The world discovers Florentino Pérez
The failure of the Super League has left Madrid's president, who is little known outside Spain, shaken
It was at the wedding of a rather distinguished family where Florentino Pérez and PP ministers were sitting at one of the tables. At some point during the celebration, the son of a minister ended up talking to Florentino, who, without being asked, gave the young man his phone number: "Call me whenever you want to go to the Bernabéu".
This is how Florentino, president of Real Madrid and of the construction company ACS, acts, a 74-year-old man who lives permanently hooked to the two telephones he carries with him and who talks constantly with everyone: ministers, presidents, media directors, but also with reporters who write about a subject that affects him or with the children of a minister who, who knows, may one day perhaps favour him. "He likes to do favours himself, and also to ask for them", explain those who know him.
This week, with the failed Super League project, the world has discovered Florentino Perez, a celebrity in Spain but unknown to the general public further up the Pyrenees. Chelsea fans shouted against him even though they hardly know his name because Perez, as they called him, has been the great promoter and the most visible face of a project called to revolutionise the world of football. However, the idea has met with enormous rejection, even from the governments of the main European countries. Florentino was not worried about this. "But who is Boris Johnson?" he asked rhetorically when told it was too difficult to fight against the prime minister of the country that invented football.
"My director of communications is me"
There is a broad consensus about the failure of the Super League, and this is that the communication campaign was disastrous, or rather non-existent. While UEFA and the state leagues rallied the support of governments and even the odd royal house, the Super League's promoters did nothing more than a midnight press release and, 24 hours later, an interview on El Chiringuito: a programme where, according to the New York Times, Florentino was "largely unchallenged". Why didn't he go, alone or accompanied by other club presidents, to the BBC, CNN or any big global media? Why didn't they have a worldwide press conference?
Florentino Perez is a man of simple tastes. He always dresses the same, without exception, whether for work or for a gala: lilac navy suit, sky blue shirt and navy blue tie. When he goes to a restaurant he likes to order a plate of lentils, or fried eggs and potatoes, no sophistication. "I don't read much. I don't listen to music now. I've never got drunk", he answered a few years ago to a test he was given on Punto Pelota, the programme that later mutated into El chiringuito. This austerity also translates into the field of communication: he always manages it himself. He probably also has a secretary, but he coordinates his own calendar by means of a small paper diary that he carries with him. "My communication director is me. If you want something, call me", he has told more than one journalist.
Because Florentino calls journalists directly. Not only directors of big media, but also journalists. In this he is similar to his friend Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who also caused surprise in the most inexperienced journalists when the minister called them.
Florentino spends the day hooked on to the two telephones he carries with him. Those who eat lunch or dinner with him regularly explain that he is always connected and that the devices are constantly ringing. "They keep him informed of everything. More football than ACS", they explain. His right hand in Madrid, José Ángel Sánchez, or JAS for Florentino, is the one who informs him the most. But just as they call him or send him whatsapps, he also does it with others. Whoever it is. "He is a great people person and very individualistic", say those who know him. Everything goes through him. And he also asks for heads to be chopped off if he doesn't like what is published about him or his interests, which is why critical reports are scarce. The only critical book about him, written by Juan Carlos Escudier, is out of print.
The language obstacle
Florentino's permanent and direct influence meets an obstacle in cases like the Super League: he does not speak English. In Spain, he corresponds with journalists of all kinds, but abroad he would not be able to do so with the same ease, far from it. "The tower of Babel that is Europe, with many languages, Florentino fares worse", explains a manager who knows him. "The human factor, in his case, is always very important. Intimism has been key to his success", he explains. In Europe, therefore, his usual modus operandi is unlikely to work. But it's not just a language issue. He also has his comfort zones, for example in his relationship with the administrations, and others where he does not feel at ease: "When he leaves his métier, he is not so powerful. How can it be that Florentino is not powerful in La Liga", some ask.
Nor does another key factor in his leadership style seem to have helped him: "He surrounds himself with a corps guard and has no one with the courage to go against him", says one voice. "He feels he has so much support that he acts very confidently", adds another. It is evident that Florentino cultivates an image of a humble and peaceful person and, although some people think that he really is like that, other voices say that it is only a facade: "He is an absolutely arrogant and self-satisfied person".
These last people add that the madridista leader always plays "with a marked card". When he signed Figo for Real Madrid, the marked card was the clause that forced the player to pay millions if he did not go to the white club. In the Super League, the marked card is very similar: as he himself has explained, the contract can force teams that leave the project to pay a lot of money to the organization. "He will take it to the end".
That is why, among other things, none of the people consulted believes that the Super League's journey has come to an end here. "Florentino is obsessed with ratings and spectacle", says one person who deals with him, "and business is above all else, to the point that he always wants Barça to do well because otherwise the matches against Madrid will have less audience". "He's a hard worker, a beast at work, very clever and tireless", they say from the Spanish capital. "He is very persevering: when he needs something he calls, calls and calls and calls. He is very insistent. He fights for the issues, he's heavy. But he's also very reliable. This is his nature".