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The metamorphosis of Calderón

Last Friday, January 16, Ramón Calderón resigned from his position as Real Madrid President over allegations of vote rigging in the last General Assembly, held in December. His bizarre, emotional press conference put a fitting end to two-and-a-half years of growing disappointment for Real Madrid supporters, who had already lost all trust in their president.

When elected in July 2006, Mr Calderón was hardly a newcomer. Ironically, he owned a well-earned reputation as an ethical voice ever since his memorable appearances representing the opposition in the general assemblies of the late eighties. Those were the times of the "Quinta del Buitre", the five Liga titles in a row, and especially the late Ramón Mendoza, a master of General Assembly manipulation.

During that golden age for Real Madrid, Mendoza seemed to be above any possible questioning, and exploited each title won to reinforce his image. However, a younger Calderón kept firmly denouncing Mendoza's antics, such as his links with the radical supporters Ultra Sur, the changes of Assembly rules to facilitate approval for his decisions, the huge commissions paid to players' agents, and the poor marketing management of the club, at that time in the hands of amateurs. When few others were willing to criticise Mendoza's rule, Calderón did it in eloquent fashion.

Those almost heroic opposition years made Calderón the embodiment of a trustworthy, honest man among Real Madrid supporters. Little was known about his professional background, other than he was a lawyer, or about his hobbies, other than he preferred to watch a bad bullfight rather than a good football match, amazingly enough.

Calderón intensified his opposition when the awful Lorenzo Sanz became president, and finally got involved with the club management as a member of Florentino Pérez's board. This did not prevent him from criticising his president whenever deserved. Most of us remember Calderón's public outrage when the club parted ways with head coach Vicente del Bosque, the club's most successful coach in recent history. His next step was clear: in 2006 Calderón presented his own candidacy. Florentino had just resigned after a three-year title drought, and Calderón looked like the sensible alternative to replace the galáctico approach with a more down-to-earth style, despite his lack of executive experience at that level.

One can't help but wonder what happened from that point on. Backed by a group of wealthy businessmen, his presidential campaign started off recklessly by promising to sign Kaká, Cesc Fabregas and Arjen Robben. Nevertheless, well before election day it was clear that Calderón was bluffing; none of the three would play for Real Madrid that season. He ended up winning the elections, but his first unfulfilled promise cost him a good deal of trust among supporters.

Once in charge, Calderón quickly adopted most of the management vices he had criticised for so long. Questionable signings caused fan unrest from day one. The fact that Predrag Mijatovic, Real Madrid legend and himself a players' agent, was the only responsible for hiring and firing players rose more than a few eyebrows. In several instances the club hugely overpaid for unproven players, such as Pepe, Wesley Sneijder, Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuaín, who had allegedly been offered to other clubs at a fraction of the cost paid by Real Madrid. The metamorphosis was already taking effect: the new Calderón bore no resemblance with his old self. With every public interview it became clearer that his only concern was his own reputation. He was progressively becoming Mendoza II: dodgy signings, huge ego, management incompetence ... and everything masked by Liga titles.

And the titles did the trick during the first two seasons, but then the summer of 2008 arrived. After the easy 2007-08 title, the team required a serious revamp: aging defenders, unimaginative midfield, shortage of strikers. However, Calderón and Mijatovic preferred to go after the most expensive signing possible, and the Cristiano Ronaldo soap-opera started.

Their decision to go after Ronaldo precipitated an irritating chain of events for Real Madrid fans: CR7 ended up staying at Manchester United, a frustrated Robinho left for Manchester City, and Real Madrid's only summer signing was Rafael Van der Vaart, another average, overpriced player. Calderón worsened his position by failing miserably in two last-second bids for Santiago Cazorla and David Villa, both of whom had been available all summer.

Then the season started and the issues began to mount: Schuster complaining about the lack of signings, the side's terrible shape, the plague of injuries, the Copa del Rey defeat against Real Unión de Irún, Barcelona playing like Brazil '70, Bernd Schuster quitting on the team and being summarily fired ... After the Lassana Diarra - Klaus Jan Huntelaar Champions League fiasco, Calderón's presidency officially reached Spears/Winehouse status: no news about it could be surprising anymore, no matter how bizarre or absurd.

That is why Marca's revelation last week was hardly a shock for anyone following the team. Calderón had allegedly manipulated December's General Assembly, seeking to approve the 2008 financial statements. For that, the newspaper claims, he got the support of Nanín, a friend of his son hired by the club to carry out unconventional tasks, such as rigging the voting by sneaking his friends into the Assembly.

Calderón denied everything at first, then fired Nanín and his boss, and eventually had to resign among a huge uproar against him. Assembly manipulation was the only thing left. After this event, Calderón had completed his metamorphosis. It took him less than three years to become what he had spent the previous 20 years criticising.

Hopefully this whole story will make some things change at Real Madrid, hardly a model for Corporate Governance. Its old-fashioned election process allowed a man with limited executive experience to end up managing one of the largest, best known sports institutions in the world.

Its lax internal controls apparently gave him freedom to manipulate the approval of the financial statements, while his right hand made poor transactions paying premium prices for average players. For all the merchandising sales and preseason matches in Asia, it looks like Real Madrid are still managed like your local public house. The metamorphosis of Calderón should be more than enough to make that change.


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