Los Galacticos Redux: The Tactics of Real Madrid in the Early 2000’s

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. But, will the tactics used in those golden years bring glory in FM19.


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.

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 equalizer 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 current Real Madrid 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.”


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”. (partial credit UEFA.com)

The Tactic

When looking into this replication, I really did a lot of research into the individual players before looking at an overall style of play. I feel from researching the team itself, the galacticos teams were more about trying to fit the best players in the world into a system, not plugging players into an existing one. Here’s what I came up with starting with the attack. (which we all know Real does IRL, sometimes to a fault)

Left ST: Raul – A prolific goalscorer and a highly creative forward, Raúl is regarded as one of the greatest and most consistent strikers of his generation.He was capable of playing anywhere along the front line, although he was primarily deployed as a center-forward, or as a supporting striker. Raúl was a quick, left-footed player, who was capable of scoring both in and outside the penalty area with his accurate and powerful shot, he possessed excellent ball control and technical ability, and was effective in the air as well as with his feet. 

(FM Role = Complete Foward Support)

Right ST: Ronaldo – Ronaldo is regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest and most complete forwards of all time. Dubbed Il Fenomeno (the phenomenon), he was a prolific goalscorer, and despite being more of an individualistic attacker, he was also capable of providing assists for his teammates, due to his vision, passing and crossing ability. He was an extremely powerful, fast, and technical player, as well as being a composed finisher.

(FM Role = Complete Forward Attack)

AMC: Zinedine Zidane – He was the ultimate playmaker through his elegance, vision, ball control and technique. It’s hard to describe in words just how incredible of a player he was to watch. If you’re not older enough to remember, look him up on youtube and be amazed.

(FM Role = Advanced Playmaker Attack) (PIs – Roam from Position)

LM: Santiago Solari – A dynamic and versatile winger, with excellent technical ability, Solari was mainly known for his dribbling skills, although he was also an accurate passer and was capable of striking the ball from distance with both feet.

(FM Role = Inverted Winger Attack)

RM: Luis Figo – Figo was a quick, elegant, highly skillful player with a dribbling ability that allowed him to frequently take on and beat defenders in one on one situations. He would often employ feints to beat opponents, such as stepovers. Figo was usually deployed as a winger in his early career, where he was capable of providing several assists, due to his ability to provide curling crosses to teammates from the flank or cut inside, link-up with midfielders, and create goalscoring opportunities. He has made the second most assists in La Liga history behind Lionel Messi.

(FM Role = Winger Attack)

DMC: Claude Makelele – A combative and hard-working player, although he was capable of getting forward and playing in more advanced positions, he usually played in front of his team’s back-line, where he mainly served as a defensive foil for his more offensive teammates, due to his aggressive tackling, as well as his ability to read the game, break down plays, mark and anticipate opponents, and time his challenges; in this role, he was known in particular for his acceleration, positional sense, tactical discipline, intelligence, energy, and ball-winning ability; although he was not the fastest, most talented or technically skilled player on the ball, or particularly good in the air.

(FM Role = Anchor Man Defense)

Right FB: Michel Salgado –  he was known for his combative tackling and attacking play. Attesting to his aggressive style, Salgado’s former Real Madrid teammate Steve McManaman – where he spent an entire decade, after excellent displays at Celta – once described him as “the hardest person in the world… a genuine psychopath, even in training.” He also played three seasons in England with Blackburn Rovers.

(FM Role = Fullback Support)

Left FB: Roberto Carlos – If you’re an attacking full-back, this is perfect: pass inside and continue your run for the return. Even if you don’t get the ball back immediately, you must look to get behind the defense for a ball over the top. That’s how a full-back attacks. Zidane was a master and we loved playing with each other.”

(FM Role – Inverted Wing Back Attack)

Right CB Fernando Hierro – Equally at ease as a central defender, sweeper or defensive midfielder, he had the ability, at his peak, to combine solid defensive play with a near-unlimited passing range and surprising goalscoring talent.

(FM Role = Ball Playing Defender Stopper)

Left CB Ivan Helguera – Playing as either a central defender or defensive midfielder, with both good defensive and offensive skills, he represented five clubs during his professional career, notably Real Madrid – achieving team success as an important player Over the course of 11 seasons, he amassed La Liga totals of 291 games and 21 goals.

(FM Role = Ball Playing Defender Cover)

GK Iker Casillas – Widely considered by pundits, as well as both former and current goalkeeping colleague, as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, Casillas was given the nickname “San Iker” (“Saint Iker”) throughout his career, for his precocious performances as a youngster, and due to his ability to produce acrobatic and decisive saves.

(FM Role = Goalkeeper Defend)

Translating to FM 2019

Let’s give it a shot with this year’s Real Madrid team. Not the galacticos of nearly now twenty years past, but a team that is being led by one of the originals. This may give us window into just why (on a couple levels) Zidane has used the diamond so much in his time at Real. It was successful when he was playing the tip of that diamond years ago and now it enables Real to play it’s best players in the same squad.


A tidy result in the Madrid Derby to clinch the league

As you can see from the final league standings below, the tactic of nearly twenty years ago performing better than it’s real life counterpart (no transfers in or out mind you).

Perhaps a little “blast from the past” will suit Zizou and Los Blancos in 2020.

If you enjoy these types of replications and would like to see us take a crack at another, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below. Find me @ericstpeterFM on Twitter

You can also follow us here:

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