I BELONG TO GLASGOW
Former president explains why Hampden is synonymous with glory for a club aiming to add an 11th European Cup tonight
Former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon on club’s mystical link to Hampden
HE concedes there may be a “mystical” connection to Scotland, in particular Hampden. But Ramon Calderon knows that it is never hard to put the ‘real’ into Real Madrid and that enduring trait is always about winning.
“Yes, we can say there is a mystical link,” says Calderon, who was a Real director for nine years, three of them as president, “but that is so only because of what we did there.” This, specifically, refers to the 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960 and the 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, both in Europe’s greatest tournament. “To win is a must. It is an obligation,” he says, adding that there is little affection for European battlefields where the Real standard has been lowered. “It took us 32 years to win the seventh Champions League after winning the sixth in 1966,” he says using the modern term for the European Cup.
“We did not have fondness for the stadiums where we lost.”
The ninth, of course, was won at Hampden but Calderon uses this triumph to illustrate that chilling steeliness that lies at the heart of Real. “I have been a supporter all my life. I have travelled the world to watch the team,” he says. “The Hampden final was lit up by that [Zinedine] Zidane volley but [Iker] Casillas had to make great saves to prevent an equaliser. It was tough to win.”
It was also necessary. Calderon, who joined the board as a director in 2000, starting his three-year tenure as president in 2006, has two stories that tell of the Real Madrid way. “The world cheered that Zidane volley but people forget he was booed from August to November that season when we bought him because people believed we had paid too much for him,” he says.
I tell him I once sat in the Bernabeu when Cristiano Ronaldo, who had scored a hat trick, was berated in a 7-3 victory over Sevilla in 2013. “That is not unusual. People don’t understand the nature of this club. The fans here can boo Ronaldo, Zidane, everyone and anyone. More than 70 per cent of fans supporting the club are not born in Madrid. They have no link regionally or locally. They identify not with the club but with success. Ronaldo will score 50 goals very season but still be criticised.”
The second story concerns Calderon’s most stressful moment as Real president. It occurred on June 17, 2007. “We had not won the league for three years and it was my first season as president. We had to win the last game against Mallorca to win the league. With 20 minutes to go we were 0-1 down,” he says. “I had made a lot of changes because we had to move quickly that season. We signed 14 players such as [Wesley] Sneijder, [Gonzalo] Higuain, [Fabio] Cannavaro, [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy. We had to change the mindset. We had to return to the path of victory.”
His reign followed immediately on the failed episode involving Los Galacticos. He sat in the box watching Mallorca defending desperately. “It is a lot of pressure being president. It is a big shop window and every passer-by is looking in. I have said many times that if you are the president of Real Madrid and if the team gets a victory you do not feel joy but relief. You then know you have three days of calm because no one will question the players you signed or the coach you hired.”
Calderon was accorded his days of grace. Real scored three times and La Liga was secured. He says: “After we won the league, we then started to do things in a better way. That was an important victory. Perhaps we had forgotten that you must focus on events on the field.”
“That is the best memory for me,” he says of a reign that was to end in January 2009, in one of those convulsions that routinely consume Real, this time over allegations of voting irregularities at a club assembly.
His position at Real allowed him access to the inner workings of Uefa and Fifa and he was vice-chairman of the clubs’ committee on the former. He says no immediate change to the league set-up in Europe is imminent, believing “it is a big cake but it is cut up fairly”. But will clubs such as Benfica, who broke Real’s dominance in the European Cup in 1961 and 1962, Ajax, who won the trophy three times in the 1970s and once in the 1990s or Scottish clubs such as Aberdeen, Celtic and Rangers who won European trophies in the past, ever hope to compete with the financial strength of the Bundesliga, La Liga or English Premier League?
“I hope so. I am sure they can come back, why not? Leicester won the Premier League and you see that money is not everything, that you cannot buy everything. That is a strong message for football and for the world. Nothing stays the same. The answer is in young players. Clubs [in smaller
leagues] can produce them and if they can keep them then success can come,” he adds. He knows this retention of players is a problem for the poorer leagues but surprisingly conceded there may be problems ahead for La Liga. “It is clear that the EPL now is going to have huge amounts of money, five times more in TV rights than La Liga,” he says of the £9bn deal, including foreign rights, that kicks in next season.
“That could be a problem because many players could be tempted to go to England because they will get more money. But I hope, too, that players will stay. At Real Madrid, [Gareth] Bale and Cristiano are very important for us and they certainly want to extend their contract. Players tend to be very happy here perhaps because they have the chance to win the big prizes.”
Aah, the big prizes. Real, of course, play Atletico Madrid tonight in their attempt to win an 11th European Cup. So what awaits Real in the San Siro? “We have talked about money in football and we have our own story in Spain where Atletico has one third of the budget of Barcelona and Bayern Munich and beat them both to reach the final. It is true money helps but there are other factors that make a team,” he says.
“We are obsessed by this final. It is now twice in three years that the clubs from this city have met so that it is historic and it will be an interesting match and one that will have difficulties for both teams. Atletico have a nearly perfect defence.”
Calderon admires Diego Simeone, the Atletico manager, though he admits the Argentinian would not be a natural fit at Real where there has to be an extravagance in the play. “The coach is tactically excellent and he has produced fantastic commitment from the players. They blindly follow him because they know he has been right many times,” he says.
“But if you look at the names that Real have, then it is impressive,” he says of such as Ronaldo, Bale, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos. “We have great players. We have paid huge money for Bale, Cristiano and others. Atletico have recruited well. They may not have been signed for the same sums, but they are great footballers. The difference I see is that Atletico are tactically perfect. They have conceded only 18 goals in La Liga and they counter attack dangerously with [Antoine] Griezmann and [Fernando] Torres. The last time we met in the final it took us more than 93 minutes to equalise so I am sure everyone knows it will be tough.”
He recalls that when he was president he put up a sign in every Real dressing room, from the boys’ teams to the senior squad. It read: “We fight and we may lose. But if we don’t fight we will lose.”
At 64, he craves no further involvement in the Real boardroom but hopes to be in Milan tonight. “Everyone at the club knows they have to win,” he says. As the Champions League anthem drifts out over the 60th final in the biggest club competition in football, Calderon knows tunes can change but the song remains the same for Real. “You win or you go,” he says of presidents, coaches and players. “Sometimes both,” he adds with a chuckle.
People don’t understand the nature of this club. The fans here can boo Ronaldo, Zidane, everyone and anyone
REAL INTENSITY: Ramon Calderon admits wins were met with relief rather than delight in Madrid.