Against his own judgement in those first few days, the Real president was persuaded by technical director Pirri to sign both Claude Makelele and Flavio Conceicao. The official, who was a legendary former Bernabeu player himself, insisted it would give the team “the best midfield in the world”.
That would certainly end up the case with Makelele — who himself proved Perez wrong in the long run — but not with Flavio. Despite costing €26m, the Brazilian could barely get a game.
Perez approached Pirri for an explanation in that first season. He came away with an epiphany. “In the game of football signings,” Pirri simply stated to his boss, “there is a mathematical rule: three out of five fail.”
Perez was “appalled”, as John Carlin revealed in his book White Angels. To pay so much money for a player so unnecessary was the “most idiotic investment he had ever been involved with”.
It proved a lesson. From then on, Perez became determined to eschew what he perceived as the false economies of football and try and make sure he only bought those two out of five players who were so good as to virtually guarantee success. If it meant paying over the odds, so be it.
That same summer, of course, Real completed the sensational signing of Luis Figo from Barcelona. Just as surprisingly, it marked the first ever time that the Madrid club had broken the world transfer record. They have not relinquished it since.
The very history of the record provides further context. From 1952, and the move towards continental competitions such as the European Cup, Serie A clubs held it for all but six of the 48 years up until Real’s capture for Figo. To Italian owners such as Angelo Moratti and the Agnelli family, it was an illustration of power and status.
There is a strong element of that with Perez and Real’s place as a club. This, now, is what the Spanish side do as institution; this is what they’re about. Perez himself also likes to be seen as someone who can close the biggest deals and will always bring them to the Bernabeu.
Of course, Gareth Bale’s brief career at Tottenham Hotspur so far barely warrants a fee above €60m, let alone the world record. As exceptional as he is, his existing achievements simply do not match the usual trappings of the milestone.
That, however, is not really what the price is about. It certainly wasn’t for previous record breakers such as Harald Nielsen, Pietro Anastasi or Denilson. It is down to Daniel Levy’s unwillingness to sell, and Perez’s insistence on buying.
That’s also not to say that the purchase would necessarily be a “gamble” in the sense many mean it. It is nothing compared to the genuinely game-changing transfer of Figo. Back then, as part of his move to claim the Real presidency, Perez took a deep breath in front of the club’s support. He promised that, if the Portuguese star did not arrive, he would personally pay the membership fees for a year of every socio. It was a huge gamble, but one that came through.
The subsequent restructuring of a somewhat ailing club’s finances effectively opened permanent credit lines for the president. Banks would release money for such grand prices on the back of Real’s marketing strategy surrounding the player. It is this cast-iron relationship that the Bale bid has been built on.
The world record fee grants an immediate status and cachet. “Come watch the most expensive player in the world.” What’s more, at 24 years of age and as a forward with a particularly exhilarating style, Bale is easily marketable and will start every game. Consequently, this is not potentially wasting a high fee on someone who may not feature, as in the case of Flavio Conceicao. It is investing whatever is required in, barring injury, a guaranteed starter and star.
For Perez, it makes absolute sense.
As to whether it will also make a Champions League-winning team, time will tell.