Real Madrid presented their eagerly awaited star acquisition yesterday, Zinedine Zidane, bought from Juventus for a fee of £47m, making the 29-year-old French midfielder the world's most expensive footballer.
Hundreds of journalists waited an hour in the club's capacious sports hall, a former ice-rink, for a five-minute ceremony that Real's president Florentino Perez accurately described as "simple and modest".
The occasion, hastily convened then delayed so it could be broadcast live on the lunchtime news, ended days of frenzied expectation that Perez had pulled off his dearest ambition and fulfilled a pledge made when he became the club's president last year.
The brief moment was sufficient for Zidane to demonstrate that his elegance and fluency extends off the pitch. Of the 12 suits who filed in to flank him before a blue board bearing his name and photo, his dark, immaculately pressed number was by far the sharpest. With white shirt and sombre tie, he towered over the assembled club dignitaries despite inclining his head in a bald-patch-revealing stoop.
"It's an honour to be here in Madrid. I've waited impatiently for this moment, and I think after five years at Juventus it was the right time to make a move," he murmured in French with a soft Marseilles accent. "I'm proud to be here for the next four years and hope I will play as well if not better than I did at Juventus," he said, displaying the rare talent of appearing diffident without seeming a moron. "I long to put on the Real jersey," he added. "Voilà, et merci!"
Perez, dapper and smiling, said it gave him "great satisfaction" to introduce his new signing. "Many players are born to play for Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane is one of them. He has a series of qualities that fit perfectly into the culture of Madridismo," he beamed.
"Real Madrid is the best club in the world, where Zidane will shine as a player, and we will improve with him. Next year we celebrate our centenary, and we are building a Real Madrid of the 21st century. Zidane has never played at the Bernabeu. I'm sure he'll love it."
The club's honorary president, the legendary Alfredo di Stefano, congratulated the new boy and handed him the white jersey he held crumpled in his fist. Zidane lifted it gingerly by the shoulders to display next season's new logo: a plug for the Realmadrid.com website. He then turned it to reveal his name in huge black letters, and the number five, formerly worn by Manuel Sanchis, who recently retired after 17 seasons.
They shook hands then filed out without taking questions; Zidane, surrounded by bodyguards, heading for Paris. No one mentioned figures, but Juventus reportedly receive £42.2m, Zidane's agent, Alain Migliacio, £4.8m and Zidane a £3.5m per-year salary. Real have reportedly imposed a £108m buy-out clause in his contract.
Waitresses with smoked salmon canapés moved swiftly amid the famished hacks, and waiters brought trays of wine, red and white, but there was no champagne. The club must have thought they had spent enough.Reuse content