Thursday, December 9

Florentino Pérez: the emperor who wanted more but lost for once | European Super League

THere is a moment from the first and last television appearance that Florentino Pérez made as a figurehead for a project he had been working on for three years when he was asked how long he would be president of the super league. “Until they kick me out,” he replied. There was a laugh from the president and the presenter, something revealing in that reaction: this is not a man to give up power nor an easy one to remove, a man rarely refuses. But it turned out that the correct answer was: about 24 hours.

Pérez does not give many interviews – “I prefer to have informal relationships with journalists,” he once said – but the next day he spoke with L’Equipe. When asked if he feared some of the other 11 clubs involved might withdraw, he replied: “No.” By the time his words were published, just before 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, they were already backing off. That night Pérez did not appear for a radio interview with El Larguero; he was, they said, in a meeting, trying to keep it all together.

Failure. The project is over, at least for now, although Pérez is not one to accept defeat willingly and revenge will already be on his mind, a determination to carry it out. When he appeared on El Larguero the following night, he refused to be introduced as “president of the Super League,” but still clung to the idea that this rebellion could resurrect, even when alone.

One by one they had defected, leaving him exposed. On Wednesday morning, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli admitted defeat; the “blood covenant” in pieces. Shortly after noon, Atlético de Madrid sneaked out with a short, unapologetic statement. At the Camp Nou there was silence. Pérez claimed that no one had left as none of the penalties for leaving had been paid, but all the bars in club two had made public statements taking a step back. Only Barcelona and Madrid remained, hit by what Pérez considered a betrayal, especially by his English partners, “the old men who were scared.” At 74, Pérez is older than any of them.

What has been achieved, if anything has been achieved, remains to be seen and there may still be successes, but so far nothing looks good for Madrid or the Spanish clubs that they took with them. There may be a punishment (the rebels rarely escape that) or perhaps there will be concessions, an attempt at rapprochement. Power has likely shifted to Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain, while a relaxation of financial fair play will serve to strengthen Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG, the clubs that Madrid have always viewed as having an unfair advantage. It is an amateur club, for which the oligarchs, the sheiks and the petrodollars are a threat and an obsession.

Pérez had been revealed as a failure and cast as a villain by some. The grateful Madrid supporters launched a hashtag in their endorsement, convinced that he was right at the time and the victim now: a freedom fighter against the corrupt cabal of FIFA, UEFA, La Liga, RFEF and VAR . Well-known journalists came to his aide, echoing these accusations and effusively in their adulation. But in Cádiz the team encountered chants of “money hoarders!” and “capitalists!” as if this was your decision. And the cover of Marca, rarely critical of the president of Madrid, said: “Super mockery: the project led by Florentino Pérez fails in 48 hours.”

Andrea Agnelli (left), Florentino Pérez (right) and what Marca did from the entire Super League fiasco.
Andrea Agnelli (left), Florentino Pérez (right) and what Marca did from the Super League fiasco. Composite: Getty / Brand / Reuters

Pérez had attended the interview on Monday with a presenter who he knew would listen to him with sympathy, the most significant of his sycophants. That would allow him to explain ESL however he wanted, but he had been unsuccessful and did not explain it adequately, let alone convince him. In the end, what was left was the magnitude of the crisis, that apocalyptic vision. He had said that football was in “free fall”, at a “critical moment”, “ruined”.

The word he kept repeating was “save”: they had to save football. Above all, they had to save themselves. “If we don’t do something, we won’t last long,” he insisted. “In 2024, we are dead.” And then they had seen the English clubs withdraw (one was never really convinced, Pérez later claimed) the project collapsed, now what? Does this mean there are only three years left?

This, remember, was the only public appearance so far some from the clubs, who were busy hiding behind the statements. Pérez had at least fought, had shown his face, but that may not have helped. Some partners couldn’t believe it when they looked at it. This was not the message they were looking for, humble, open to dialogue, nor was it the image.

A super league, a great global concern, and that’s how it was presented to the world? Not with a press conference, a united front, but with a man giving an unconvincing, circular performance in a tacky late-night show on a cheap set? An appearance of more than 90 minutes for a generation that you say will not see an entire soccer game? A message that was a curious combination of the arrogance of power, messianic, and also the vulnerability of despair? The ultimate elite competition, a modern billion dollar industry that would change the landscape of media and fans and this is how you sell it?

It did not seem like a strong, successful and unstoppable revolution; It seemed weak, or worse, that phrase about kids not liking soccer instantly turns into a meme. The savior, sinking. The emperor, naked.

That was a surprise: even Pérez’s critics attack him precisely for his success rather than his flaws; they criticize and covet your ability to control. He is seen as a brilliant businessman, a very competent manager. A billionaire who has built a great empire, he is a man as powerful as in Spain, with an unrivaled influence in business, politics, law and the media, as well as in football, capable of getting what he wants. Whoever you want, and be aware of.

When he promised to force the sale of the club’s old training ground at the beginning of the century, he insisted: “Trust in my negotiating power, in my good relationship with the mayor of Madrid and the person in charge of Urban Planning. My power of persuasion is infinitely higher than that of the outgoing board. “

That worked, like so many other things during tremendously successful years at Madrid, making them the most powerful club on the planet, or so everyone thought. But this plan did not work. This project had taken three years to complete, but the final phases had been completed quickly, documents signed and promises secured under pressure. As it came undone, much of it seems unexpectedly ill-planned, with no real content or unity, susceptible to breaking under pressure. Fifteen founders were in fact 12 and that coalition quickly fell apart.

Things that are easily achieved and controlled in Spain turned out to be more difficult in other places, where the culture, context and power structures are different. “It was not difficult to persuade [the Barcelona president] Joan Laporta, ”Pérez said publicly, portraying his great rivals as his dependents. He and Agnelli had thought it was not difficult to convince others as well, and momentarily they did, no small feat, but the promises they made were soon broken.

The attempt to launch a dissident league, enshrining its right to perpetuity, has failed, at least for now. And that’s not a sentiment Perez is familiar with. He took the initiative and risked that others did not, helping to carry out a coup with Agnelli. Perhaps it was a miscalculation and it seems strange that they did not adequately anticipate the reaction. However, Pérez seemed puzzled at the idea that no one would accept this and this is a man for whom opposition, when there is one, invariably overcomes, at least in Spain, which may be part of the issue.

Seemingly untouchable and rarely denied, either out of fear in favor, you may never have been as exposed as this. Which does not mean that he is alone, without followers, or that the pressure is now impossible to bear. Even less that his position is at risk as so many of those burned in these last three days. From the outside the impression may be worse than in Spain, or at least there is a greater willingness to say so, but it remains popular with Madrid fans nationally. Pérez has won the last three unopposed elections, the last one not by chance just in time for this. The statutes, which he amended, make it practically impossible to fight him and, if someone did, they would surely lose.

However, listening to him, you could hear this hurt. While some clubs might get on board and then jump ship again and do it all quietly, pretending it never happened, Pérez can’t. For him, this was particularly significant and more so when he spoke: the president and, with Agnelli, the public face of this project.

This is something he has wanted for a long time, he had talked about a super league over a decade ago, and something he said his club needed now. That need, acute in Madrid and Catalonia; less in England, as Pérez himself admitted, it cannot be ignored. Madrid made a small profit last year, but did so after imposing austerity and cutting spending. Income has dropped 300 million euros and there have not been any of the great signings that have characterized them. This league was a quick fix, a short-term fix, and a long-term plan.

There was also something deeper. Pérez has always been driven by the idea of ​​legacy, his place in the history of a club he supports, and how fanatic he is is often overlooked, his attitudes not an act. There is in him a sense of mission, of rescuing his club from a financial crisis to which they have now returned. “I saved Madrid, now we have to save football,” he said on Monday.

David Beckham (left) signs his contract with Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez in July 2003.
David Beckham (left) signs his contract with Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez in July 2003. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images

There is also a feeling of emulating, even surpassing the Santiago Bernabéu, something almost Freudian about him: from the remodeling of the stadium to the construction of a new training ground, a project that the predecessors could not complete, and galactic politics. Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham can be seen as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa and Francisco Gento of the XXI century.

The Bernabéu took Madrid to the European Cup, where they forged their identity, a competition they consider their own. Even as they sought to replace the Champions League with something bigger that would eventually eclipse it and end it this week, Perez insisted they take those 13 trophies with them. The Bernabéu had also coveted a competition like this. “We would support without hesitation any move for a European League which, personally speaking, I am convinced will one day come,” he told English interviewers in a 1961 book that is effectively a manifesto of very madrid. “Imagine it! Tottenham, Manchester United, Real, Barcelona, ​​Reims, Juventus and one more host.”

The Bernabéu could not make it happen. Seventy years later and just for one day, Pérez could. But then they started falling fast: Tottenham, United, even Juventus. Until in the end only he remained, the president of the largest club in the world and a league that no longer existed.

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