Florentino Perez planned to move Real Madrid from the Bernabeu to a new stadium in the middle of a theme park called ‘RealMadridLand’, only for the failure of the idea to fire the European Super League project.
The audacious plan - which is one of a number of detailed revelations from the new book ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson - got so far that the Madrid president was in talks with a group of former Disney executives led by long-time CEO Michael Eisner.
Perez had even drawn up sketches for rollercoasters that would follow the trajectory of famous club goals, such as Zinedine Zidane’s volley to win the 2002 Champions League final.
Perez had started to act on the idea around the 2017-18 season, as he realised the drastic need to find new revenue streams in order to keep up with the state-owned clubs in Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. It fell apart because Eisner and his team realised Perez would need 75% more than the €1.4bn budget he had secured, due to the sprawling nature of the project.
They had also raised concerns about the training ground being in the middle of the theme park, potentially allowing rival clubs to view the football team’s tactical plans - a notion that Perez dismissed with the line: "People see all that stuff anyway.”
It was the cost of keeping the squad together that first motivated the Madrid president, as a series of pay rises had seen the wage bill jump by 32 per cent over 2017. Perez had also noted how, in negotiations with agents such as Jorge Mendes and specifically over Cristiano Ronaldo’s eventual departure, City and PSG had constantly been raised as clubs who would be willing to pay the money that Madrid wouldn’t.
Realising the need for something drastic, the engineering billionaire believed that a theme park was ultimately the same as signing a Galactico in terms of buzz around the club, and that even the sacrilege of moving from the Bernabeu could be recast as necessary evolution.
The idea had been in Perez’s mind for years, as the club had held internal discussions over the possibility in 2004, and even entered into negotiations to licence the club name to a resort in the United Arab Emirates. That would have also involved a marina in the shape of the club crest.
The book details how the president now saw it as a “financial necessity” in order to keep pace, which led to the former Disney executives being invited to the Bernabeu boardroom.
“In our world, we are as big as Disney,” he said, according to one of the book’s sources who had been present. “Real Madrid must do things like this because we are the number-one club, and the only way we will remain there is by always being the first big innovator.”
‘RealMadridLand’ would have essentially served as a multi-purpose new headquarters for the club, with an amusement park and stadium near the current base of Valdebebas, as well as a training complex featuring every team from the under-sevens up. It was here that Perez also presented some sketches for individual rides named after legendary players, having seen the Ferrari World amusement park in Abu Dhabi.
While Eisner and his advisers were impressed by the scale of the proposal, they doubted the ability to construct. Perez at one point in the initial meeting sensed their concern, and pointed to the collection of silverware in the boardroom. Underneath the 12 Champions League trophies of the time was a plaque officially recognising Madrid as Fifa’s best club of the 20th century
“Everyone else is fighting for these trophies,” Pérez said, before the flourish. “Real Madrid is fighting for this. We want the next one of these.”
Eisner’s team spent three months studying the plans and came back with a list of concerns. Among them were the fact that Madrid already had a Warner theme park and questions over whether ‘RealMadridLand’ could even break even.
There was then the location of the training base.
“If you have an upcoming match against Barça, you might not want people watching practice, because there could just as easily be a Barcelona fan recording the whole thing and figuring out your tactics,” one of the executives said. That brought Perez’s dismissal.
Ultimately, however, the Madrid president only had agreements for €1.4bn in funding and a 130-acre site. The former Disney executives concluded €2.5bn was required as well as a plot of land closer to 250 acres due to hotels and conference centres. It led Perez to look elsewhere.