Florentino Perez, Real Madrid boss and building magnate

Florentino Perez is a household name in Spain, best known as the boss of the Real Madrid football club that is on its way to the Champions League final for the second year running.

Florentino Perez, Real Madrid boss and building magnate
Florentino Perez. File photo: Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP
But lesser known — at least abroad — is his other hat as president of ACS, one of the world's biggest private construction groups, and a past in politics that make him one of the most influential men in Spain.
Serious and impeccably mannered, the 70-year-old who has just relinquished his position as CEO — but remains president — built ACS up from a struggling company to a multinational with 176,000 employees and turnover of 32 billion
euros ($35 billion) last year.
The group has over the years won contracts for underground networks in New York, London and Ottawa and a new highway in Australia — among others.
Simultaneously, Perez has presided over Real Madrid twice — first between 2000 and 2006 — and then since 2009.
Both spells have been marked by blockbuster signings and more recently by picking French football star Zinedine Zidane as coach — a move he told AFP in an interview last year “changed our lives” after a difficult patch.
Under Zidane, Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2016 and is well on its way to the final this year.
At the VIP boxes of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, political and business elites often gather, reportedly sealing deals — “a cliche,” Perez once retorted in a television interview.
Short-lived political career
According to a 2016 Forbes ranking, Perez is one of the richest people in Spain, worth $1.8 billion (1.6 billion euros).
But the man whose father owned two perfume shops claims not to be attached to money, espousing “normality” and “work” as his values.
The engineering graduate from Madrid's Polytechnic University nevertheless quickly acquired a taste for power.
After a short spell in the private sector, he entered politics in 1976, working variously in Madrid's city hall and as head of infrastructure in the transport ministry.
He was also appointed secretary-general of the short-lived centrist Democratic Reformist Party, but he quit politics in 1986 when the grouping failed to get any lawmakers in general elections.
By then, he had already bought along with friends a struggling construction firm at a low price.
A series of mergers and acquisitions later, ACS was born — a group that now deals in construction and services like the maintenance of high-power lines.
Government support
“He's not really a great entrepreneur nor a great financial expert, but a great public relations agent,” said Carlos Sanchez, an economics journalist at the El Confidencial online daily.
This flair for public relations helped him reap benefits from public-private collaborations, with ACS often awarded contracts when authorities decided to privatise services like rubbish collection or radio-television transmitters.
“You needed really good contacts with political leaders and he had them,” Sanchez says.
One of his most famous “coups” was in 2001.
Then president of Real Madrid, he sold the club's training grounds to the city for 480 million euros, and ACS was then awarded a contract to build three high-rises there.
Sanchez says ACS also long profited from EU funding to Spain's construction sector.
During an ongoing trial for corruption involving former members of the ruling Popular Party, one of the main defendants said ACS was among the companies that paid bribes in exchange for public contracts.
But Perez has repeatedly said that his “highly competitive” company does not need to pay anything to get contracts.
A Spanish stock market analyst who prefers to remain anonymous said Perez always seems to have government support.
“His investments are generally guaranteed in one way or another,” he said.
So for instance in 2014, the government paid a consortium that included ACS more than a billion euros in compensation for having to abandon the operation of an underwater gas storage facility it built that risked triggering earthquakes.
The analyst said that his colleagues don't dare criticise a company presided over by “a very powerful person in the country.”
But he acknowledged that ACS has performed well, moving “really well and quickly when the construction sector stagnated in Spain to develop outside the country.”


Black Lives Matter: Marcelo ‘takes the knee’ to celebrate Real Madrid win

Marcelo celebrated by taking a knee as Real Madrid returned from three months away following the coronavirus suspension by beating Eibar 3-1 on Sunday.

Black Lives Matter: Marcelo 'takes the knee' to celebrate Real Madrid win
Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo kneels on the field to celebrate his goal. Photo: AFP

After scoring Madrid's third goal in the 37th minute, Marcelo dropped onto his left knee and raised his clinched right fist into the air, apparently in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Madrid's win may have come at a cost as Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos were both substituted early in the second half and were seen with ice packs strapped to them while sitting in the stands.

Hazard was making his first start since February and his ice pack appeared to be around his troublesome right ankle, which he injured in November and February, before undergoing surgery in March.

“We knew Eden would lack a bit of rhythm playing the whole game,” coach Zinedine Zidane said.

“He played well for an hour, he took a knock which was a scare but at half-time he said he was fine. He is happy with what he has done and we are happy with him.”

Madrid's win means they reduce the gap behind league leaders Barcelona back to two points after the Catalans thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on Saturday.    

Madrid struck in the fourth minute after a superb strike from Toni Kroos before Ramos tucked away Hazard's pass on the counter-attack.    

Eibar pulled one back in the second half through Pedro Bigas but never found the second to make Madrid nervous, despite a brief spell of pressure.    

Before going off, Hazard was busy, the Belgian involved in all three goals.    

His weaving run through midfield led to Kroos' shot and it was his effort that was cleared out to Marcelo, who drove into the corner.    

After a miserable opening season in Spain, it was a bright start for Hazard, who could now redeem himself by playing a crucial role in the run-in, if he can stay injury-free.

Perhaps even more impressive though was Karim Benzema, who linked up brilliantly with Hazard and was unfortunate not to get the goal an excellent all-round performance deserved.

Gareth Bale started on the bench but came on and could start against Valencia on Thursday.

Zidane is likely to rotate heavily over the next few weeks, with the games coming thick and fast.

New surroundings

Madrid's coach will also have been pleased to get off to a positive start in their new training ground home, which was the 100th different stadium to be used in La Liga.

They will be playing all their remaining home matches at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium to allow renovation work at the Santiago Bernabeu to continue this summer.

“We know the situation, it's all a bit strange,” said Zidane. “But the players are all champions and we have to get our heads around it.”    

Barca had needed less than two minutes to score against Mallorca and Madrid were only slightly later, as Hazard broke through Eibar's midfield and Casemiro set Benzema free.

The ball was cleared to Kroos on the edge of the area, who struck first time, sidefooting perfectly into the far top right-hand corner.   

Ramos doubled their advantage after starting, and finishing, a ruthless counter-attack. In between, Benzema and Hazard were involved again, the former picking out the latter, who generously gave Ramos an open goal.

Marcelo put Eibar all but out of sight before half-time as Benzema played through for Hazard and his shot spilled out to Marcelo to lash into the corner.

Eibar were better after the break as Edu Exposito forced a full-stretch save from Thibaut Courtois and then Sergi Enrich headed against the crossbar. 

Bigas did score after diverting in Pedro Leon's shot but Madrid held on.    

Earlier, Diego Costa scored his first goal since October but Atletico Madrid missed the chance to move into La Liga's top four by drawing 1-1 away at Athletic Bilbao.

Costa celebrated by holding up the shirt of Virgina Torrecilla, a player from Atletico's women's team, who underwent surgery on a brain tumour last month.

His equaliser came two minutes after the excellent Iker Muniain had given Bilbao the lead towards the end of the first half and neither side could find a winner at the empty San Mames, with Atletico defender Santiago Arias missing the best chance late on.

Diego Simeone's side stay sixth, level on points with Getafe and one behind Real Sociedad, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Osasuna.