Zinedine Zidane’s arrival at Real Madrid from Juventus in summer 2001 is normally recalled as a romantic story sealed with a dramatic gesture from Madrid president Florentino Perez at a UEFA gala dinner.
The then-world record move (reported to be €77 million, $66m) was put in motion by one of world football’s most famous “tapping up” moments, on UEFA Super Cup night in Monte Carlo in August 2000. “Florentino passed me a napkin with a message in French: ‘Do you want to come and play at Madrid?’ I answered: ‘Yes.’ It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Zidane told Vogue magazine in 2014.
But the reality of the transfer was quite different.
Within weeks of returning to Italy, Zidane extended his Juve contract up to 2005. “I feel good here and don’t see any reason to leave,” he said. “I’m just missing the Champions League and we want to win it. The time has come, we’re in great form and we’ll show it.”
During five years in Turin, Zidane had achieved practically everything possible to a footballer. He had lifted the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with France. Domestically he had won five competitions, including two Serie A titles. The 2000-01 season was supposed to bring the last big trophy to his CV, under coach Carlo Ancelotti’s guidance.
Things did not exactly go to plan on that front. Zidane was sent off twice in the first five UCL group games, with the second red card for head-butting Hamburg’s defender Jochen Kientz meriting a five-match ban. That contributed to Ancelotti’s side embarrassingly finishing bottom of a group from which Deportivo La Coruna and Panathinaikos qualified. They also exited the Coppa Italia early, and finished second in Serie A behind surprise winners Roma.
Even still, Zidane committed his future to Juve as the season ended. “I’m staying at Juventus, that is all,” he said on May 24. “If the newspapers want to see [me] wearing another jersey, there is nothing I can say.”
That did not stop increasing speculation in the Spanish press that “Zizou” would be the Galactico capture for the summer of 2001 — following Luis Figo’s dramatic move across the Clasico divide from Barcelona the previous year.
Juve chiefs moved quickly to dampen this down. “I’m completely against Zidane being touched,” said the club’s owner Gianni Agnelli. “We care not a jot what they say in Spain, Zidane is not leaving here,” said director general Luciano Moggi.
Ancelotti’s replacement as coach, Marcello Lippi, praised his team’s star at his presentation on June 20: “I’m delighted to work with someone with these characteristics as a player and as a person, among them his modesty,” said Lippi, perhaps tempting fate a bit too much.
Enter the player’s agent Alain Migliaccio, who told Marca: “Zidane has decided to play in Spain. We don’t know why Juventus continue to deny it. You can’t make someone act against his will.”
Zidane was meanwhile on holiday with his family in Tahiti, but still managed to speak to Italian daily La Repubblica on June 23, his 29th birthday.
“I’ve chosen Spain,” he said. “If it was down to me I’d already be at Real Madrid.”
Although Migliaccio confused matters by saying his client might actually stay put, on July 4 a high-level summit took place in the mountains above Turin. Perez and Madrid’s sporting director Jorge Valdano sat on one side of the table, with Agnelli, Moggi and Juve vice-president Roberto Bettega opposite, and after lots of haggling the deal was done.
Zidane arrived in Madrid from Los Angeles four days later, dodging the media by landing his private plane at the Torrejon de Ardoz commercial airport. The presentation event was held at his new club’s training ground, which had already been sold to the local council in a deal which ensured Perez could agree to the world-record fee.
Even Zidane’s presentation was a money-maker, with TV channel Canal Plus reportedly paying 250m pesetas to screen it live, and the broadcaster delaying the ceremony an hour so it could be shown at prime time. The hundreds of local and international journalists present enjoyed “smoked salmon canapes” and “trays of wine, red and white,” according to the Independent’s correspondent. There was further confusion as Zidane only spoke in French, without any translation, and kept his statement characteristically short.
“I’ve been waiting for this move, and the time is now right,” he said. “I’m very happy to have signed for the best club in the world.”
Later that evening the media were back at the Bernabeu, where Perez said Zidane was “born to play for Real Madrid.” The construction magnate did not publicly confirm the fee paid, but AS put the full amount including “commissions” at 12.5 billion pesetas. Juve’s official statement said they received 150bn lira.
Amid all the zeros and confusion over exchange rates, the New York Times report said “Migliaccio’s cut came to an estimated $7m.”
Juve spent their share on a promising young Parma goalkeeper called Gigi Buffon, plus established stars Lilian Thuram and Pavel Nedved. “I must say that for us Zidane was more entertaining than useful,” Agnelli now believed.
So everyone ended up happy, especially when Zidane finished his first season at Madrid by volleying the winning goal in the Champions League final. That might be true, but the story of the deal is not quite the fairytale often sold.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan