Editor's Note: "Galacticos" is available to watch on ESPN Player in the UK and Europe.
Football had never seen anything like Real Madrid's "Galacticos." They were box office: a team made up of the world's most high-profile players, assembled at great expense, who would steamroller opponents on the pitch and build a global brand off it.
That was the plan, anyway. It fell apart (of course it did) but for six years, from 2000 to 2006, it was hard to beat the Bernabeu for transfers, trophies and tantrums. Here are 10 of the key moments from that star-studded era.
1. The election of Florentino Perez
The summer of 2000 wasn't an obvious time for a change at Real Madrid: the club had just won its second Champions League in three years after going 32 years without. In fact, Lorenzo Sanz had called elections early, hoping to capitalise on that European success to secure the presidency ahead of the club's 100th birthday two years later. Behind the scenes, though, all was not well. The club's severe debt was growing, and that gave Perez, one of Spain's richest businessmen, an opening. He had made his fortune in Spain's building boom with construction giant ACS. Now Perez pledged to sort out Real Madrid's finances. That, and sign Luis Figo, the best player in La Liga. Those twin promises saw him beat Sanz by just over 3,000 votes on July 16, 2000. The race had been tight, but postal voting leaned heavily in Perez's favour. The presidential challenger had beaten the incumbent for the first time in the club's history.
2. The signing of Luis Figo
The world-record transfer that changed Real Madrid's history. News broke on July 5 as Lorenzo Sanz was busy celebrating his daughter's marriage to full-back Michel Salgado. Figo, or at least, his agent, had agreed a deal with Florentino Perez to sign for Madrid if he won the presidency. His buyout clause at Barcelona: a huge 10,000 million pesetas (€62m, $75m) plus tax. Figo came out and denied it -- Perez's chances seemed remote -- only to end up being presented, unsmiling, at the Bernabeu two weeks later. For Perez, it was mission accomplished. Months later, Figo won the Ballon d'Or. His debut season at Madrid was outstanding, scoring nine times and providing 17 assists as they ended a four-year wait for the title. The day they won the league, scoring five goals against Alaves in May 2001, Figo created three of them. His former team Barca finished a distant fourth.
3. The signing of Zinedine Zidane
Zidane arrived in July 2001 -- another world-record signing, for 11,500m pesetas (€76m, $92m) from Juventus -- but he had famously agreed to sign for Madrid a year earlier, answering Perez's "Do you want to play for Madrid?" written on a napkin at a UEFA gala in Monaco with a scribbled "Yes." Zidane had already won the World Cup and European Championsip with France, and now had his sights set on the Champions League, having lost the final to Madrid with Juventus in 1998. Perez described him as "a player who seems like he was born to play for Real Madrid." Zidane went on to represent the superstar side of the Perez's so-called 'Zidanes y Pavones' plan, combining global icons with youth products, but it wasn't always plain sailing. There was early criticism for Zidane, Madrid lost the Copa del Rey final to Deportivo La Coruna in a match played at the Bernabeu on their centenary, and they finished third in the league. All that would soon be eclipsed, though.
4. *That* Champions League final goal
The Galactico project had a lot to live up to in Europe after those Champions League wins against Juventus in 1998 and Valencia in 2000. Their 2002 triumph, beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at Hampden Park in Glasgow, was every bit as special. The semifinal had been notable too, as Madrid knocked out Barca in their first European meeting since 1960, including a 2-0 victory at Camp Nou. Madrid's ninth European Cup arrived on May 15, 2002. Raul scored early, Leverkusen's Lucio equalised soon after, and Zidane won it with arguably the best goal ever scored in a European Cup final, volleying Roberto Carlos' cross into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area. There was drama after that, too, as a 20-year-old Iker Casillas came off the bench to replace the injured Cesar Sanchez and make some crucial late saves.
5. The signing of Ronaldo Nazario
Figo and Zidane weren't enough: the superstar signings had to keep coming, one every summer. Debt was no longer an issue, either, after a convenient deal agreed in July 2001 to sell off the club's training ground for redevelopment. The only way to match the previous arrivals would be to bring former Barcelona striker Ronaldo Nazario back to La Liga. In August 2002, it happened. There was late drama -- Barca president Joan Gaspart tried to sabotage the deal by pulling out of a move for Fernando Morientes, leaving Madrid short of cash -- but Inter Milan saved the day by lowering the transfer fee. Ronaldo had suffered two serious knee injuries in Serie A, but after winning the Golden Boot at the 2002 World Cup his career looked to be back on the up. Fitness concerns delayed his Madrid debut, but it was worth the wait. Coming off the bench against Alaves on Oct. 6, he scored after just a minute on the pitch, and ended the day with a brace. Madrid went on to win the league, Ronaldo their top scorer.
6. Del Bosque, Hierro, Makelele leave
The good times couldn't last. There was inevitable, growing unrest. The Galacticos were viewed as untouchable and undroppable, with others unhappy at their own "second-class" status. The beginning of the end came in summer 2003 when it emerged that the contracts of coach Vicente del Bosque and captain Fernando Hierro would not be renewed. Del Bosque's avuncular image didn't suit the new era -- even if his underrated management skills did -- and Perez wanted a more modern man. For a year, the pair hadn't been on speaking terms. The relationship with the ageing Hierro had also deteriorated. Within 24 hours of winning the league, news broke that neither would continue. Planned title celebrations to be hosted at famed Madrid restaurant Txistu were thrown into disarray. Claude Makelele was another departure, sold to Chelsea after being refused a pay rise. "We won't miss him," Perez told France Football. "He can't head the ball and he'd rarely pass it further than three metres."
7. The signing of David Beckham
The man to replace Makelele, according to Perez, was David Beckham. The fourth Galactico signing was the only arrival in the summer of 2003. A day after the €35m ($42.5m) deal was made official on July 1, 500 journalists attended his presentation. Club staff said they had received more requests for accreditation than they would for a Champions League semifinal. A week earlier, former Manchester United assistant Carlos Quieroz had been named as the man to lead this new era. It started promisingly enough, with Beckham scoring on his home debut in the Spanish Supercopa, and then again days later in his first league game. Madrid even beat Barcelona at Camp Nou in December 2003 for a first league Clasico win there in 20 years. In the spring they were top of La Liga and in the Copa del Rey final -- but Madrid would not win another trophy in the Galactico era.
8. Champions League failure, league collapse
There had already been trouble. Quieroz did not find the dressing room easy, and considered quitting. When things fell apart, it was dramatic. The 2004 Copa del Rey final, in which Beckham opened the scoring, was lost 3-2 to Real Zaragoza. Worse was to come in the Champions League, where Madrid were embarrassingly eliminated by Monaco in the quarterfinals. A 4-2 home win was followed by a 3-1 away defeat. The news agency EFE called it "one of the darkest nights in [Real Madrid's] recent history." Former Madrid player Morientes scored in both legs. The team were left relying on La Liga to save the season. It didn't happen. Instead, Madrid lost six of their last seven league games and finished fourth. It was the first time they had been surpassed by Barcelona in the Galactico era. "We didn't make a mistake not renewing Del Bosque," Perez said. "But we did in hiring Quieroz."
9. Five coaches, no trophies
What do you do when you run out of Galacticos? Michael Owen was signed in August 2004 but couldn't hope to match the impact of Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham. He was gone a year later. This was an unprecedented barren spell, as Real Madrid went three years without a trophy for the first time in half a century. Five coaches, some now almost forgotten -- Quieroz, briefly followed by Jose Antonio Camacho, then Mariano Garcia Remon, the Brazilian Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Juan Ramon Lopez Caro -- failed to win a thing. Even the term "Galactico" took on an increasingly negative connotation. Beckham and the club's preseason tours of the Far East were held up as examples of the club's skewed focus on commercial priorities over on-field success. Worse still, Barcelona were looking a more dynamic project under president Joan Laporta and coach Frank Rijkaard, winning the league in 2005.
10. Perez resigns
When Madrid's president quit, it rocked Spanish football. "I wasn't expecting it," said his Atletico Madrid counterpart, Enrique Cerezo. Getafe chief Angel Torres agreed: "Things must be really bad for Florentino Perez to throw in the towel." Back-to-back defeats were the final straw. A 2-1 league loss at Mallorca, featuring a defence made up of four full-backs, highlighted the squad's deficiencies, and that was followed by Arsenal's 1-0 Champions League win at the Bernabeu. Madrid had been humiliated in the Copa del Rey, too, 6-1 at Zaragoza. Perez consulted captain Raul and coach Lopez Caro and stepped down. "Real Madrid needs a change," he said. "Maybe I've spoilt the players... in that sense, I'm the guilty one." The mood in the squad was dreadful. Sergio Ramos criticised his teammates' attitude after the Mallorca defeat, and Raul and Ronaldo exchanged words, too. Former coach Garcia Remon blamed the club's "over-tolerance of the squad... they're only football players." Lessons would be learned for Perez's return three years later.