During the early-mid 2000s, Real Madrid became synonymous with one word; Galactico. Under Florentino Perez, Madrid operated a policy of signing one superstar every summer, in a bid to conquer European football and create a Harlem Globetrotters-esque squad of the world’s best.
Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, David Beckham and Ronaldo all arrived between 2000 and 2003, bringing two La Liga titles and the Champions League to the Bérnabeu during his six-year spell as President.
He resigned in 2006 following a disappointing Champions League round of 16 exit to Arsenal, signalling the end of an initial Galactico era that promised plenty, delivered some, but ultimately failed to create the all-out dominance it initially promised.
Ramón Calderón succeeded the Spaniard until January 2009 when he too resigned following allegations of vote-rigging, with Vincente Boulda taking temporary charge until the summer when Perez returned for his second stint at the helm of Los Blancos.
And so the second Galacticos era was born, with a £232 million war chest afforded to Manuel Pellegrini who oversaw one of – if not the – greatest transfer window of all time.
Alvaro Arbeloa – £3.6m – Liverpool
Much like their fierce rivals Barcelona, the world of football is littered with players who came through the ranks at Real Madrid, but just couldn’t make the grade – with Alvaro Arbeloa a prime example. Hardly a poor footballer, the Spanish right-back found success at first Deportivo and then Liverpool, spending two good years with the latter before receiving the call to return to the Spanish capital.
The 2009/10 season was to be a hugely memorable one, with Arbeloa filling in at both left and right-back for Pellegrini’s side to play 36 La Liga and Champions League games back at his boyhood club, before he joined four other Madrid players in lifting the World Cup with Spain that summer.
A typical 7/10 every week, Arbeloa began to play more frequently on his preferred right side as Sergio Ramos (the final Galactico of the previous era) moved into the centre of defence following an injury to Ricardo Carvalho – going on to make 231 appearances and win two Champions Leagues, before departing in 2016. Not bad going for £3.6m.
Esteban Granero – £3.6m – Getafe
Much like their fierce rivals Barcelona, the world of football is littered… Yeah, pretty much. Esteban Granero – much like Arbeloa before him – departed Madrid for a smaller Spanish side in the hope of first-team minutes, but actually impressed so much during his two seasons with Getafe (the first of those spent on loan), Madrid opted to bring the midfielder back for £1m more than they’d sold him for just a year earlier.
Again, not the sexiest name on the Madrid team sheet, but one who certainly played a part during the early part of his Madrid return. In 09/10, Granero spread 1,800 minutes across 31 appearances, contributing to seven goals as Pellegrini’s men ultimately finished second in La Liga.
The next season (now under the tutelage of José Mourinho), the Spaniard saw his game time more than halved as Madrid spent a further £83m, with the likes of Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil arriving to bolster the midfield options.
He spent 16 of those minutes playing in extra-time of the Cope del Rey final, however, as Real edged out Barcelona by a goal to nil to lift their first trophy in three years, before winning La Liga at a canter the following season as Centurions, but once more Granero was nothing more than a bit-part player.
That signaled the end of his second spell at the Bernabeu, departing for QPR in the summer of 2012 in a move likened to leaving the Regent Seven Seas Explorer to join the Titanic, but one which netted Madrid a net profit of £6.2m when including the fee he commanded in his move to Getafe. Once again, pretty savvy business.
Álvaro Negredo – £4.5m – Almería
Much like their fierce rivals Barcelona… No, not quite this time. Álvaro Negredo had begun his career at city rivals Rayo Vallecano before joining Madrid’s Castilla side before being moved on to UD Almería in 2007.
He followed the same timeline as fellow Spaniard Granero, but instead of being given a chance at Madrid upon his 2009 return, the big centre-forward was farmed straight back out to Sevilla for £13.5m – scoring goals aplenty for Los Nervionenses before a 2013 switch to Manchester City, where ‘the beast’ linked up once again with Manuel Pellegrini.
While Madrid lost out on plenty of goals through Negredo’s departure, they more than made up for it with who else came through the door.
Raúl Albiol – £13.5m – Valencia
The entirety of that Negredo fee can be seen as going on Raúl Albiol; a reliable pillar in the backline who acted as able cover for Madrid during his four-year spell at Los Merengues, and one who can still be found marshalling La Liga defences to this day at Villarreal.
And able cover he was – filling the gaping void left by Pepe when the Portuguese international suffered a ruptured ACL during a game against Valencia in December of 09, as the Spaniard went on to play just two games fewer that season than top appearance maker Iker Casillas.
Albiol became like plenty of players down the years at Real Madrid; solid, reliable, and happy to do a job when called upon – playing 116 times for Los Blancos in four years before departing for Napoli in a deal worth up to £10.8m.
For a net £2.7m, Albiol provided the squad depth and quality needed to step up during a time when Madrid returned to the top table of winning trophies, and on their way back to the heady heights of European glory.
Xabi Alonso – £31.5m – Liverpool
While it’s clear Pellegrini was very conscious of beefing up his squad with filler players and bench options, he also splashed the cash necessary to add instant improvements to his first XI – with Xabi Alonso the man chosen to add steel and style to the centre of the park.
He managed some forty games that season for Madrid and was named in the Marca Team of The Season, but could only help Real finish second on a club-record 96 points – the third time in his career that he had finished as a runner-up on a record points tally. But the poor luck seemingly ended there for Alonso.
He joined Arbeloa and Albiol in lifting the World Cup that summer, before playing a vital role in the Copa del Rey, title and Champions League winning squads between 2011 and 2014 – albeit suspended for the club’s 4-1 victory over Atlético Madrid in Europe.
The summer of 2014 spelled the end of his time at Madrid, joining Bayern Munich for £8m where he continued to hoover up the trophies before eventually retiring in 2017 as one of Los Blancos’ finest midfielders.
Karim Benzema – £31.5m – Olympique Lyonnais
If you look at any list since 2007 relating to goal scoring, goal involvements or goals-to-games ratios, the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo consistently dominate, but Karim Benzema has gently purred away in the shadows as a quietly superb forward – and one who is finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Benzema propelled himself to the top of every major European club’s shopping list following 37 goals over two Ligue 1 seasons with boyhood club Lyon, catching the eye with his close-control, link-up play and predatory instincts – almost like nothing has changed.
But the Frenchman has been on a roller coaster since stepping foot onto the Bernabeu turf for the first time; outliving Gonzalo Higuain, Alvaro Morata and Luka Jović, complementing Cristiano Ronaldo at striker and battling back from rough patches to rightfully be the leading candidate for a Ballon d’Or to go alongside five Champions Leagues.
Perhaps the issues with his national side or the unerring quality of those around him meant that the perception of Karim Benzema has been somewhat warped, but a staggering total of 325 goals, 160 assists, 23 trophies and an inhuman 100 goal involvements from his previous 93 appearances means Coco has been worth every penny and more for Los Blancos.
Kaká – £60.3m – AC Milan
Having been at the eye of a transfer storm during the 2009 January window, AC Milan knew they had their work cut out to keep Kaká at San Siro – and so it proved.
While the Brazilian ultimately rejected the advances of nouveau riche Manchester City, the allure of Los Blancos was too much for the midfielder – or the club to turn down, as the former São Paulo wonder kid moved to the Bernabeu for £60.5m. Adorning his famous ‘I belong to Jesus’ vest, it became clear very quickly that Ricardo Kaká was truly a gift from God.
He was blessed with the archetypal Brazilian flair, skill and technical ability, but possessed the somewhat unusual pace and strength not necessarily associated with his fellow countrymen – finishing his first term with 21 goal involvements from 31 games, including a memorable strike against Tenerife.
The next season brought another dozen goals and assists from just 14 games, but as the numbers suggest, the statistics most remembered from his time in the Spanish capital were the games missed through injury.
Between December 2009 and December 2010, Kaká missed some 30 games for Real and ultimately struggled to regain his place on a regular basis. His Bernebau career ended with a return to Milan in 2013, spelling the end of a largely troubled time for the once-great Brazilian and one which unfortunately should have produced more.
Cristiano Ronaldo – £84.6m – Manchester United
Last, but not least, it’s the man Real Madrid made the most expensive footballer in the world. The creme dela creme. The gold standard. The greatest signing in the history of football. Cristiano Ronaldo strutted onto the hollow turf of football’s finest theatre on July 6th with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but departed it nine years later as the greatest goal scorer the game has ever known.
He scored five in his opening five and ended the season by scoring 17 in as many games while collecting eight assists – and the numbers only shot up from there in La Liga. The fewest number of goals he managed in a season was 25 – a figure which would have still won him 41 of the Pichichi awards between the league’s inception in 1929 and 2007, but he still scooped the trophy three times while battling with Lionel Messi.
While his 311 La Liga strikes took him to second on the all-time list, he leads the way in Europe with a staggering 140 Champions League goals, with 105 coming in the white of Real. From those nine seasons he spent playing (and largely dominating) Europe, he managed a goals-to-game ratio of one or above on six occasions – managing a simply staggering 22 UCL goal involvements from just eleven games as Real won La Decima in 2013/14.
He broke every record, set every standard, lifted every trophy – smashing home 450 goals and laying on 131 assists from just 438 games in the process, all before leaving for a £20m profit to Juventus in 2018. The debate will forever rage on as to whether he is the greatest player of all time, but there can be little doubt that he is the best signing in football history.
In total, Florentino Perez’s new acquisitions played _ games, scored _ and lifted _ trophies between – mostly while lining their pockets with personal accolades, records, match balls and more.
If the first Galactico era perhaps didn’t truly scale the heights of European football, this one certainly did; Real became the first team to ever win back-to-back Champions Leagues, the first to ever do a three-peat and the first Spanish side to accrue 100 points in a La Liga season. Simplemente magnifico.
By: James Pendleton / @Jpends_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Angel Martinez / Getty Images