez's presidency at Real Madrid, where in his first tenure he purchased at least one galáctico in the summer of every year. Galácticos is now often used in a more general sense for a select list of football superstars in any team.
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.
The term has occasionally been used to describe other teams, both in football and in other sports, that have been perceived to follow a similar policy. For example, British rugby union commentator Martin Gillingham called French club Toulon "rugby's galácticos" in 2012 due to a wave of signings of international stars by owner Mourad Boudjellal.
- 1 Origins
- 2 First galáctico era
- 3 Second galáctico era
- 4 Other "Galácticos" sides
- 5 References
Although the term was widely used in the 2000s, the origins of the Galáctico policy date as far back as the 1950s when the architect of the policy, president Santiago Bernabéu, after whom Real Madrid's stadium is now named, signed star players the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, Raymond Kopa, José Santamaría and Francisco Gento in succession, to achieve Real Madrid's finest era of dominance.
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.
First galáctico era
The first galáctico era is considered to be synonymous with the presidency of Florentino Pérez between 2000–2007, or from Real Madrid's signing of Luís Figo during summer 2000 to the departure of David Beckham during summer 2007. The Pérez era brought:
The principal galácticos were:
- Luís Figo (£38.7 million from Barcelona) – joined in 2000, left in 2005 for Inter Milan;
- Zinedine Zidane (£46 million from Juventus) – joined in 2001, retired in 2006;
- Ronaldo (£30 million from Inter Milan) – joined in 2002, left in 2007 for Milan;
- David Beckham (£25 million from Manchester United) – joined in 2003, left in 2007 for the LA Galaxy
- Walter Samuel (€24 million from Roma) – joined in 2004, left in 2005 for Inter Milan.
In addition, English striker Michael Owen is often considered to be a galáctico; Pérez had stated his desire to make Owen part of his galáctico project as early as March 2002. Owen eventually joined the club for £8 million plus Antonio Núñez from Liverpool in August 2004. Owen's transfer fee was not as large as the other Galácticos, however; this was attributable to Owen being in the last year of his contract at Liverpool and Núñez being sent to Liverpool in part of the exchange. Although Owen would mostly feature as a substitute, he had the highest goals-to-minutes played ratio in La Liga during his time with Real Madrid.
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:
- Iker Casillas – Graduate of youth system;
- Raúl – Graduate of youth system;
- Roberto Carlos – Signed pre-Pérez; and
- Steve McManaman – Signed pre-Pérez
Robinho was also signed during Pérez's first term as president but is not generally regarded as galácticos due to the fact that he was not considered as an established world-class player when he first arrived in Madrid, but rather a promising youngster with high potential.
Pérez becomes president
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 Barcelona.
Pérez sold Real Madrids's then-training ground, the Ciudad Deportiva, for €480 million, allowing Real to clear its 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 but no charges were brought.
After the purchase of Luís 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. The record was broken a year later by the purchase of Zinedine Zidane from Juventus. The galáctico policy was initially called "Zidanes y Pavones", with the name deriving 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 in 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 2002-03, 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 UEFA Champions League, Real was eliminated in the 2004 quarter-finals and then from 2005–2010 would suffer six consecutive exits at the Round of 16 stage. In the same period, rivals Barcelona won successive La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006, along with the 2006 Champions League.
Several reasons have been proposed in the media 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. Shortly after the signing of David Beckham, Claude Makélélé departed the team 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 Walter 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, failed to shine until Pérez's departure in 2006. Francisco Pavón, one-half of the poster boy for the 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 has been suggested 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. Without Del Bosque, 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 United, was appointed the new coach after Del Bosque was dismissed. Queiroz was allegedly 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 was originally to collect the best players in the world. However, there were allegations that players were picked not according to form, but rather according to their reputation, such as Beckham for his 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. David Beckham, a natural right winger, joined the club in 2003 partly due to Beckham's huge popularity in Asia 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. While Real Madrid failed to win any trophy for three straight seasons, Ronaldinho would lead the powerful resurgence of Barcelona; and furthermore he proved to be one of the most marketable players during that time.
- The 2003 pre-season Asian tour that 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. Some have compared this tour with the first visit of The Beatles to the United States in 1964. Although lucrative and generating wide publicity, the preparation value of preseason in 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.
- 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 Real Madrid already had the best two strikers in the league (Ronaldo and Raúl) and that there was no place for another non-EU 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, that same summer. Eto'o would later help Barcelona to the 2004–05, 2005–06 and 2008–09 La Liga titles, as well as 2005–06 and 2008–09 Champions League titles. Meanwhile, Owen, the alternative signing to Eto'o, left after one season after failing to secure a starting berth at Real.
End of the first era
The decline in the team's on-field performance had seemingly hit a nadir in the 2005–06 season, exiting in the 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 Ramón Calderón.
The final season of the galáctico era is considered to be the 2006–07 season. Fabio Cannavaro and Ruud van Nistelrooy were brought in. Unlike the earlier transfers of galácticos, however, there was less media attention or marketing involved in the signing of these players; Cannavaro had been fresh off of captaining Italy to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but had left Juventus after it was relegated to Serie B, while Van Nistelrooy had fallen out of favour at Manchester United.
Fabio Capello was hired as manager by Ramó Calderón 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 England national team. The team's performance in the Champions League still disappointed, with their elimination to Bayern Munich on the away goals rule: 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. In the domestic campaign, the team finally overtook Barça, who had been first place for much of the La Liga season, on 12 May 2007, and held there for the rest of the season. They finished tied with Barça on points, but won La Liga due to the tiebreaker on head-to-head superiority. Despite winning La Liga, however, 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 (MLS) side LA Galaxy after the 2006–07 season. Beckham's contract was due to expire after that season, and club president Calderón favored re-signing him. Beckham's decision to sign with LA Galaxy in January 2007 was a result of 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. Beckham was the last of the big four to move on, with Figo having joined Inter Milan two seasons prior, Zidane retiring after the 2006 World Cup and Ronaldo moving to Milan half a season before Beckham's departure. Capello was replaced as manager by Bernd Schuster, who led the team to the Supercopa de España and a second consecutive La Liga title in 2007–08.
Second galáctico era
The 2008–09 season saw Real Madrid eclipsed by rivals 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 first knockout round by Liverpool, suffering a 1–0 loss at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and a heavy 4–0 at Anfield. The defeat marked the fifth successive season of early Champions League exits at the round of 16, 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 Madrid 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 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.
Then, 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, and on 26 June, Real Madrid and 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 for a fee of €4 million, the same amount Liverpool paid for the player in January 2007; Arbeloa subsequently signed 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 for a fee of €34 million. Other players that came to Real Madrid included Raúl Albiol, Ezequiel Garay and Esteban Granero. Antonio Adán became the third goalkeeper through the youth system. Newly-hired manager Manuel Pellegrini was under heavy pressure to deliver instant success following the high-profile off-season signings.
In their first year, the second era of galácticos failed to win any trophies. They were crushed 4–0 against Alcorcón in the Copa del Rey (ultimately losing 4–1 on aggregate), then were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 for the sixth consecutive year (losing to Lyon 2–1 on aggregate), after which Pellegrini received an ultimatum from club president Pérez that Real would have to win La Liga or he would be sacked. Ending the domestic season, Real Madrid set a club record of 96 points, with 31 wins and 102 goals scored, but nonetheless finished second in La Liga to defending champions Barcelona.
Once again, Real Madrid suffered from poor transfer decisions, as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who were transferred to Inter Milan and Bayern Munich respectively because they were considered surplus to requirements, each played key roles as their clubs reached the 2010 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 Milan to a semi-final victory over Barça in the Champions League (Los Blancos fans were pleased that this denied Barça the opportunity to win the Champions League at the Bernabéu) en route to achieving a continental treble. Mourinho was released by Inter after a record breaking compensation package was agreed on 27 May 2010.
Though a manager and not a player, Mourinho has often been referred to as a galáctico. He was in high demand as a football manager for his past successes, having earlier in his career led an unfancied Porto to consecutive European trophies, then at Chelsea and Inter took underachieving squads to domestic and European successes. While Real Madrid wanted to make his arrival a media frenzy, Mourinho vetoed the club's plans which supposedly would have involved a giant catwalk or parading a massive white shirt across the pitch. Florentino Pérez was absent during the simple media presentation announcing Mourinho's appointment; only director general Jorge Valdano, the media and Mourinho were present. This suggested an apparent power shift, with Real Madrid "having at long last allowed a coach [Mourinho] the freedom to build the squad".
Real Madrid continued the spending spree by signing players Ángel Di María, Sergio Canales, Pedro León, Ricardo Carvalho, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil. Khedira and Özil had just earlier played key roles in Germany's third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup. On 20 April 2011, the second galácticos era managed to win their first trophy, 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. 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.
May 2011 saw the appointment of former galáctico Zinedine Zidane as general manager of the club, replacing Jorge Valdano.
In the 2011–12 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. The key moment was the 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 led to Barça coach Pep Guardiola conceding 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.
In the 2012–13 La Liga season, Real Madrid failed to defend their domestic title and finished second as Barça matched Real's record points haul to win the league. The 2012–13 season saw Real get off to a good start, winning the 2012 Supercopa de Espana after defeating Barcelona 4–4 on aggregate, though this would turn out to be their only trophy that season. Real beat Barcelona in five of six meetings, including the thrashing of Barcelona 3–1 at Camp Nou. Another victory over Barcelona came in the 26th round of La Liga, where Real beat their rival 2–1 by using substitute players (such as Álvaro Morata, José Callejón and Michael Essien) while Barcelona's squad consisted of their first-team starters.
Mourinho's last year, however, saw infighting between him and several galácticos like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo. Mourinho's selection policy generated controversy; long-time Real Madrid player and club captain Casillas had been sidelined since January 2013 despite recovering from a broken hand, in favor of Diego López, who had been in fine form in the domestic and European campaign during Casillas' absence.
In the Champions League, Real Madrid defeated Manchester United, drawing the first leg at the Bernabeu 1–1, then a come-from-behind 2–1 win at Old Trafford (which was marred by controversy over a red card being issued to Manchester United player Nani), with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring in both legs. The team reached their third-straight Champions League semi-finals, though Borussia Dortmund beat Real in the first leg 4–1 with Robert Lewandowski scoring four goals, leading Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp to remark that it was a historic night for his club, saying, "That was like Robin Hood taking from the rich" (Dortmund had previously went with an expensive group of largely foreign players but after almost going bankrupt, had restructured back to financial health largely with young home-grown players). Real's 2–0 win in the second leg at home was not being sufficient to overturn Dortmund's 4–3 aggregate advantage.
Real advanced to the Copa del Rey final against city rival Atletico Madrid; Real was denied by a superb performance by Thibaut Courtois and Atletico scored in extra time to win 2–1. Mourinho, despite having signed a four-year contract extension in 2012, departed Real Madrid by mutual agreement with the club at the conclusion of the 2012–13 season, amid feuds with key players Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe.
On 25 June 2013, Carlo Ancelotti became the manager of Real Madrid after signing a three-year deal. A day later, he was introduced at his first press conference for Madrid, where it was announced that both Zinedine Zidane and Paul Clement will be his assistants. On 1 September 2013, the long-awaited transfer of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur was announced, with Bale joining Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Madrid attack. The transfer of the Welshman is reportedly a new world record, with the transfer price around €100 million. In Ancelotti's first season at the club, Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey, with Bale scoring the winner in the final against Barcelona. On 24 May 2014, Real Madrid defeated city rivals Atlético Madrid in the Champions League Final, winning their first European title since 2002, and they became the first team to win ten European Cups, an achievement known as La Décima. Real Madrid's attacking trio of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano, dubbed the "BBC", finished the season with 97 goals.
On 12 August 2014, Real Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup against the 2013–14 UEFA Europa League champions Sevilla by a score of 2–0. Cristiano Ronaldo scored both of Madrid's goals to win the club's 78th official trophy. In the 2014 Supercopa de España, against Atlético, Real finished their home leg with 1–1 after goals from James Rodríguez and Raúl García going into the Vicente Calderón Stadium. Mario Mandžukić shocked Real early on after just two minutes in the second leg with the only goal of the match, which meant that Atlético won the title. In the last match of the season, Martin Ødegaard became Real Madrid's youngest ever player to play in La Liga.
The second galácticos
- Kaká (€65 million from Milan) – joined in 2009, left in 2013 for Milan;
- Cristiano Ronaldo (€94–€100 million from Manchester United) – joined in 2009;
- Karim Benzema (€35 million from Lyon) – joined in 2009;
- Xabi Alonso (€36 million from Liverpool) – joined in 2009, left in 2014 for Bayern Munich;
- Gareth Bale (€94–€100 million from Tottenham Hotspur) – joined in 2013;
- James Rodríguez (€80 million from Monaco) – joined in 2014;
- Toni Kroos (€30 million from Bayern Munich) – joined in 2014;
Several other players are 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:
- Iker Casillas – Graduate of youth system, left in 2015 for Porto;
- Sergio Ramos – Signed by Pérez at the end of the first era (€27 million from Sevilla in 2005);
- Pepe – Signed pre-Pérez (€30 million from Porto in 2007);
- Marcelo – Signed pre-Pérez (€6.5 million from Fluminense in winter 2007); and
- Gonzalo Higuaín – Signed pre-Pérez (€12 million from River Plate in winter 2007, left in 2013 for Napoli).
Raphaël Varane was also signed during Pérez's second term as president but is not generally regarded as galácticos due to the fact that he was not considered as an established world-class player when he first arrived in Madrid, but rather a promising youngster with high potential.
Other "Galácticos" sides
- New York Cosmos 1971–1984 ("The Galactics Retro")
- Chelsea 2003–
- RC Toulonnais (rugby union), 2007– 
- Manchester City 2009–
- AC Milan 2008–2012
- Inter Milan 2008–2011
- New York Red Bulls 2010–
- Anzhi Makhachkala 2011–2013
- Paris Saint-Germain 2012–
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