You can have all the money in the world and be one of the most trophy-laden and prestigious clubs out there, but you will never have the same pull as Real Madrid.
Los Blancos are the biggest club in the world, so much so that even a subsection of their transfer purchases has a world-famous nickname – the Galacticos.
But what does Galactico mean precisely?
What is a Galactico?
The term Galactico comes from the Spanish word for ‘galactic’. It is a definition of a player who is at the peak of stardom, a household name across the globe, who is sublime at football and was typically the subject of headline-grabbing and extravagant transfers to Real Madrid.
The Galactico concept became associated with Real Madridduring the presidency of Florentino Perez in the early 2000s. It was at this point that the club pursued a recruitment policy that prioritised signing high-profile and exceptionally talented players, the onus on them being an elite superstar at the time of buying.
Foreshadowing the first era of the Galacticos, the club boasted huge names during the 1950s and 1960s, including the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, and Raymond Kopa. This tradition has continued from the early 2000s, all the way to the present.
In no particular order, here FootballTransfers takes a look at ten of the biggest Galacticos, both past and present.
Eden Hazard – €100m from Chelsea (2019)
Upon joining Real Madrid in the summer of 2019, Eden Hazard refused to be labeled ‘Galactico’, believing it to be something that you earned. He said: “I’m not a ‘Galactico,’ not yet. I hope to be one day. Here I start from scratch. I don’t consider myself a ‘Galactico,’ but a very good player.”
Hazard’s hefty fee of €100 million, plus his superstar status at the time, meant that he was one, regardless of his protestations. Things didn’t go too well for Hazard – he is arguably the one on this list who was the worst-ever Galatico in terms of performance. Across four seasons with Real Madrid, he featured in 76 games and scored just seven goals. He retired after the 2022/23 season, making ten appearances and netting a solidarity goal.
Kaka – €67 million from AC Milan (2009)
Kaka is often overlooked by contemporaries as a modern great. It’s probably down to his time with Real Madrid. When he made the move, the the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner was at the top of his game.
Kaka was anticipated to be the vital cog in an attacking line, along with Cristiano Ronaldo who had joined the club in the same window, from Manchester United. The moves were designed to rival the formidable Lionel Messi and Barcelona at the Camp Nou, who were at the height of their powers in Spain.
Kaka suffered a persistent knee issue, initially expected to keep him sidelined for four months but then extended to eight months after vital surgery. After a return, he was diagnosed with Iliotibial band syndrome and sidelined again. The emergence of Mesut Ozil eventually saw the playmaker displaced entirely, and he moved back to AC Milan in 2013 in a free move, with only performance-related incentives owed to Madrid.
Jude Bellingham- €133 million from Borussia Dortmund (2023)
Jude Bellingham was heavily linked with moves to some of the world’s biggest clubs when he was at Borussia Dortmund. The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid were all keen on signing the teenage superstar.
But it was Los Blancos who sealed the deal, with reports suggesting that Bellingham wanted to join a historic and prestigious club above all else. It’s been a match made in heaven for both the club and the player so far. Bellingham is the most in-form player in the world right now, justifying every bit of his price tag.
Gareth Bale – €100.8 million from Tottenham (2013)
Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid in 2013 from Tottenham for a then-world record transfer fee. The fans never really took to Bale but his record there was superb. He scored a memorable goal in the 2013-2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, while he also played a crucial role in Real Madrid’s four Champions League triumphs, in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Bale’s time at Real Madrid was marked by occasional periods of injury, as well as his time on the golf course, which led to some criticism from fans and media. Furthermore, towards the end of his time in Madrid, reports emerged about his strained relationship with then-manager Zinedine Zidane. Bale left Real Madrid in 2020, joining back with Spurs on a loan deal. He retired shortly after a 12-game stint with LAFC.
Ronaldo Nazario – €46 million from Inter Milan (2002)
Ronaldo Nazario, commonly known as Ronaldo or even R9, joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2002, arriving from Inter Milan for a reported fee of around €46 million, a then-world-record transfer. Ronaldo formed a formidable attacking trio with other stars like Zidane and Raul.
In the 2002-2003 season, Ronaldo helped Real Madrid win the La Liga title. He also played a crucial role in their success in the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, even with a number of injury setbacks.
Across 177 games in all competitions, he netted 104 goals in total. In 2007, Ronaldo agreed terms with AC Milan for a transfer of €8.05 million, leaving as the club’s leading goalscorer for all of his four full seasons.
David Beckham – €37.50 million from Man Utd (2003)
David Beckham’s move to Real Madrid in 2003 is generally considered a success, but it was more a win for the club’s profile and marketing than anything else. Beckham was a global football icon and his transfer to Real Madrid solidified him as a Galactico, if only for his marketing appeal.
The winger spent four seasons at Madrid. In his inaugural campaign, they won the La Liga title. Beckham’s exceptional crossing ability and set-piece prowess will never be forgotten at Real but it was hardly a glowing period for the celebrity. In 2007, Beckham left Real Madrid and signed with the Major League Soccer (MLS) club Los Angeles Galaxy.
Luis Figo – €60 million from Barcelona (2000)
Probably the most controversial addition on this list – one Luis Figo. The Portuguese winger was playing for Barcelona at the time and had established himself as one of the best players in the world. The move saw outrage at Barcelona, where he was a fan-favourite. When returning to the Nou Camp, one of the fans launched a pig’s head at the star to show his disgust.
On the pitch, Figo had a successful spell at Real Madrid. He played a key role in the team’s success, helping them win two La Liga titles in the 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 seasons, as well as the Champions League in the 2001-2002 season. He will go down as one of their best-ever wingers owing to his brilliant five years. Figo eventually moved to Inter Milan in 2005.
Cristiano Ronaldo – €94 million from Man Utd (2009)
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid in 2009 is arguably the greatest transfer in history. It was a record transfer and the superstar, who was the best player in the world at the time, paid Real Madrid back dividends. Ronaldo was the best Galatico that the club ever had.
With him, Real Madrid won the La Liga title in 2011-2012, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018 seasons, as well as four Champions League titles during his time there. Most importantly, Ronaldo is the club’s all-time top-scorer, netting a quite outstanding 450 goals in 438 games. Ronaldo is a Real Madrid legend and likely their best-ever player. He joined Juventus after nine seasons with Real Madrid, leaving behind a legacy that is unlikely to ever be matched.
Zinedine Zidane – €77.50 million from Juventus (2001)
Zinedine Zidane’s move to Real Madrid in 2001 is considered one of the most significant transfers in football history. Very much one of the biggest Galacticos to ever grace the Santiago Bernabeu, the midfielder played a key role in helping Real Madrid win the Champions League in the 2001-2002 season – his volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen is the most famous goal from the competition. This goal is often regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the Champions League.
During Zidane’s time with Real Madrid, they won the La Liga title in the 2002-2003 season, as well as the UEFA Super Cup in 2002. After his retirement after the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Zidane transitioned into coaching and returned to the club as the head coach in 2016. During this time, he led them to three consecutive Champions League titles from 2016 to 2018.
Kylian Mbappe (2024?)
Of course, we’re cheating a bit here, but this one almost feels like an inevitability. Kylian Mbappe has been linked with a move to Real Madrid for what seems like an entirety.
The Frenchman opted to stay at PSG in the last two years but his current deal is up in June. Reports suggest that a move to Real Madrid is now very much on the cards. You get the feeling that it’s now or never for the striker – if he stalls or signs fresh terms with PSG, then there is no way Real Madrid would be willing to wait another year. Still, many weeks to come before anything is realised, but when it does it will be of biblical proportions.