The word Galácticos conjures up an image of halcyon days; big names, trophies and big success. It overlooks the fact that this wasn't reality.
Between 2000 and 2007 Real Madrid spent roughly €276m. That bought Luis Figo (€60million), Zinedine Zidane (€73.5million), Ronaldo (€45million). David Beckham €37.5million), Michael Owen (€9million), Robinho (€24million) and Sergio Ramos (€27million).
They joined pre-Galáctico era players that included Raúl, Fernando Hierro, Guti, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman, Claude Makélélé and Iker Casillas.
It was some squad. But, in seven years under president Florentino Pérez, Real had just LaLiga (3x), the Supercopa de España (2x), UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup to show for it.
Football clubs rarely learn from their mistakes and Real Madrid are no different. When Pérez returned to office in 2009, he kickstarted a second Galácticos era, spending €482.5million on Kaká (€67million), Karim Benzema (€30million), Cristiano Ronaldo (€94million), Xabi Alonso (€34.5million), Ángel Di María (€25million), Luka Modrić (€32million), Gareth Bale (€100million), Toni Kroos (€24million) and James Rodríguez (€76million).
That team achieved far more than the original Galácticos. This era in Real Madrid history is synonymous with finally landing La Decima, followed by three further Champions League wins. They also won the UEFA Super Cup (3x), FIFA Club World Cup (3x), LaLiga (2x), Copa del Rey (2x) and Supercopa de España (3x). A rather more impressive trophy collection, albeit for a far more significant outlay.
Now Real Madrid seem determined to usher in a new Galácticos era. Already this week, Kylian Mbappé, Sadio Mané, Erling Håland, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jadon Sancho have been linked with moves to the Santiago Bernabéu.
This could all be paper talk. With no actual football to discuss, Spain's numerous daily sports papers have lent even more heavily on their stock in trade: transfer gossip.
But if there is something to these reports, it wouldn't be entirely surprising either. Real are nothing if not impatient. They have tried to build gradually by signing youngsters like Vinícius Júnior, Rodrygo, Éder Militão, Luka Jović, Brahim Díaz and Ferland Mendy in recent years. Yet still they trail foes Barcelona.
Last summer they spent a reported €100million on Eden Hazard. That made the Belgian attacker their biggest signing since Rodríguez arrived at the Bernabéu after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, proceeding a period of transfer market restraint. But the former Chelsea No.10 has flopped in Madrid, with injury and fitness concerns limiting him to 15 appearances and a single goal.
Change of approach
Instead of showing patience and sticking to the plan, Real Madrid's decision-makers appear hell-bent on signing at least one other superstar, doubling down on their attempts to fill the Ronaldo-shaped hole in their attack.
Indeed, only last week there were claims the Portuguese could return to his former stomping ground as Juventus attempted to cut costs. That would make sense. As Real's all-time leading scorer and a statistical – not to mention physical – freak, he would immediately lift an ailing side.
But Ronaldo is unique in that. Signing more superstars, piling more pressure on an already imbalanced side is not the answer. After purchasing Rodríguez from Monaco following his stunning World Cup showing six years ago, Real Madrid embarked on a new course.
Galácticos were out. The plan was to build a new young squad, if not organically then at least gradually. In the preceding transfer windows, the club's significant summer purchases were as follows –
2015: Mateo Kovačić (21), Danilo (23).
2016: Álvaro Morata (23).
2017: Theo Hernández (19), Dani Ceballos (20).
2018: Mariano Diáz (25), Álvaro Odriozola (19), Thibaut Courtois (26), Vinícius Júnior (18).
2019: Éder Militão (20), Luka Jović (21), Ferland Mendy (24), Rodrygo (18), Eden Hazard (28).
The emphasis on youth was clear. With the exception of Hazard and Courtois who, at 26 was still fairly young for a goalkeeper, no major purchase was older than 25. Now Real appear to be prepared to rip all that up in order to start again.
Staying the course
The problem is they haven't actually seen the cycle out yet. Despite being backed with more than €300million last summer, Zinedine Zidane has been reluctant to use Real's next generation.
Militão has only made 13 appearances in all competitions while Jović has started just four LaLiga matches. Vinícius is a rare success story, establishing himself on the left of Real's attack.
Zidane has lent heavily on the stars who won three consecutive Champions Leagues. Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, Kroos, Benzema, Modrić, Marcelo and Casemiro have all remained integral parts of the side. The result? A sluggish, predictable team, overly reliant on Benzema's goals.
The talent is there. Jović was one of the hottest striking properties in Europe before Real snapped him up in a €60million deal last summer. The Serbian bagged 17 in just 25 Bundesliga starts for Eintracht Frankfurt. Yet he has had to feed off scraps, with Benzema still the main man. Flanked by Rodrygo, Hazard and Vinícius, it's hard to envisage the 22-year-old being short of service.
If one area of this Real Madrid side is in need of some new Galácticos, it's the midfield. Modrić is 34 and despite being a Ballon d'Or winner in 2018, is past his best. Persistent links with Italy could come to fruition sooner rather than later, leaving a hole in Los Blancos' midfield. Injury has robbed Zidane of Marco Asensio, but he has point-blank refused to make Isco a central part of this side and Madrid have suffered.
This is a team in transition and Zidane's predisposition towards the old guard is as much of a factor in Real's struggles as anything else. Making wholesale and expensive additions isn't necessarily the answer. Putting faith in the young players who were meant to be the next generation is.