It was always going to take the boldest gambler in the history of football to pull off the game's biggest transfer. And Florentino Perez is just that. The construction magnate has never been afraid to roll the dice, Donald Trump-style. It all began in the spring of 2000 when he announced that he was ready to take on the incumbent, Lorenzo Sanz, for the presidency of Real Madrid. Sanz had delivered a league title and was about to win his second Champions' League in three years at the helm of the club.
To even think of defeating him required a move so bold it bordered on madness. Which is what Perez did. He promised that, if elected, he would break the world transfer record to deliver Luis Figo from Real's archrivals Barcelona. And, he added, it would not end there: another superstar would come on board the following year, probably Juventus's Zinedine Zidane, arguably the world's greatest player.
The media scoffed. Sanz called him a snake-oil salesman. Barcelona simply laughed at him. Juventus ignored him. But the Real fans believed. And they voted him in. The Figo transfer was announced a few days later. All of a sudden, there seemed to be a method to Florentino's supposed madness. Fast-forward to the end of the 2000-01 season. Figo was leading Real to the title. Zidane's Juventus were coming up short in Serie A, the third consecutive year without a domestic crown. And the Madrid press were spreading the word: "Zizou is next".
On May 22 a long interview with Zidane appeared in the Spanish daily newspaper Marca, seen by many as Real's unofficial house organ. Zidane expressed his desire to play in Spain "some day", reminding everyone that his wife is Spanish and suggesting that if the two clubs reached an agreement he would strongly consider it. The denials came thick and fast. Perez himself said there "had been no contact with Juventus".
Roberto Bettega, Juve's vice chairman, said Zidane had four years left on his contract and "would definitely see them out". Zidane himself, via his agent, Alain Migliaccio, denied ever speaking to Marca. On May 28, the day Real Madrid won La Liga, another important building block fell into place. Perez announced the imminent sale of the club's legendary training ground, La Ciudad Deportiva, to the municipality of Madrid for an estimated ?325 million (Dh1.6bn), a move which wiped out Real's debt.
The club would build a new training ground in the suburbs, where land was far cheaper. It became even obvious to everyone: Perez was a man who made things happen. Two weeks later Zidane went to Polynesia on holiday. He skilfully eluded the platoon of journalists sent to track him down, but, in the interim, Migliaccio and Florentino were hard at work. "I don't understand why Juventus are so stubborn when Real Madrid have made such a generous offer and Zizou has told them he wants to leave," Migliaccio said on June 22, the day Juve knocked back a ?50m bid.
A few days later, Antonio Giraudo, Juventus' chief executive, said: "He's staying and that's it. It doesn't matter what kind of offer comes in. I've spoken to Zizou and he's happy to stay." But 10 days later, on July 3, Juventus agreed to meet Real officials at the Turin home of Umberto Agnelli, the club's owner. News of this summit was leaked to the press and, on the morning of July 4, when Florentino and Jorge Valdano, Real's sporting director, arrived via private jet at Turin's Caselle airport, there was a gaggle of journalists ready to greet them.
Fifty members of the press waited patiently outside as the Real delegation met with their Juve counterparts: Agnelli, Giraudo, Bettega and Luciano Moggi. There was no official announcement when the protagonists emerged six hours later. But the fact that everyone was more willing to speak to the press, the fact that all sides now described it as "probable" all but confirmed what many had suspected. Zidane was a Real Madrid player, for an astounding fee of around ?65m.
He was unveiled three days later, on July 7. Perez was hailed as a genius by some, as a fool by others. He assured the world that his business plan would allow Zidane to pay for himself many times over. Juventus - who invested the funds to secure Gigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved - went on to win Serie A in four of the next five seasons (though the latter two titles were subsequently stripped).
Zidane led Real Madrid to the Champions' League crown less than a year later, and did so in style, with a stunning goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the final. And, perhaps most importantly, Perz had ushered in the "Galactico Era", laying the groundwork for the arrival of Ronaldo and David Beckham. It was an era that ended with the galacticos fading, but Perez's big-spending was clearly a big hit with Real fans who voted him back in as president earlier this year. It has started what is being termed the second galactico era, with Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all recently joining.