Florentino Pérez has said that Real Madrid’s sensational capture of Luís Figo from Barcelona on his election as club president 17 years ago “was like ripping out their heart”.
“In 2000, Real Madrid were short on major stars,” Pérez told Fox Deportes as he discussed the then world-record, 60-million-euro transfer, his first ‘Galáctico’ signing.
“Because it’s the major stars that generate the image we created after 2000, with players like Figo, [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldo [Nazário] or [David] Beckham.
“Now I want them to go on being ambassadors for us.
Later we sought to maintain that level with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, [Karim] Benzema, Gareth Bale…
Pérez: “Nobody believed” we could sign Figo
“Nobody believed the Figo thing. Nobody had paid 60 million. I spoke to Figo, and I convinced him. He was at Barcelona. As [former Real player, coach and sporting director Jorge] Valdano said, it was like ripping out their heart.
“I said to him: ‘I want to build this great Real Madrid around you’. He accepted.
“When I took over, they said: ‘You can buy five players with this money.’ And I said: ‘No, no’. For example, ‘Zizou’ cost us more or less 75 million in 2001, and people said to me: ‘You’re crazy, with that money we can almost buy an entire team.’
“And I said: ‘But I want ‘Zizou’, the best player in the world.’ And I did the same with Ronaldo.”
Pérez: “I looked to copy Santiago Bernabéu”
Pérez also looked back on the beginning of his first, six-year tenure as Real chief in 2000, which was later followed by his return to the post in 2009.
“I inherited something very important. On taking over, I had arrived at the greatest club in the world; indeed, in December that year, FIFA named us ‘Club of the Century’.
“And I looked to copy [legendary former president Santiago] Bernabéu a little bit. He said: ‘I’m going to make the stadium bigger,’ because it was 1947 and, at that time, there was no income other than gate receipts.
“And he said: ‘If I have a bigger stadium, I’ll have greater revenue and I’ll be able to buy the best players in the world.’ And he bought Alfredo di Stéfano.
“Di Stéfano changed our history; not just that of Real Madrid, but the history of football. Well, I did the same [as Bernabéu].
“I arrived at a club which, in 2000, was in a very bad financial state, and I said: ‘I’m going to bring in the best players in the world, and they’ll produce revenue. And that’s how it turned out.'”