The second coming of Florentino Perez should not be judged on what big name stars he brings to the Santiago Bernabeu. His ability to attract the world’s best has never been an issue of debate. Neither has his ability to generate capital for the club. Rather, any lessons the man claims to have learnt since departing the Bernabeu in disgrace back in 2006 should be judged on how he treats the less famous, yet equally important, members of the squad. I am speaking here of two players in particular – Lassana Diarra and Gonzalo Higuain.
Rewind to 2003 and the sale of Claude Makelele to Chelsea after Perez’s refusal to grant the player a pay raise in line with his obvious importance to the team. “We will not miss Makelele” boomed Perez. They did. “Younger players will arrive who will cause Makelele to be forgotten.” They didn’t. The departure of the five foot seven French defensive midfielder was considered by many as the beginning of the end for Perez and his first Galacticos project.
Fast forward to 2009. Perez is back. So are the Galacticos. So is the five foot seven French defensive midfielder. Only this time his name isn’t Claude, it’s Lassana. Lassana Diarra. Since his arrival from Portsmouth in January of this year, ‘Lass’ has established himself as a vital member of the Real Madrid team. His aggressive tackling, tireless running and intelligent all-round play have made him a squad, and fan, favourite. He is the new Makelele.
Two and a half years ago Gonzalo Higuain arrived from River Plate for a cool 13 million euros. He’s taken his time settling in to life at the Bernabeu, but it now seems to have been worth the wait. Last season he finished top scorer with 22 goals. He was also the top assist man with nine. Some of his goals were vital, too. Two stunning winners which immediately come to mind were his screamer at the death against Getafe at the Bernabeu and his tremendous solo effort away at Malaga. The France born Argentine now looks as if he will only get better and better.
Despite all his progress, his position at the club is once again under threat. Persistent rumors of a player plus cash deal involving Internazionale’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, coupled with Perez’s pursuit of a striker of similar style, in the form of Valencia’s David Villa, have thrown El Pipito’s Madrid future into doubt.
To sell the youngster at this point in his career would be a huge mistake on the part of the new regime. He may not be as refined or consistent as Villa or Ibra, but let’s remember that he spent much of last season, indeed much of his Madrid career to date, playing out of position, on the right wing. If anything, this makes his numbers all the more impressive. A switch to a preferred central striking role next season would surely see his goal tally rise. Let’s also not forget that he’s still only 21. In him, I feel that Madrid have found the new Raul.
Florentino Perez needs to demonstrate that he has learnt the lessons from his first stint as Real Madrid President. He needs to show he has learnt that buying the world’s best players does not guarantee on-field success. Instead, it is the manner in which he treats those around his Galacticos which can make the difference. In my opinion, Lassana Diarra and Gonzalo Higuain represent his best chances at redemption. It could well be how he treats these two unsung heroes of the Madrid team that determines the success of his second tenure at the Bernabeu. Time will tell if he’s indeed a changed man.