If you ask most football fans of a certain age, the first football team they’ll remember globally is Real Madrid’s Galacticos.
A team put together with one superstar signing a year in the early 00’s, with the idea that they would partner up with the best of Real Madrid’s academy – hence the original ‘Zidanes y Pavones’ name given to the group.
Florentino Perez signed Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, David Beckham, Ronaldo and Fabio Cannavaro among others to wrestle the La Liga title away from the Camp Nou, while also signing youngsters like Marcelo and Sergio Ramos who would go on to become the face of the club for the next decade-and-a-half.
Shortly after the ‘Galacticos’ era came to an end, Spain dominated the international scene. Under Luis Aragones, Spain won their first ever international title by winning Euro 2008. He was then replaced by Vicente Del Bosque, former manager of Real Madrid’s Galacticos, and he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. With a mixed core of Barcelona and Real Madrid players, Spain brushed aside all challengers and put themselves in the conversation with Brazil 1970 and Puskas’ Hungarians of the 50’s as the best international side ever.
So what would have happened if they’d come up against each other?
Spain were by far the more structured side in terms of style and philosophy. They were a heavy possession-based team, who passed the ball persistently to wear their opponents down. The incredible midfield depth has seen me leave out names like Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla in midfield which shows the options they have to choose from in their golden generation. A big factor they also had was that so many of these players played together at club level- only Fernando Torres never played for either Real Madrid or Barcelona during his career.
At the Bernabeu, it was all about having the best players on the pitch at the same time. They’d often play a lopsided formation to get their players in and it’s no coincidence that their success began to lessen once Claude Makelele left for Chelsea in 2003. They won La Liga in two of the three seasons Makelele was at the club, winning the Champions League in the other to make up for it.
As good as Makelele was, it was the attacking talent on display that often won Madrid games. Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul and Figo make up one of the best attacking line-ups we’ve ever seen on individual ability, while the addition of David Beckham in 2003 just increased that further. While Beckham didn’t win La Liga until the end of the Galacticos era in 2007, he was a huge part of the main side and is thus included in the team.
The midfield is where Spain win this game in my opinion. The pure quality in both directions means they will be able to keep the ball and win it back whenever Madrid get hold of it. The pure quality on show in a Madrid kit makes me think it would be incredibly difficult for Spain to keep a clean sheet but it would be even harder for Los Blancos.
The versatility in the attacking positions of Iniesta, Villa and Torres interchanging means Madrid’s legendary full-backs Michel Salgado and Roberto Carlos would need to be on their best behaviour defensively, which would likely limit them going forward. Makelele is arguably the greatest defensive midfielder of all-time, with the role being named after him due to his role in this team. But without any help, he’d only be able to hold this side off for so long. Zidane, Beckham and Figo aren’t good enough defensively to keep Spain at bay for too long and if they went a goal down, it would be even harder for them to claw the game back.
While those attacking players are lead by the great R9 up front, they need the ball to make magic. Spain averaged 64% possession across the three tournaments they won, meaning Zizou and co would have to be efficient on the counter attack.
I think overall, Spain will just have too much for this Galactico era. The quality on show would make this a fun watch but Spain would dominate the game in a way that only they could with their tiki-taka style and we’d see a lot of frustrated superstars in a white shirt. I’d go with a 3-1 Spain win over 90 minutes, with David Villa and Fernando Torres getting the goals for the World Champions while a long ball from David Beckham to R9 would launch a goalscoring counter-attack in reply.