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Real Madrid's party goes flat

Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid paid a world record US$66 for French World Cup hero Zidane  


By CNN's Simon Hooper

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Real Madrid's centenary celebrations went flat on Wednesday when the Spanish giants lost the final of the Copa del Rey 2-1 in their Bernabeu stadium.

Party-poopers Deportivo la Coruna took the honours in a match preceded by music and a comedy show to mark the day exactly 100 years ago that Real were founded. Match report from CNNSI.com

The festivities were lavish for a club that was named "Club of the Century" by football's world governing body FIFA in 2000.

Manchester United may claim to be richer and Barcelona may be older but with eight European Cups and 28 Spanish league titles, Real's achievements are unrivalled.

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And Real's plain white shirt has always held a special attraction for the world's best players, from Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas in the 1950s to Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo, the French-Portuguese axis around whom the current side is built.

Ironically, given the club's intense rivalry with Barcelona, Madrid Football Club was founded on March 6, 1902, by Catalan trader Juan Padros Rubio.

In 1920 Alfonso XIII bestowed royal patronage on the club, but it was the support of Santiago Bernabeu, club president between 1943 and 1975, that was to transform Real into the most famous football team in the world.

Bernabeu built the stadium in which Real has played since 1947, and which now bears his name, and in the early 1950s it was his vision that brought together the first truly international modern football team.

Kings of Europe

With Argentine forward Alfredo di Stefano, signed from Millonarios of Colombia in 1953, and exiled Hungarian Ferenc Puskas pulling the strings Real, rolled to victory in the first five European Cups, an era culminating in the 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960, when Puskas scored four and di Stefano scored three.

While Real continued to dominate the Spanish stage, 1960 marked the high watermark of its golden era. A sixth European Cup followed in 1966, but supporters had to endure a 32-year-wait for the seventh, "La Penta." That finally arrived in 1998, followed by another, over Spanish rivals Valencia, in 2000.

Crucial to Real's recent resurgence has been the rise to the club presidency of Florentino Perez, a building magnate sensitive to the team's heritage who has drawn comparisons with Bernabeu.

Perez was elected in 2000 on his promise to bring the world's best players back to Real, a pledge he spectacularly fulfilled by signing Figo and Zidane in successive world record transfers costing a combined $120 million.

But Perez has also proved to be an astute financial operator off the field. He has cleaned up the club's finances by selling its city centre training ground to Madrid City Council for $310 million, allowing it to clear debts rumoured to have totalled $250 million.

Royal support

That deal has led to renewed complaints that the club has benefited unfairly from government favouritism, an allegation that dates back to the Franco era when the club's close ties with the regime was publicly flaunted by El Caudillo's regular appearances at Real's home games.

"Everyone knows that Real Madrid is the team of the Popular Party," said Jesus Gil, the outspoken president of local rival Atletico Madrid last week after Spanish Prime Minister and Popular Party leader Jose Maria Aznar admitted his allegiance to the club in the run-up to the centenary celebrations.

Yet Real will always be the team of the Spanish establishment, just as Catalans and Basques have used Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao as a focus for their regional pride.

Wednesday's Copa del Rey final was simply the latest episode in Spanish football's enduring struggle between Real Madrid and the rest.

And despite the disappointment, Perez has his eyes on bigger prizes this year.

The club is currently running a close second behind Valencia in the Spanish League and already in to the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

"Madrid winning nothing in its centennial year is a hypothesis I can't contemplate," Perez told El Pais.



 
 
 
 






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