WORLD SOCCER: Real Madrid were more than œ200million in debt when you took over. Were you shocked at the true state of the crisis?
Florentino Perez : No, it was more or less what I expected. I had no illusions about the financial situation of the club and I always knew that drastic action would be needed to turn it around.
How did you turn everything around so quickly?
Simple. We had a training ground, the Ciudad Deportivo, which was too small for us but happened to be in one of the most valuable areas of the city. By selling the land we have not only wiped out the club’s debts but we can also build a new training centre 10 times as big as the old one and far better equipped, with all the necessary, state-of-the-art facilities. For all that we have to thank two people in particular. One was our legendary president, Santiago Bernabeu, who had the foresight to buy the land in the first place; the second was one of our members, Enrique Bernat, who, some years ago, prevented one of my predecessors from selling the land at what would have been a ridiculously undervalued price.
How important is the new training centre?
Fundamental. We see it as not merely the product of an important financial deal but as the foundation on which we will build a successful future for the club. We believe in our own young players and so we are investing heavily in finding them and educating them in the Real Madrid way. If you look at our first-team squad you will see many great players but you will also see that a majority are Spanish – and a majority of those have come up through our own youth system. We are working hard to maintain that balance.
Will Real Madrid follow the trend in raising money through the stock exchange?
I think it’s logical for most big clubsto turn themselves into public limited companies and be quoted on the stock exchange. But that’s not the way for Real Madrid. The history of Madrid is as a club controlled by its members. If we became a plc we would lose our identity. I think our present status is the proper one, not only to guarantee sporting success but to protect the culture of the club.
How do you measure your progress?
By our crowds. It’s several years since the Estadio Bernabeu was full to capacity for every home match, but now every match is ‘full to the flags’. Football is very popular not only in Spain, of course, but throughout Europe. People talk about falling crowds, but I believe that more and more people will want to go on watching our team as long as we keep on giving them the best players and the greatest entertainment.
Do you feel extra pressure to win leagues and cups this season because it’s centenary year?
Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world and we always expect to win leagues and cups. It’s a duty – a matter of pride. Obviously, in our centenary year we are even more ambitious to succeed in every competition we play – whether that’s the Champions League, Spanish League or Spanish Cup.But the pressure is always there.
It is claimed that Madrid in the 1950s and 1960s benefited from being General Franco’s favourite club. Is there any truth in that?
The truth is that we are always being referred to as the club of the government or the ruling class, no matter who is in power. First it was Franco, then we were supposed to be the club of the centrist Adolfo Suarez, then of the Socialist Felipe Gonzalez. Now we’re accused of being the club of the Popular Party. It’s because we are the major club in the capital, that’s all. Therefore we are seen as the ‘establishment’ club, but we have never leaned one way or another. We are a football club, a sports club – the biggest club in Spain and the one with which most people want to be associated. If other people have a problem with that, I can’t help them.
Real Madrid won the first five European Cups when the tournament was a simple knockout event. Then it evolved into the Champions League. Now UEFA has decided to keep the present Champions League format for another three years. Are you happy with that?
It’s fine by us. You cannot keep altering the competition every few years. We think the present format works well, so what would have been the point in changing it? This is also the stance of the G-14 group, of course, of which we were founder members. But let’s be clearabout G-14. It is a grouping of clubs with common economic interests whose sole aim is to defend our own interests in discussion with UEFA. Nothing beyond that. For example, it’s hard to predict the future, but we are not looking to launch any breakaway superleague. I think that the present competitive balance for clubs is just about right – we play at the top level internationally while remaining anchored in our domestic competitions.
*This is an extract from an interview published in World Soccer. The full interview appeared in the April 2002 issue of World Soccer