Real Madrid have been a major player in football history since their foundation in 1902. Awarded FIFA Club of the Century at the start of the new millennium in recognition of their success, Los Blancos have won it all: 32 La Liga titles, 18 domestic cups and a record nine European Cups.
Football was first introduced to the city of Madrid by a number of Cambridge and Oxford University graduates, whose Sunday morning games under the name of Football Club Sky in 1897 gave birth to Madrid Football Club, which was where it all began for the present-day Real Madrid.
The “Real” of the club’s name refers to the Royal crown that was bestowed on the logo by King Alfonso XIII of Spain in 1920, a move which turned out to make the “El Clasico” derby between Madrid and Barcelona even more meaningful.
That match-up took on a significance rooted in national identity, because while Real were often considered to represent Spanish nationalism Barcelona were thought to embody a more independent-minded Catalan outlook. It has been one of the most famous rivalries in world football ever since the two sides battled it out for the very first league title in 1929.
Real Madrid secured their first domestic league triumph in the 1931/32 season, and emerged as a dominant force in European football after Santiago Bernabeu Yeste became club president in 1945, bringing with him legendary forward Alfredo di Stefano.
The Argentine, who was able to play in multiple positions and has been described as one of the most complete footballers ever, inspired Los Blancos to five consecutive European Cup titles starting in 1956.
They continued to reap domestic success, but it wasn’t until 1998 that Real won another European Cup, the club’s seventh. Jupp Heynckes’ side beat Juventus 1-0 in Amsterdam, ending a 32-year wait for Europe’s top honour.
Since Florentino Perez’s appointment as president in 2000, the club has been famous for its “Galaticos”; world stars including Juventus’ own Zinedine Zidane who have been consistently brought in for world-record transfer fees as part of Perez’ quest to see the most elite footballers on the planet running out at the Bernabeu.
Despite huge financial power, their traditional domestic dominance has in recent years been challenged by a world-beating Barcelona side who many regard as the best in the history of the game.
Real did, however, clinch the La Liga title in 2011/12, becoming the first Spanish team to record 100 points in a single season under Jose Mourinho, and are now on the hunt for a historic tenth European Cup triumph.
The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu - named after the club’s former chairman - is a world famous venue that has hosted five European Cup finals, the 1964 European Championships final and the 1982 World Cup final won by Italy.
Built on a site adjacent to the old Estadio Chamartin, it was inaugurated in December 1947 with a 3-1 win against Portugese side Os Belenenses.
After various renovations it is now the third largest stadium in Europe behind the Nou Camp and Wembley, with a current capacity of 85,454.
A new project has recently been set in motion that will see a complete redesign of the outer facade as part of club president Perez’s vision to make it the very best stadium in the world.
This summer, the Real Madrid president pulled off what was surely the most spectacular signing of the transfer window, smashing the world transfer record to bring Tottenham star Gareth Bale to the Bernabeu.
But he has also boosted talent elsewhere: in Isco and Asier Illarramendi he has added two promising Spanish players to a midfield that also benefits from the passing vision of Xabi Alonso and work rate of Luca Modric.
Some of the funds spent on these major signings were recuperated by selling Mezut Ozil to Arsenal, and by offloading the trio of Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon to Napoli. Veterans Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Essien and Kaka have moved on to Monaco, Chelsea and Milan respectively.
The Real Madrid of 2013/14 combines galacticos in the form of team talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and world-record signing Gareth Bale with talented youngsters such as Alvaro Morata and Raphael Varane.
Ronaldo is a phenomenon: the fastest ever Real Madrid player to reach 100 league goals, he continues to score at remarkable rates and has netted 13 times in 11 appearances this season.
Karim Benzema is now the team’s focal point in attack following the departure of Gonzalo Higuain, but Alvaro Morata will be pushing the Frenchman for a starting berth after impressing when playing the full 90 minutes in March’s El Clasico and finishing this summer’s Under 21 European Championships as the competition’s top scorer.
In defence, meanwhile, Raphael Varane is a huge talent and already a regular in the back line at the age of 20. The 6’3” Frenchman is as composed as the most experienced centre-backs around, and also represents an potent attacking threat from set pieces.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is a man who is very familiar to Juventus, having managed the Bianconeri from 1999 to 2001 before spending the next eight years in charge of Milan.
He began his football career as a player, captaining Roma to Scudetto glory in 1983 before winning consecutive European Cups with Milan in 1989 and 1990, as well as featuring 26 times for the Italian national side.
After producing an exhaustive tactical thesis entitled “The Future of Football: More Dynamism” as a student at the Italian Football Federation’s legendary Coverciano technical centre, Ancelotti first put his findings into practice with a Parma side that included a young Gigi Buffon.
After guiding the Crociati to Champions League qualification, the Italian succeeded Marcello Lippi as Juventus manager in 1999. But after the Bianconeri finished league runners-up twice in a row, he left the club to assume the reins at Milan.
There, his side regularly battled it out for the title with Juventus in one of the most intense rivalries in Serie A history. He did manage to outdo the Bianconeri to lift the Scudetto in 2004, and also led Milan to two Champions League titles in 2003 and 2007.
Two years later he was appointed manager at Chelsea, a team with which he became the first Italian coach to win the Premier League after they finished one point ahead of Manchester United. But a disappointing second place finish the next year saw him sacked, and he moved to Paris Saint-Germain in December 2011.
The new financial powerhouse of French football finished second behind Montpellier in the 2011/12 campaign, but he did clinch top spot in his first full season there, a triumph which led to him taking over from Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid this summer.