Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste (Spanish pronunciation: [sanˈtjaɣo βeɾnaˈβew ˈʝeste]; 8 June 1895 – 2 June 1978) was a Spanish footballer who played for Real Madrid as a forward. He is widely regarded one of the most important figures in the history of Real Madrid; he was the club’s president for 35 years, from 11 September 1943 until his death in 1978. The team’s current stadium is named in his honour.
Bernabéu was born in Almansa, Albacete, Spain. His family moved to Madrid when he was very young, and Bernabéu himself joined the Real Madrid junior ranks in 1909 at age 14, after being a regular spectator at their matches for years. Bernabéu wore the captain’s armband for years. In 1920, Santiago Bernabéu withdrew from Real Madrid and went on to join their city rival Atlético Madrid, with whom he would only play one game. In 1921, he would return to Real Madrid, playing as a striker before retiring from playing in 1926. He continued to be associated with the club until 1935, first as manager of the first team, then as a director and later becoming assistant manager.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, professional football ceased to be played in Spain. During the war he fought on the side of the Nationalists as a soldier under the general Agustín Muñoz Grandes.
When the war ended and football began again in Spain, Bernabéu found at Real Madrid what was, for all intents and purposes, a dead club. The old administration (several had been killed or disappeared during the war) and even some of the club’s trophies from their early years had been stolen. What was more, at the time the establishment club was Atlético Madrid (renamed Atlético Aviación, the Air-Force’s team) and Real Madrid did not initially receive any government help in rebuilding. Bernabéu proceeded to spend the next several months finding and contacting former players, directors, and club members, eventually restructuring the club.
In 1943, after fan violence following a Real Madrid victory over FC Barcelona the government imposed a solomonic solution, forcing the Presidents of both clubs to resign, and Bernabéu was elected President of Real Madrid – a position he would occupy until his death on 2 June 1978.
Success did not come immediately, however. The club was still in very poor shape and other clubs, such as the aforementioned Atlético, Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao had very strong teams.
Bernabéu began to implant his ideas. He restructured the club at all levels, in what would become the normal operating structure of professional clubs in the future, giving every section and level of the club independent technical teams and recruiting people who were ambitious and visionary in their own right, such as Raimundo Saporta.
He then endeavoured to build what would become the stadium that today bears his name, at the time the largest stadium in all of Europe, it was remarked as being “too much of a stadium for so little a club”. The Ciudad Deportiva, built so that the players could train without destroying the stadium’s pitch, was also constructed during these years. Finally, he embarked upon an ambitious strategy of signing world-class players from abroad, the most prominent of them being the signing of Alfredo Di Stéfano, and built the world’s first truly multinational side. During Bernabéu’s presidency many of Real Madrid’s most legendary names played for the club, including Molowny, Muñoz, Di Stéfano, Gento, Rial, Santamaría, Kopa, Puskás, Amancio, Pirri, Netzer, Santillana, Juanito, Camacho, del Bosque, and many more.