Real Madrid: Asier Illarramendi and Xabi Alonso Atoning for Claude Makelele

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentJuly 16, 2013

When Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez triggered Asier Illarramendi's €38 million buyout clause set by Real Sociedad, it marked the second time in four years that Pérez had spent in excess of €30 million on a defensive midfielder. 

The other occasion being Xabi Alonso's €34 million transfer from Liverpool in 2009. 

The drastic alteration in Pérez's mindset to building a UEFA Champions League contending team indicates that he's learnt from his previous negligence for disrespecting Claude Makélélé.

During Pérez's relentless pursuit of Zidane, Sky Sport's Graeme Bailey reported that Los Blancos had thrown in Makélélé, the €25 million valued Flávio Conceição and cash in an attempt to dissuade Juventus from requesting money onlythe Bianconeri's hardline stance won out in the form of €75 million.

"Younger players will arrive who will cause Makélélé to be forgotten," Pérez stated to France Football via The Guardian in 2003, following the French midfielder's decision to force a move to Chelsea. "He wasn't a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres."

When asked about the likelihood of buying enforcer Gennaro Gattuso, Pérez quipped: "Sure, to carry the players' kits."

Selling Makélélé was the culmination of Pérez disregarding the importance of a world-class defensive midfielder. 

"When you've had enough of people walking all over you, people taking you for a fool, it becomes a question of honour," Makélélé said, via Ben Lyttleton at theScore. "My demand was simple, same pay for the same job."

In the book White Angel, author John Carlin surmised that Pérez's refusal to give way to Makélélé's financial demands was based on a fear that it would encourage Iván Helguera, Míchel Salgado and Guti—who combined for a fraction of Zidane's salary—to follow in Makélélé's footsteps. 

It wasn't a mere coincidence that the Zidanes and Pavones strategy was spun to suggest management were going to give the most promising Castilla prospects a chance in the first team. 

In reality, it was Pérez balancing a budget—depleted by the Galácticos—by filling what he deemed the insignificant roles, like the Makélélé position, with cheap Cantera graduates. 

Mike Forde, Chelsea's director of football operations, explained in Soccernomics—written by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski—the vital statistic that Pérez overlooked:

Most players are very active when they're aimed towards the opposition's goals, in terms of high-intensity activity. Very few players are very strong going the other way.

If you looked at Makélélé, 84 percent of the time he did high-intensity work, it was when the opposition had the ball, which was twice as much as anyone else on the team.

"After seeing the way Madrid have just treated Claude Makélélé, I certainly have no regrets over not joining them," Patrick Vieira told BBC Sport. "It is a total lack of recognition of his ability and, to me, just seems like a question of money."

A year later, Vieira, who had captained Arsenal to an unbeaten Premier League season, wanted to leave the club following consultation—Gooners viewed it as tapping up—from Les Bleus teammate Zidane.

Pérez was afforded a perfect situation to rectify his Makélélé mistake. 

Writing in The Guardian, Graham Hunter foreshadowed the collapse of Vieira's proposed move to Real Madrid:

The fact that Pérez does not consider Vieira a huge catch marketing-wise has left the midfielder unhappy that he would not only not earn the same as Zidane if he moved to Madrid but would be expected to play for slightly less money than his £104,000 a week salary at Highbury.

An ignominious part of Pérez's tenure which is consigned to the archives was his feeble attempt to boost the reputation of Thomas Gravesen, who was several notches of quality below Makélélé and Vieira.

"Gravesen is exactly the player we were missing and he had some important offers from Italy and England," Pérez stated in 2005, a year before he resigned, via Sid Lowe at The Guardian. "We have signed Denmark's best player."

A straight-shooting Gravesen responded: "I didn't have any offers at all except for the one from Madrid."

The collapse of the Galácticos meant the end of Pérez's first reign at the club. 

Pérez began to question his flawed thinking of not financially rewarding role players due to Makélélé's success at Chelsea and Mahamadou Diarra, a €26 million signing under Ramón Calderón, being a contributing member to Real Madrid's two successive league titles. 

Rafa Arias, a La Liga television commentator at the time, said Miguel Ángel Alonso, the former Real Sociedad and Barcelona midfielder, played like Makélélé, via Richard Fitzpatrick's book El Clásico: Barcelona v Real Madrid: Football's Greatest Rivalry.

Miguel's son, Xabi Alonso, a €34 million signing from Liverpool, marked a shift in Pérez's view on players whose role was purely supplemental. 

Alonso has played an integral part in halting the Barcelona dynasty as a creative threat from a deep-lying position and providing muscle in midfield. 

This is why he was recognised as La Liga's best midfielder during the 2011-12 season. 

Sami Khedira, a German international, who transferred to Real from Stuttgart for €14 million, is one of Los Blancos' hardest working players

When it comes to Illarramendi's transfer fee, we're all thinking: "It's not only €13 million more than what Bayern Munich paid Barcelona for Euro U-21 MVP Thiago but it's marginally more expensive than Mario Götze's €37 million transfer fee."

The €40 million Bayern spent on Javi Martínez was also economically inefficient.   

Illarramendi (12-13)3.82.3 11/080.7 68.8 
Martínez (10-11) [2]2.5 4.1 11/0 74.8 46.8 

[1] TPG = tackles per game, IPG = interceptions per game, YC/RC = yellow cards/red cards, P% = passing percentage, LP% = long passing percentage.

[2] 11-12 statistics are not applicable due to Martínez starting 71 percent of his league games at centre-back. 

If Illarramendi and Martínez maximise their potential and stay the course at their respective clubs, their transfer fees will only be a footnote. 

Illarramendi was superb during the Euro U-21s, upping his passing accuracy by 14.4 percent and increasing his passes per game by 32.2. 

His world-class potential prompted Pérez, Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane and Real upper management to willingly meet Sociedad's monumental €38 million buyout clause.

With Alonso rehabbing from groin surgery and his contract expiring next year, the footballing world knows his heir apparent is Illarramendi.

Didier Deschamps was derided as a water-carrier by Eric Cantona but it's Deschamps who has a FIFA World Cup medal, not Cantona. 

Patrick Vieira would have joined Real Madrid if not for Pérez's inflexibility. 

When Real sold Makélelé and bought David Beckham, who remarked: "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you're losing the entire engine?"


If Zizou had any question marks over Illarramendi, the 23-year would still be at Sociedad. 

Trust Zidane's eye for talent in a No. 6 because he played with Deschamps, Vieira and Makélelé.

Alfredo Di Stéfano used to joke that he'd attend church on matchdays to pray that Makélelé wouldn't get injured.

Now, swap Makélelé's name with Illarramendi.



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Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.comFox Soccer and


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