In Real Madrid’s every Champions League knockout matches this season, the opponents — Paris St. Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and Livepool — had opportunities to put the result beyond doubt but failed to land that final blow. But when chances came Real’s way, it didn’t falter to deliver the knockout punch.
Karim Benzema scored a stunning 17-minute hat-trick to punish PSG in the second leg of the round-of-16 and Real scored two late goals against Chelsea to seal the quarterfinal tie. In the semifinal against City, Real was trailing 5-3 till the 89th minute of the second leg before it dramatically overturned the deficit with three goals in six minutes.
City manager Pep Guardiola summed it up best: “Real Madrid has done it many years, they have this belief, for the history. Incredible players doing that [again and again].” Ahead of the final, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp previewed the clash as the ‘Comeback Kings (Real Madrid) vs Mentality Monsters (Liverpool)’. On the night, it was Real that channeled both.
Liverpool dominated the game with 24 shots to Real’s four but came out on the wrong end of a 1-0 result. Thibaut Courtois saved his best for the Reds, thwarting nine attempts on target — most ever by a goalkeeper in a final.
Real’s run to its record-extending 14th title looked like providence as it surmounted every challenge to win its fifth European title in the last eight years.
This was a triumph of the Real way; its history and pedigree carrying it through to the title. The crown on Real’s emblem a symbol of its status in the game.
Real Madrid and the Champions League are old paramours. Real had played a key role in setting up the original European Cup in 1955, before it was reformatted in 1992 and the club continues to reserve its best football for the high-decibel European games.
The early Galacticos of then club president Santiago Bernabeu — Hector Rial, Gento, Jose Maria Zarraga, Marcos Alonso and Alfredo di Stefano — won the first five European Cups from 1955 to 1960. Another was added in 1966, but Real — despite winning 19 La Liga titles between 1961 and 1997 — had to wait till 1998 to win its seventh European crown.
Two more followed in 2000 and 2002 as the presidency of Florentino Perez saw the rise of the new Galacticos. A star was signed every year between 2000 to 2005 – Luis Figo (from Barcelona), Zinedine Zidane (Juventus), Ronaldo (Inter Milan), David Beckham (Manchester United), Michael Owen (Liverpool) and Robinho (Santos), but Perez’s superstars could deliver the holy grail – the Champions League crown – only once (2002) during his first reign between 2000 and 2006.
Perez’s re-election in 2009, saw the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, two Ballon d’Or winners, in one summer, but Real’s quest for the La Decima , the 10th European Cup, was finally fulfilled only in 2014. Old boy Zidane, then, led Real to three successive titles between 2016 and 2018.
And now, the Italian tactician Carlo Ancelotti, who delivered the 2014 triumph, has again brought to Real the trophy that matters the most.
The 2022 win lacked the big names in the team sheet that had become synonymous with Real. Ronaldo had left in 2018 and Gareth Bale was no longer welcomed. Benzema, the last standing star signing from 2009, had to bide his time at Madrid, but was ready to step up from the supporting act into a lead role at 34. Ancelotti, returning to the club after his 2015 sacking, had an ageing midfield in Luke Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
Madrid had modified its transfer approach to a future Galacticos policy with the signings of Rodrygo (signed at 18), Eder Militao (20), Vinicius Jr. (18) and Eduardo Camavinga (19) — who all had crucial roles in Madrid’s league and Champions League double. In the final against Liverpool, it was Valverde who provided the assist for Vinicius’ winner. There were no big-name signings in the last two seasons and the 2022 summer was geared up for Kylian Mbappe to become the s upremoGalactico and lead the younger generation for the next decade, but the petro riches of PSG were too insurmountable a hurdle for even Real to jump through.
Ancelotti, despite facing criticism for his style of football over the season, has managed to bring the best out of what is a transitional squad, guiding his team to the La Liga title and then winning the battle of attritions in the Champions League.
It is ironic that Perez and Real had fought and are still fighting to leave the Champions League for the European Super League, a brainchild of Perez. Will history repeat itself à la 1955, with Real spearheading the European elite into an exclusive ‘Super Club? Until that day comes, Madrid will continue to do what it does best: win more Champions Leagues.
As Perez put it, “Madrid is eternal. Now let’s go for the 15th.”
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