Friday, February 8, 2008

my heart beats 4 real...

Who hasn't heard of Real Madrid? This famous Spanish club is one of the most renowed and successful names in world football.

Over the past 100 years, arguably no other club can boast such a glorious history as the Spanish giants, their name being synonymous with glory nights and famous names. Indeed, with 9 European Cups and 30 league titles in their trophy cabinet, Madrid were voted as the best team of the 20th century by FIFA, with plenty more history to speak of, too.

In The Beginning

The formation of the club was convoluted. Football was introduced to the Spanish capital by immigrant professors and students, many from Oxbridge, these mainly English ex-pats forming Football Sky in 1895. A split of the club in 1900 saw New Foot-Ball de Madrid and Español de Madrid formed, with the latter splitting yet again to result in the formation of Sociedad Madrid FC

It was that team, after three further name changes, that took on the mantle of Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. As suited a club of English influence, the team colours were chosen as all-white, following the example of Corinthians FC back home.

Even in the early days of regional league football, Madrid were to gain major honours, winning five early Copa del Rey titles. Then, as the game went national, Madrid picked up their first two league titles in the early 1930s, but had two wait another two decades before success would come their way again.

When it finally did, though, such success was to change the face of the club - and that of the modern game - forever.

Unrivalled Pedigree

With players such as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, Francisco Gento, Hector Rial, Raymond Kopa, and José Santamaria in the team, the 1950s Real Madrid side is regarded as one of the best ever.

The team won domestic honours, with the championship arriving in 1953/54, 1954/55, 1956/57 and 1957/58, but it was in Europe that this side truly made their name.

Indeed, in the first ever European Cup Final, los Merengues defeated Stade de Reims-Champagne 4-3 to lift hte inaugural trophy. Four more finals and four more victories followed in the competition, culminating in what many describe as the best final ever played, Madrid thrashing Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden Park in Scotland in 1960.

The swinging 60's saw el Real lift the Spanish league title on no fewer than eight occasions, while the European Cup belately returned to the Bernabeu following a win over FK Partizan in 1966.

The good times continued into the 1970's with championships arriving in 1972, '75, '76, 78, 79 and then 1980. However, the early 80s proved an unusually lean spell for the Madrid giants, with little silverware to speak of in that time, a victory in the short-lived and much-maligned Copa de la Liga aside.

Back To The Top

Then, however, the club embarked on an incredible run that saw them win the league five years running (1986 to 1990), largely thanks to a world-famous quintet of fantastic talent. The Quinta del Buitre consisted of Emilio Butragueño (el Buitre), Manolo Sanchís, Martín Vazquéz, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza, comprising arguably the most memorable Madrid team since the early 60s.

Into the mid-1990's and Los Merengues saw two league titles and one Copa del Rey arrive, but it was towards the end of the century that the club finally lifted itself back to the very top of the game as they defeated Juventus in the 1998 European Cup Final.

However, that victory was not enough to save then-president Lorenzo Sanz, as he lost the election soon after to construction magnate Florentino Pérez.

In his early years in charge of the club, the new supremo stuck by the tried-and-trusted method of sticking with the old guard who had brought success back to Madrid. Indeed, Luis Figo was his only signing during his first season in charge. That was the summer immediately following their second European Cup win in three seasons, the men in white racking up a victory over Valencia in Paris.

Then, the transfer policy changed. Pérez added Zinedine Zidane to the mix, the classy Frenchman emblematic of a new age of strengthening.

The new president's vision of world superstars combined with homegrown youngsters emerged, the man himself labelling it 'los Zidanes y los Pavónes', after the stylish French midfielder and the promising, cantera-bred defender Francisco Pavón.

It seemed a fitting enough way to close the century as the club was named as the Best Club of the 20th Century by FIFA. Then, perhaps a couple of years late, Madrid showed their old class once again in the Champions League final as Zidane scored an incredible winning goal at Hampden Park against Bayer Leverkusen.

The league title followed a year later, but almost immediately the way the club was being run changed almost overnight. The coach, Vicente del Bosque, was sacked, and no fewer than 16 players were allowed to leave.

All Change

Through the door came David Beckham in a whirlwind of publicity and a clear signal that marketing was - in the eyes of sum - now as important as what was happening on the pitch. Another dreaded lean spell followed and, for many different reasons, the team suffered, enduring three season without winning a trophy.

Several coaches came and went, as did several players, but seemingly nothing could lift the club out of the doldrums. Finally, early in 2006, Pérez resigned as president and left the way open for a new president to take over during the summer.

In July, Ramón Calderón, who had been a member of Pérez's board, won the fans' vote after promising things would be different. Fabio Capello was named as the new coach and Predrag Mijatovic, who scored the winning goal for the club in the '98 European Cup Final, was installed as the new sporting director.

The 2006-07 season was nothing if not eventful, the Merengues starting off in difficult fashion before racing back into life towards the end of the season. Following a head-to-head battle with Barcelona for the title, Sevilla snapping at their heels, Los Merengues lifted the trophy on the final day of the season.

It was a cathartic moment for an organisation in transition, and an achievement worthy of a great club. However, the drama wasn't over: Calderón promptly sacked Capello but left Mijatovic in the director's chair as he sought out Bernd Schuster to lead the club into its title-defending season.

Beckham, too, moved on, joining Ronaldo in a Bernabeu exodus - however, he was heading not to Serie A, but rather to Major League Soccer. The age of 'galacticos' like Zidane was said to be at an end, but Real Madrid still have a wealth of global talent on their books.

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