There can be no denying that Real Madrid are Europe’s most successful and biggest club, yet they can be one of the continent’s most controversial institutions.
Success on the pitch doesn’t necessarily mean respect for the work done off it, and one person who knows that more than anybody else is Lorenzo Sanz. The former Real Madrid President won two Champions Leagues, the club’s first in colour, in five years, but the club’s socios were wooed by another in 2000 and so began the reign of Florentino Perez. Like Sanz, he too has won two Champions Leagues, but it took him €1bn and 14 years to do it. For many, the price was a lot higher, with some believing the club have lost their way and, more importantly, their soul. Florentino has always managed to get over his obstacles, but it seems now he faces his biggest challenge against the Press, players and fans to date. Is this his final stand?
Since taking over back in 2000 and heralding in the age of the Galacticos, Florentino Perez has divided fans, journalists and opinions. He has always overcome his critics, but as of late his popularity seems to be on a downward spiral. While there are Press organisations and publications that remain loyal to him, there are some that are starting to voice their disapproval when they previously stayed quiet. Papers such as La Razon and Marca continue to back the President, but AS, who for a while had been a lone voice, have started to gain supporters. The topics that are dividing the Press range from the running of the club and treatment of players to the way the club interact with supporters. Depending on which paper you read, the club are either doing a great job or the worst in the world. This week showed a classic example of how divided opinion really is and just how fractured the President’s relationship is becoming with all those connected to the club.
For the past week, the papers in Spain have been non-stop with Sergio Ramos stories. With two years left on his contract, the defender was set for a renewal. He has been at the club for 10 years and is an important part of the side, yet earns far less than Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. He is also the club’s Vice-Captain, scored the important equaliser in the Champions League final last season that led to La Decima and dropped the Copa del Rey under a bus. Yet, Ramos is not loved that much by those working in the offices at the Santiago Bernabeu. He fell out Jose Mourinho and ruffled some feathers when he publicly backed Carlo Ancelotti, asking for him to stay on at the club. Add in the fact that he is loved/adored by the fans and we start to see the whole picture and why some may have a problem with him. But this isn’t the first time that Real Madrid have faced this situation.
Fans of Real Madrid have often been critical of Perez’s handling of players who have played the majority of their career at the club. It’s often said that he hates when players accumulate power or become more popular than him. The President has been accused of lacking sensitivity when a player retires or the time has come to move on. Legends such as Fernando Hierro or Raul were not given the send-off they deserved. Instead, the construction magnate prefers to put on a show when a big player arrives. He has also been accused of selling liked players to get funds for new players who will sell shirts. In the past, there wasn’t so much of a problem with this, but as time has gone on, fans have felt that the club have forgotten their roots and strayed away from their historical path. The person they blame is Florentino. but is it really his fault?
Perez is a businessman above all else. It was for that reason the socios voted him in and it is for that reason he has normally run unopposed in re-elections. He knows how to make money and has turned the club into a truly global brand, but at what price? Many feel the club have lost their soul. With re-naming the stadium and ticket prices too high for most Madridistas, fans are concerned that the club have become more of a tourist attraction than a football team. Throw in that Perez seems to treat players like merchandise that has a sell-by date and one can understand why the once-faint vocal contingent are growing louder. While fans may be happy to see Casillas go, there is no way that they will take Ramos leaving without a fight and it may end up being the sword that the President falls on.
The Press have been running with headlines of respect all week, whether it be to ask Ramos to respect the badge or Florentino to respect his players and fans wishes. The rumours that have circulated in the pro-Perez media have hurt Ramos and it seems enough is enough for the Spain international. While there has been nothing official, the media have reported that the defender feels it is time to go; his relationship with the club is beyond repair. Madrid have been here before and have saved the day, but this time with Ramos, having spoken to the club and also a lawyer, it is very hard to imagine any reconciliation.
Should he leave, Ramos is another player who gave nothing but 100 percent yet departed the club because of issues off the field, and the fans won’t like it. Two years after selling Mesut Ozil, fans whistled, albeit faintly, at Perez during the Gareth Bale presentation. Something similar happened when he sold Angel di Maria. There was one set of supporters who always seemed to have his back, but his popularity amongst the ultras took a nosedive when he banned them from the ground and moved up a floor another set of supporters from a section that they had occupied for decades.
Those moves have not gone down well and, at a club where supporters often share divided opinions, it seems that there is becoming a common issue to complain about: Perez. Can he hold his ground or will he decide to call time on his reign? He left in 2006 with Barca dominating and was welcomed back with open arms a few years later. Perez is a man that knows better than anyone that football fans have short memories, just as Lorenzo Sanz found out. But, Perez is also a smart businessman who knows when to cut his losses and also, more importantly, when to see an opportunity. The Florentino Perez story at Real Madrid may be rumoured to be nearing its climax, but don’t believe that it is the end by any means. This may be just the end of the second act.