Where Are They Now? Real Madrid's Galacticos
They were the Team of All Talents: a Real Madrid side stuffed with more famous names than a Hollywood charity gala. They brought goals, glamour and glitz to the game, even if they didn’t bag quite as many trophies as such a stellar collection might have expected.
It’s now more than a decade since the man behind the Galacticos project, club president Florentino Perez, was removed from power. But what happened next to the players in this footballing drama?
GK: Iker Casillas
Casillas made his Madrid debut in 1997 – aged 16 – and by the turn of the millennium was established as the club’s No.1 custodian. His stock gradually rose over the next few years, and although the goalkeeper’s decline began earlier than many expected (Jose Mourinho dropped him for much of 2012/2013), he remains a club legend – after all, only Raul has made more appearances for Madrid.
The 2017/18 season is the Spaniard’s third at Porto, having made the move in 2015. He’s yet to win a trophy in Portugal and has recently been dropped for Jose Sa, with reports in the Spanish press claiming that the Dragons are looking to sell Casillas in January to avoid falling foul of Financial Fair Play.
RB: Michel Salgado
After impressing as part of a Celta Vigo side which qualified for the UEFA Cup in 1999, Salgado was snapped up by Madrid for €11m. A dependable performer at right-back, the Spaniard won four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues at the Bernabeu, before leaving for Blackburn in 2009.
He hung up his boots after three years at Ewood Park, with Rovers suffering relegation to the Championship in his final season as a professional. Later becoming a FourFourTwo columnist, in April 2017 Salgado became a part-owner of Gibraltar United, calling it “a special day in my life” and announcing his intention to "produce something positive for football in this country."
CB: Ivan Helguera
Capable of playing in both midfield and defence, Helguera alternated between the two positions in his debut campaign at Madrid in 1999/00. He spent most of his time at centre-back as the years went on, however, and by the time of his departure in 2007 he’d made 343 appearances for the club, winning five major trophies along the way.
Helguera then spent 18 months at Valencia before retiring from the game just a few months before his 34th birthday. He’s kept a relatively low profile since then and can currently be found working as a TV pundit in Spain.
CB: Fernando Hierro
Having first joined Madrid in 1989, Hierro was at the tail end of his career by the time Florentino Perez kick-started the Galactico project in the early-2000s. An elegant and intelligent centre-back also capable of playing at the back of the midfield, Hierro played 51 games in all competitions as los Merengues won the Champions League in his penultimate campaign in 2001/02, before turning out 38 times in his final season.
Retiring in 2005 after short spells with Al Rayyan and Bolton, Hierro was the Spanish football federation's sporting director between 2007 and 2011. After cameos elsewhere – Malaga's director of football, Carlo Ancelotti's assistant manager back at Madrid, manager of Real Oviedo – he returned to the Spain role in November 2017.
LB: Roberto Carlos
A left-back who spent his time in the opposition’s half as much as his own, Roberto Carlos was a pioneer of the flank-filling role that has become an indispensable part of modern football. The Madrid stalwart spent over a decade bombing up and down the Santiago Bernabeu.
Leaving in 2007 after seven major honours in the Spanish capital, he went on to enjoy spells with Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala and Delhi Dynamos. He’s already managed three clubs – Sivasspor and Akhisar Belediyespor in Turkey, as well as the Dynamos in India – and is now back at Madrid, working alongside a number of ex-players in the youth setup.
RM: David Beckham
One of football’s most recognisable faces, Beckham spent four years in Madrid but won just one major medal – for the 2006/07 La Liga campaign. That summer, he moved to LA Galaxy, spending five years Stateside before short spells with Milan and PSG to round off a famous career.
Exercising a contractual clause allowing him to own an MLS franchise, Beckham is still hoping to set up a team in Miami. Meanwhile, the UNICEF ambassador spends much of his time doing humanitarian work around the globe, while maintaining lucrative endorsement deals with some of the world’s biggest brands.
CM: Claude Makelele
The anti-Galactico. Makelele became a Madrid player in 2000 and, although not a defensive midfielder by trade, sacrificed his own forward movement to give the side vital balance. Yet Florentino Perez felt free to sell him to Chelsea in 2003, making Zinedine Zidane wonder: “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?”
After success in west London and with PSG, Makelele in 2011 and went into coaching. As well as being Bastia's head coach in 2014, he’s served as an assistant manager at PSG and Swansea, and took charge of Belgian top-flight side Eupen in November 2017.
AM: Zinedine Zidane
Madrid provided a home to some of the world’s best players early in the new millennium, but Zidane was undoubtedly the crown jewel. The attacking midfielder scored a stunning winner in the 2002 Champions League final to help los Blancos defeat Bayer Leverkusen, while he also won the La Liga title at the Santiago Bernabeu the following season.
Since hanging up his boots in 2006, Zidane has never been far away from Real Madrid. After a period as sporting director he became an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013, then led the club’s B team for 18 months. Madrid duly turned to Zidane when first-team boss Rafael Benitez was sacked in January 2016; the Frenchman has barely looked back since, leading the club to a La Liga title and two Champions Leagues.
LM: Luis Figo
The first Galactico in Florentino Perez’s firmament – and the world’s most expensive player at €60m – Figo became a hate figure among Barcelona fans after deserting Catalonia for the Spanish capital. Equipped with silky dribbling skills and a fearsome shot, the Portuguese winger was an integral part of the Madrid sides which won La Liga in 2001 and 2003 and the Champions League in between.
Figo spent four years with Inter after leaving Madrid in 2005, before moving upstairs and becoming a Nerazzurri director immediately after his retirement. He announced his intention to run for FIFA president in 2015, but withdrew during the election campaign and can now be found working for UEFA as a football advisor.
Raul’s first match for Madrid featured a succession of missed chances, leaving many wondering what this diminutive 17-year-old – not long since recruited from Atletico Madrid's youth programme – was doing in that famous all-white strip. He soon proved his worth, though, and by the end of his Madrid career he had more appearances (741) and goals (323) than anyone else in the club’s history. Cristiano Ronaldo has gone on to break his scoring record, but Raul will always hold a special place in los Merengues folklore.
The striker left the Spanish capital for Schalke in 2010, before spending a season apiece in Qatar and New York. Now retired, Raul is back at Madrid in a behind-the-scenes role.
The former Barcelona and Inter marksman signed for Real Madrid in 2002 and enjoyed three good seasons at the Bernabeu, before injuries and weight issues blighted his final two years at the club. Ronaldo moved to Milan in 2007, but a knee ligament rupture brought a premature end to his first full season in February 2008.
The Brazilian joined Corinthians later that year but was forced into retirement at the start of 2009, conceding that his body wouldn’t allow him to continue playing. He’s since worked as a United Nations goodwill ambassador and owns a stake in American second-tier side Fort Lauderdale Strikers, while in July 2014 he found the time to guest-edit FourFourTwo’s 20th-anniversary issue.
President: Florentino Perez
The man behind the Galactico project, Perez fell on his sword in February 2006, stepping down as Madrid president after acknowledging the club’s need for fresh leadership. For all the shirt sales and marketing growth, the team had gone backwards since winning the Champions League in 2001/02, with just one major honour secured in the four seasons that followed.
Perez returned to office in 2009 and initially picked up from where he left off, spending big bucks to lure Kaka, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo to the Santiago Bernabeu. He’s taken a more measured approach to recruitment in the last few years, though, and been rewarded with a La Liga title and three more Champions League crowns.
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