All Hail The Champions

04 Jun, 2017

Real Madrid’s status as Europe’s most successful club was confirmed as their ruthless Champions League final win over Juventus gave them their 12th win in this competition.

And for all the plaudits applied to their great La Liga rivals Barcelona, the praise for the continuing excellence and endurance of Bayern Munich and Juventus and the continuing defiance over the odds of Atletico Madrid, they remain the continent’s pre-eminent footballing force.

The great Cristiano Ronaldo, when analyzing his own achievements, underlined it by saying: “The numbers don’t lie.”

And the same applies to Real Madrid – the 4-1 victory on Saturday sealed their third Champions League win in four years. Those numbers do not lie either.

“Those who always criticize Cristiano are going to have to put their guitar back in its case.”

These are the third-person words of Ronaldo after his fourth Champions League triumph, his third with Real after winning with Manchester United in Moscow in 2008.

And even after scoring his 600th career goal, adding polish to a Champions League record that now reads 105 goals in 140 games and scoring in his third final, the dwindling band that continues to criticise Ronaldo is increasingly out of tune.

The Portugal captain has now scored at least twice as many Champions League goals as any other other player in the quarter-finals (20), semi-finals (13), and finals (four).

The criticism usually revolves around Ronaldo’s ego and personality but – to twist an old Sir Winston Churchill quote about his predecessor and successor as prime minister Clement Attlee – he may be immodest but he has got plenty to be immodest about.

After embracing his Old Trafford mentor Sir Alex Ferguson backstage and then receiving the man of the match award from him, this fiercely dedicated and consummate professional reflected on his feats at 32, an age when many players are feeling the tap on the shoulder from Father Time.

Joyous news for all at Real Madrid, where occasionally he has not felt unconditional love from the inhabitants of the Bernabeu, and ominous words for those hoping to unseat them as European football’s superpower.

Real Madrid have world class sprinkled throughout their team, from Sergio Ramos in defence, through Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in midfield, to Ronaldo.

It is, for all those riches, Ronaldo who currently makes Real a cut above the rest and means they will be strong candidates for a 13th Champions League next season.

Here he showed that petulant side in the first 20 minutes before emerging, yet again, as the most significant figure in a game of world-class quality.

The forces of personality inside Real Madrid’s dressing room can make it a combustible place – but the bad news for their rivals is that the sheer stature and knowledge of coach Zinedine Zidane provides the glue that has brought unity.

This quietly spoken character commands instant respect from his playing days when he was a World Cup winner with France in 1998, won Euro 2000 and acquired legendary status at Real Madrid when he was man of the match in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park. There he scored the winner with one of greatest goals seen in one of these showpiece games, hooking a left-foot volley over his shoulder from a Roberto Carlos cross.

Zidane’s coaching career at the Bernabeu was something of a slow burner, moving from coach of Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s “B” team to taking over from the sacked Rafael Benitez in January 2016.

The results have been extraordinary as Zidane moves seamlessly from greatness as a player to history-making coach.

Since taking charge he has won the Champions League in successive seasons, making Real the first club to achieve this, brought La Liga back to the Bernabeu for the first time in five years and has also secured the Super Cup and World Club Cup.

Zidane is the first coach to win Europe’s elite club competition back-to-back since Italian Arrigo Sacchi with AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, and while he may not exactly be a reluctant hero, he has brought an understated sprinkling of stardust to the “Galacticos”.

He is clearly proud to manage Real, saying: “I am a man of this house.”

And what he brings, what he brought to Cardiff, was the authority that comes from being one of the best, a man who can speak on equal terms to modern greats such as Ronaldo. He can look them in the eye and they know he has been to the same places as them.

In that respect, the 44-year-old is the perfect man for Real’s present and, when it comes to keeping them ahead of those who want to topple them, the future.

Ronaldo was full of praise for Zidane’s half-time address after Real had struggled to subdue Juventus in the first 45 minutes.

“Zinedine Zidane gave us a really positive half-time team talk,” he said. “He really believed in us.”

Success for a Real Madrid coach usually only stretches as far as the next game, but Zidane is in an impregnable position.

And he is ready for the next challenge.

“This is a truly historic day for all Real Madrid fans, the players and myself – but we know how things are,” he said.

BBC Sports

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