The Greatest: "We were like The Beatles," said Luís Figo as he recalled Real Madrid CF's second golden age, when they were European champions three times in five seasons.
UEFA.com looks back at the Real Madrid CF Galácticos era that featured the likes of Zinédine Zidane, Ronaldo, Raúl González, Roberto Carlos, Luís Figo and David Beckham.
The golden age
Having gone 32 years without lifting the European Cup, Real Madrid enjoyed a golden age between the end of the 1990s and start of the 2000s, winning the UEFA Champions League in 1998, 2000 and 2002. The last couple of years of this period inspired the label 'Galácticos' as a homage to the team's cluster of world stars.
Soon after Florentino Pérez's installation as president, Figo left FC Barcelona in 2000 to supplement a squad that already included players such as Raúl, Roberto Carlos, Fernando Hierro and Míchel Salgado. Then arrived the likes of Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham, forming a side that drew worldwide attention and a sense of expectation wherever they went.
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- Barcelona 2008-12: Guardiola's greatest
The key moment
The Galácticos' peak came at Glasgow's Hampden Park where Zidane helped secure Madrid's ninth European Cup. The Frenchman had joined the previous summer as the world's most expensive player, becoming a fixture in the team managed by Vicente del Bosque.
Madrid took the lead in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final against Bayer 04 Leverkusen through Raúl, but the German outfit drew level. It was then, on the stroke of half-time, that Zidane put Madrid ahead with an unforgettable strike. Leverkusen pushed for an equaliser yet could find no way past Iker Casillas, on as a substitute for the injured César Sánchez.
"I followed Roberto Carlos's run down the right. Then I saw how good the cross was – I didn't take my eyes off the ball and hit it on the volley without thinking. It was intuition," said Zidane. The now Real Madrid Castilla coach remains modest when it comes to discussing his part in that success, saying: "Everyone speaks of my goal but the real hero was Casillas with his saves."
A different philosophy
Upon taking up the presidency, Pérez had declared it was his intention to bring the world's best players to the Spanish capital. The club developed a strategy dubbed 'Zidanes and Pavones', referring to the expensive Frenchman and the academy graduate Francisco Pavón, and combining the signing of global talents with the nurturing of academy prospects.
Between 2000 and 2003, Madrid won the UEFA Champions League twice, two Liga titles (2001 and 2003), a UEFA Super Cup (2002), two Spanish Super Cups (2001 and 2003) and the European/South American Cup (2002), playing a brand of football that stood out for its spectacle, unpredictability and, at times, imbalance. Nor was the term Galácticos always necessarily a positive, as Raúl later admitted: "That word has done us a lot of harm."
Del Bosque's cool nature and ability to handle the dressing room were key to this Madrid side flourishing. After replacing John Toshack, Del Bosque carved out a small place for himself in the hearts of all Madrid fans with his results and personable manner.
The Salamanca-born trainer was able to get the balance right and keep each of his stars happy, even if it was a juggling act as he himself noted. "During the immediate aftermath of Zidane's arrival we struggled to find him a natural place in the team," he said. Though Del Bosque guided Madrid to two UEFA Champions League crowns in three seasons, the club decided against renewing his contract following the Liga triumph of 2002/03 – and with his departure came the gradual end of the Galácticos.
The star names
Zidane: The axis of this Madrid team and the author of the goal that defined a generation, the Frenchman could make magic at any given moment, his sublime touch lighting up the Santiago Bernabéu. "Zidane is a combination of balance, Argentinian guile and Brazilian technique. We need to cherish him," said ex-Merengues coach Jorge Valdano.
Raúl: An emblem of the club before, during and after the Galáctico era, the forward's ability to carry the side with his goals meant he was the local hero among the glamorous imports. "Raúl is Madrid, and Madrid is Raúl. He is an example for our academy," said former Madrid striker Emilio Butragueño.
Ronaldo: The Brazilian became the perfect foil for Zidane, Figo and Raúl, delivering goals aplenty. Speed, strength and finishing made him one of the world's elite marksmen. Zidane described him as "the player I have played with who has impressed me the most".
What they say …
Figo: "We were like The Beatles. We were like kids playing out on the pitch."
FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernández: "It was annoying to see them play as they did because they had an idea and a concept. Zidane, Roberto Carlos ... they were incredible. They dominated all aspects of the game. You simply had to accept they were better."