Where next for Real Madrid and their latest generation of Galacticos - to infinity and beyond?
Champions League final
Juventus 1 Mandzukic 27 Real Madrid 4 Ronaldo 20, 64, Casemiro 61, Asensio 89
Greatness beckons, certainly, for a team that is starting to mirror the success of their forebears of the 50s.
The club that made the European Cup their own in its formative years, with five successive victories from 1955 to 1960, are regaining their stranglehold on the world’s premier club competition.
Saturday’s ultimately comfortable victory over Juventus in Cardiff was their third triumph in the past four years, with the inimitable Cristiano Ronaldo central to success again, and as Gareth Bale said afterwards: “We’re getting used to this.”
Winning trophies is a fantastic habit to have, as Bale, Ronaldo and their boss Zinedine Zidane should know. Zizou won pretty much all there is to win as a player, and now as a manager he has the same Midas touch, celebrating 18 months in charge by winning La Liga and a second consecutive Champions League title, something no other coach has done since the competition changed its format 25 years ago.
When it was put to him that not even Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti nor Pep Guardiola had managed the feat, he was quick to distance himself with self-deprecation. “I don’t want to say I am so very good.”
Referring to the criticism he received earlier this season when his side went through a quiet patch, Zidane said: “Before, I was scandalously bad and now I am the best. I don’t know what to think.”
But he acknowledged none of this success comes easily.
“The key thing is hard work,” he insists.
“We worked very hard at this club to achieve these things. Today was a truly historic day for Real Madrid, the fans, players, the big family.
“Next year is going to be even more difficult, and we are going to have to work very, very hard to win again.”
But will it be harder for them? There will surely be big signings to come – Manchester United should beware that David de Gea is a priority. And there are no signs Madrid will be weakened by players leaving or losing their edge.
Ronaldo admitted he feels as young as ever, and at 32, has changed his style to compensate for his waning athleticism.
No longer does he have to be involved in every attacking move or go on lung-busting runs the length of the pitch. The new Ronaldo is almost a goal-hanger, a penalty box poacher in the style of Jimmy Greaves or Gary Lineker, players who might do nothing of consequence for 99% of a game but win it with decisive strikes in the other 1%.
Ronaldo certainly has that happy habit now, doing remarkably little apart from scoring the first and third goal, taking his total for club and country to 600 and becoming the first man to score in three Champions League finals. “My age is just a number,” he said. “I feel like a young boy.”
He was presented with Uefa’s man of the match award by his old gaffer Alex Ferguson, who was a young spectator at Hampden Park when Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas were the masterminds of Real’s 7-3 destruction of Eintracht Frankfurt. It was the game, and the style of football, that inspired the young Ferguson, who beamed proudly as he handed over Ronaldo’s award in Cardiff. “This is one of the best jobs I have had to do,” smiled the former United manager.
But in truth the game’s outstanding player and unsung hero, as he has been so often, was Luka Modric, who at 31 is in his prime. The Croatian was the heartbeat of his side’s success, constantly ferrying the ball from one team-mate to another, putting out fires when Juventus threatened to gain control, and most importantly, creating openings.
He was involved in the superb team play that was capped when Ronaldo fired home to put Madrid ahead in the 20th minute, and crossed for the same player to score his second in the 64th minute.
That came soon after Casemiro put Madrid ahead once again, Mario Mandzukic having equalised for Juventus with a spectacular overhead shot midway through the first half.
Substitute Marco Asensio completed the rout in the final minutes, giving the scoreline a gloss that paid scant regard for the way Juventus went at the Spaniards from the start, and for an hour looked like pushing them close.
But Massimiliano Allegri’s side faded alarmingly once Casemiro scored with a deflected shot in the 61st minute, while Modric and Toni Kroos took control from midfield.
Bale went on for the final 13 minutes to a huge roar from Madridistas and locals alike, the Cardiff boy achieving his ambition of winning club football’s biggest prize in his hometown.
Bale acknowledged Zidane was right to keep him back for a cameo role, having returned to full training only five days ago after six weeks out injured, and reiterated his desire to stay in Madrid and win more, not return to England where Manchester United are waiting, most probably in vain.
“I am happy here at Madrid. We are winning trophies and I am happy,” said the Welshman, unable to keep a wide grin from his face, at the trophy presentation and afterwards.
“It was a very special occasion for me personally, and an incredible feeling to lift that trophy here. It’s now three in four years and I want it to continue. It’s why you’re a footballer, and the reason I came here. I have signed a long-term contract at Madrid, my family is happy, I am happy so yes, we will continue what we are doing.”
And winning this trophy never loses its magic, if Bale is to be believed. “It’s a little bit more relaxed as we get used to it but it’s great, a real good atmosphere afterwards.”
The main reason he will resist the likes of United and Chelsea is he believes there is more to come, with this squad capable of joining the ranks of the greatest teams in football history.
“I don’t see why not. We have won it three times in four seasons so we have to be in that category. Hopefully there will be more to come.
“I think we can get better. We are still quite young as a whole team and we have a great squad. We haven’t just got a great 11, we have a great squad. We are strong, we are confident and the plan is to win more.”
Retaining the trophy was another big step.
“Yes, I think it adds to the history of this club. This club is the biggest in Champions League history and now we have added even more.
“It’s great to be a part of and we want more.”
Buffon; Barzagli (Cuadrado 67), Bonucci, Chiellini; Alves, Pjanic (Marchisio 70), Khedira, Alex Sandro; Dybala (Lemina 78); Higuain, Mandzukic
REAL MADRID (4-3-3):
Keylor Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos (Morata 89); Ronaldo, Benzema (Bale 77), Isco (Asensio 82)
Referee: F Brych (Germany).
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