There’s just something about Real Madrid and The Champions League isn’t it? Irrespective of their league form, injuries, suspensions or any other indication of an unfavourable result, they always take their game to the requisite level and find a way, whether it is an injury-time header in the final to take the game to extra-time or a penalty to prevent an embarrassing meltdown in their own backyard.
Envious supporters of rival clubs across Europe and a section of the neutral bunch too, will point out factors such as ‘luck’, favourable draws or refereeing decisions as the primary reason for their success but deep down they know that to pin down an achievement as ridiculous as four titles in five seasons cannot be be justified by any of these factors. While i certainly believe a league title carries more weight in certain aspects as it is a show of consistency and the squad rotation capabilities of the manager, nothing tastes sweeter than a Champions League title. Ask any supporter, they’ll agree.
It is interesting to note that Madrid’s thirteen European titles have come in three clusters: The 1950s, the turn of the century domination and the recent mid 2010s flurry. It began with the all-conquering 1950s side that swept the first five editions of the European Cup along with a solitary win in 1966. Led by the great Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, this team, along with the Hungarian national football team, set the benchmark for football in the 1950s with aggressive and thrilling displays of attacking football.
A period of stagnation followed for around thirty years as barring two UEFA cups, there was no glory on the continental stage for the Los Blancos. Three titles in a space of five seasons, culminating with Zinedine Zidane leading them to the title with a glorious volley in 2002, also ushered in the era of ‘Galacticos’ under Florentino Perez. Unfortunately, this strategy failed as the star studded Madrid side managed to pick up only two La liga titles to show for their investment.
Coming to the recent domination of the 2010s, this Madrid team will perhaps be remembered more for their achievements rather than their football. Jose Mourinho’s Madrid side perhaps had an identity when he build the most potent counter-attacking team in the world. The controversial Portuguese has also taken credit for the European success that followed after his exit from the Bernabeu hot seat, claiming his side’s three consecutive semi-final appearances in the competition laid the foundations for the present side. But there is not any particular identity or blueprint to follow this team’s success as the only constants are, and which have always been, are winning and an insatiable desire for more glory.
Madrid and more importantly their president, Florentino Perez, covet the Champions League. The long wait for ‘La Decima’ was at the center of his campaign to return as the president in 2009. Their courtship of the competition is no secret and managers have been sacked for not meeting the expectations of winning the competition. Such is the demand at the club that earlier this season, Zidane himself claimed his job was on the line if he fails to deliver the Champions League.
“There is always something special around Real Madrid in finals. That’s their legend.”,said Clarence Seedorf after Madrid beat their neighbours Atletico in the 2016 final. There’s always an aura and mysticism about great sides who always find a way to pull through at the most crucial or grandest of stages. Saturday’s two finalists are two of the prime examples. The great Liverpool side from the 1970s and 80s, which one four European cups in seven years, also had a similar belief about them and even after their domestic struggles in the past three decades, the club managed to make three final appearances, winning one title.
It’s in the DNA of these clubs,with Madrid’s being the strongest as they have made this competition their own. The sight of Madrid parading their trophy at the fountain of Cibeles has become common now, as the men in the all-whites rule Europe with an iron fist.