If Real Madrid FC were a man, he would have been successful, suave and charming. He would have draped himself in an attire befitting a king, and yearned for owning everything desirable. However, one thing he would never do would be to sell his heart. Therein ends the similarity, as the most successful team in Europe, sold theirs.
Let’s go back in time, to the beginning of the new millennium. Florentino Perez was elected as the new president of Real Madrid, and the businessman in him soon started the ‘dream-team’ project which was famously called the ‘Galacticos’. He coined the phrase ‘Zidanes y Pavónes’, implying that the best players worldwide will play for Madrid with their dirty work being done by home grown players. He sold a fifteen-hectare training ground belonging to the club at an astronomical price to the city’s regional authorities triggering a period which saw Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and the real Ronaldo being presented to the Madridista in quick succession. This team became the darling of the entire world; they were the gladiators who performed at the colloseum called the Santiago Bernabeu. One man was not given his due credit – Claude Makelele.
The Galactic era virtually began with the signing of Claude Makelele from Celta Vigo and ended with the arrival of David Beckham, which coincided with the Frenchman’s departure. During the three years that Makelele donned the hallowed white jersey, Real Madrid won seven titles including the Spanish league twice and the Champion’s League once.
While the attacking Galacticos mesmerised their opponents and left spectators worldwide spell bound with their breath-taking football, the real Galactico did all the dirty work. He sat right in front of the defenders like a shield and nullified the opposition’s attacks. He anticipated their passes, broke-down their play, harrowed their midfielders, and never backed down. Makelele’s role was valuable, though inconspicuous. He never received the recognition he deserved as the Madrid fans had reserved that for their flamboyant superstars.
The disregard for his talent and importance was such that when Makelele asked for a better contract, Perez and Madrid outrightly refused. The little big man had seen enough, and he demanded a transfer when Chelsea FC came looking for him. He moved to London, taking with him the foundation, stability and most importantly the heart of Real Madrid. Zidane said afterwards “Beckham is the gold-plating on a car, but what good is a car is if it’s engine is sold”, thus underscoring the grave blunder committed by his team. They did not win any trophies for the next two years and the businessman at the helm of Madrid resigned.
Chelsea, after the change in ownership, was about to embark upon the most glorious years of its existence and Makelele became a part of it. New players were signed, a ‘special’ manager was brought in and the Blues began their march towards successive premier league titles and arguably became the most consistent team in Europe. Makelele’s contributions did not go unnoticed at Stamford Bridge. He was practically omnipresent for Chelsea, seamlessly fitted into his new club’s system, and won the praise of all his team mates for his tireless work, in the role Eric Cantona once described as “the water carrier”.
Giants fall, not because of their relentless pursuit of wealth but because of the disregard they have for the treasure they own. The Galacticos did not live up to their potential because Real Madrid sold its heart to Chelsea. There are only a few players, who by their sheer zeal and commitment make a position their own – Maka was one such player. He was so immense that from then on, the defensive midfielder position earned the moniker – “The Makelele Role”.