The Team That Sold Its Heart

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”.

  • yes very true maka was the lynchpin of the side, wonder if diarra would be able to do same with the second coming of the galacticos. Ronaldo for sure is trying his best to lead the team to glory and they called him a showboat. huh.. enuf said.. keep them coming Karan.

  • Karan Yadav

    Diarra has himself said “I am no Makelele, my game is different and please do not compare me with Maka.”

    As if we did not know!

    Ronaldo will take Real to greater heights, mark my words.

  • Sunu Scaria

    The second coming … let us see if we win something

  • admin

    @ Sonu

    Are you a Madridista?

  • Sarad

    Ohh pls. I ‘ve very high regards of Maka but Maka was Real’s heart? Hmm – bit over the top. Forget about the Ronaldos and the Figos and their own Rauls. Even if you compare Maka with his predecesor at Real, arguably Maka would fall short. U know who? Some call him “Fernando God Redondo”. With him Real won 2 UCLs in 1998 and 2000 and two leagues in 95 & 97. There r few people who ruled Roy Keano on that football pitch and believe me he was one of them. Yes Maka has been part of a team that got you (blues) the most awaited success and he’s a great great DFM but —that’s about it. No heart of Bernabue etall.

    • Ah the brilliant days of Fernando Redondo. The man was a freakin’ genius!!

      That said Maka was a big loss for the Galacticos and an extremely foolish decision on Senor Perez’s part to sell the hard working Frenchman.

  • Sarad, I wanted to analyse Maka’s relative importance in the ‘Galacticos’ era and what Madrid lost when he was transferred to Chelsea.

  • Sarad

    Perez’s selling Maka was a mistake – hindsight.
    Like Cruyff once said “Perez does not have enof knowledge about football” – fair enof but said that —
    Maka was never a heart or something of bernabeu while he was out there. Key lynchpin – yes of course. And hey we r talking about the capital of Spain in 2005. Hope I did not sound racist !

    And we can go on and on about Perez’s decisions like this one but one thing Madrid would never forget that, it was him who took over a Real Madrid deeply in debt, suffering from a lack of capital close to a finalcial meltdown and turned that around significantly using his real estate connections and governmental contacts to turn over land they owned, bringing in lucrative sponsorship deals and opening markets abroad for the Real Madrid brand. And give me a president who can make Ronaldo/Kaka/Benzema play in the same team and fill-in those 100k seats when the whole world in reeling under recession – I simply do not see beyond Perez.

    • Well it wasn’t really hindsight was it? We all know what the Madrid defense looked like then and if you sell the one man who actually marshaled that defense superbly then there is bound to be problems. I agree that calling Maka the ‘soul’ of that team was slightly off the mark but there is no denying that he was an extremely important part of the system. Firing Del Bosque and letting some important players leave purely to prove a point was absolute stupidity on his part.

      Oh and Madrid are still in heavy debt by the way (after the heavy spending) but I’m sure Perez will ‘find a way’ to get rid of that. Let us not get into his ‘financial dealings’ coz then it’ll become and extremely long discussion.

      No one doubts that the man is brilliant at marketing but then the football isn’t all about making money and I’m quite sure that the Madridistas would prefer winning rather than selling Ronaldo jerseys. In Pellegrini they have an astute manager, who if given time and a bit of control, can do wonders with this team. And therein lies the problem – Perez has no undersanding of the game and lacks patience. It is ridiculous to expect that if we put 11 superstars on the pitch then one is guaranteed a trophy in the first season itself. Already there are rumors that Benzema is on his way out next season. I don’t, for a moment, doubt the fact that this Madrid team is full of talent and I fully expect them to dominate the Liga if they together in the coming seasons but only if Perez/Valdano change their approach to the game. And what was with Valdano forcing Pellegrini to play the Canteranos in every game. Let the man manage his team!!

      Oh and thanks for the Redondo mention. He’s probably the best deep lying playmaker/DMF I’ve had the privilege to see. If only the Argies had a Redondo right now.

      P.S: I’m actually quite scared of this Madrid team. They have gradually picked up pace and are playing quite well. Seeing the way both teams are playing, I won’t be surprised if Madrid pip Barca to the title. :(

  • and wouldn’t that be sweet? 😉

    What’s your take on Madrid vs Sevilla game? Out of the games remaining for Real, this has got to be one of the toughest. Still, a 3-1 win for the home team is what I predict.

  • Sarad

    @Jayant: I say it was at hindsight because el madrid have not replaced Maka which obviously they thought they would. clubs do sell players anticipating various things, one of them is their age (Maka was no young, today I say he’s 4 years past it. I know Karan and other blues would not agree to it). Another thing: we wud never know how good is Clichy or a Rooney if we did not sell A Cole or Ronaldo, would we? Diarra is doing ok but the day he does half of a Pirlo or Senna or an Essien then we wud see a complete royals team and if they stay together for couple of seasons, they would dominate everyone, just like they did towards the turn of the century.

  • Sarad, you mean to say, in 2003 when Maka come to Stamford Bridge, he was 4 years past his prime? :O

  • Sarad

    I said: Today he’s 4 years past it. He was 30 when Real sold him and £20m for ANY 30 yrs used to be very good business at that time.

  • Prasanna Sadasivuni


    Just loved the article and the presentation however, since there is a mention of Cantona’s quote “Water carrier”, Its actually said in insulting reference which i think should not be associated with “Maka”.

    Water Carrier’s are the players who are least skilled in present team and are used only to pass it to someone else as they cant do anything with it. This was part of rant against Didier Deschamp. :)

  • I used the term ‘water carrier’ to showcase just that.

    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”.

    I meant Makelele excelled in a role, that was once belittled by Eric Cantona.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Ankur

    Well the void left by Makelele is tough to fill and Chelsea haven’t been the same without him.And i think comparing CDM’s of different teams isn’t just.Diarra can’t be compared to Makelele just as Essien is of totally different flavor from Pirlo.Making players what they are is upto the clubs they represent and for that reason itself no player can be called the heart/soul of a club.

  • Jayant

    @Sarad: To be honest I rate M Diarra higher that L Diarra. Madrid don’t need their DMF to be a Pirlo. what they need is some steel in the MF to cover for their slightly suspect backline. They already have Guti/Alonso for the passing role. When it comes to defensive awareness/ability, I think M Diarra is a better bet.

  • Sarad

    Ohh yaa M Diarra was very good. Great 07-08 under Fabio. ‘ve known him from his lyon days when Utd / SAF were interested in him. But after that knee accident on intl duty, guess we should assume that he’s history. And the Shirt no 6 also has moved on.

  • Oh my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insight at the end there, not leave it with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.

  • A terrible Villa performace. It’s been coming for a while. 3 points from 4 games. Same old story in the back-end of the season

  • Hola,
    ЎUf, me gustу! Tan clara y positiva.