Stately Perez defends big spending
It was my BBC cameraman, Phil Gregory, who astutely summed up Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid FC. As we left the dining suite on the 11th floor of his office in the Spanish capital, Phil said to me: "You know what, Senor Perez is the nearest to a statesman as I have seen in football. He has that bearing."
Now Senor Perez has been called many things - for one, he has been accused of destroying football and distorting the transfer market with the obscene amounts of money he throws around to secure the services of the world's best footballers - but a "statesman"? Is that not a bit rich?
Yes, it is easy to be impressed by the Perez fortunes and the opulence he surrounds himself with. Flunkeys lined his every route and as he entered the hallway that led to the suite set aside for the interview. It was as if royalty was on its way.
But Phil, an Aston Villa fan brought up on all tales of 'Deadly' Doug Ellis, knows his football and recognises that Perez has mastered the art of conveying how a businessman who has got into football should look and act like, in contrast to the very many in similar positions in English football.
This does not mean that the 62-year-old's policy of hiring 'Galaticos' will work or is good for football. It seems to me it is making the modern game more like show business. Indeed, such a policy resembles the old Hollywood studios tactic of hiring the biggest number of stars as possible. Their acquisition may not have resulted in great films, but it ensured other studios did not have access to them.
Perez's defence is that his actions are part of Real Madrid tradition dating back to the 1950s and the time of Santiago Bernabeu, the club's legendary president. After all, how is the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka any different to the capture of Alfredo Di Stefano or Ferenc Puskas? The sums of money are much, much higher but the essence of the policy is still the same: If there is a world-class player out there, get him.
Perez also argues that Real had three years of neglect to make up for, hence the decision to buy Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema in quick succession for a mouth-watering £170m.
In his first interview since his very public shopping spree, Perez made it clear he would only speak in Spanish. Yet both before and after our chat on camera, he conversed in perfectly good English. And during the interview, there were occasions when it was clear he had understood the question before it had been interpreted because he began answering it almost straight away. His decision to respond in Spanish is a sure sign of a politician who wants to be sure of what he is saying in the language he is most comfortable.
Anyway, you can judge for yourself by watching the interview embedded below:
One thing Perez has in common with most other football chairmen I have met, or players and managers for that matter, is that they love recalling their days of glory. So the first thing he did was to take me to the window and point out the buildings that have been built on what was once the club's training ground, which was sold off to finance the extravagant purchases in Perez's previous regime. Incidentally, he denies such a radical move will be required this time around, insisting Ronaldo and company are "investment" footballers who will bring money into the club.
When I subsequently mentioned to Perez that I had attended my first Champions League final in 1998 when Real Madrid had beaten Juventus 1-0 at the Amsterdam Arena, their first win in Europe's premier tournament after many years, Perez immediately informed me that he had not been president at the time. He had been president in 2002, though, and went on to wax eloquently of the club's triumph at Hampden, when Zinedine Zidane, whom he had spent a then world-record £47m, scored a magical goal to give Real a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
Come to think of it, Perez is no different to 'Deadly' Doug in that respect. Ellis never liked to dwell on Villa's greatest moments of the early Eighties, when they won the old First Division Championship, the European Cup and the European Super Cup, beating Barcelona no less. Maybe that's because he hadn't been in the Villa Park boardroom at the time.