Right at the end of one of the greatest seasons in European soccer history there was still time for one more dramatic twist, one that handed Real Madrid the 10th European title it so desperately craved.
Real has spent fortunes on cementing itself as a heavyweight of world soccer and eventually, on an extraordinary night in Lisbon, money spoke – loudly.
After its city neighbor Atletico Madrid had come within two minutes of holding on to win the trophy, Real was able to use the combined forces of the world’s most expensive player, and its best player, to seal the deal.
The ludicrous figure of $124 million the club paid to sign Gareth Bale last summer was much derided at the time and occasionally since, but when the athletic Welshman rose to head home what turned out to be the decisive goal with 10 minutes of extra time remaining, it was worth every penny.
By then, Atletico was done, physically and emotionally, having seen its dream of completing the Spanish league and Champions League double cruelly snatched away when Sergio Ramos’ late equalizer cancelled out Diego Godin’s first half goal.
This was a meeting of haves and have-nots. Real Madrid is called the Galacticos for a reason, embarking each summer upon a quest to sign the best player or players available on the market.
Their global reach is as extensive as anyone’s, with enormous marketing contracts and endorsements ensuring the cash splashed on new talent is quickly replenished.
Atletico, meanwhile, is in the midst of a financial sinkhole, one that makes their superb campaign all the more amazing.
For most of the evening in Lisbon, Atletico defended stoutly, holding on to protect the advantage built when Godin capitalized on Iker Casillas’ mistake at the 36-minute mark. If they could have kept Real out for just a few more moments the glory would have been theirs, but Ramos, with a perfectly timed header and in the nick of time, struck to send the game into extra time.
After Bale and Marcelo scored and Ronaldo fired home a penalty to make it 4-1, the frustration boiled over for Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who took offense at the classless and premature celebrations of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and rushed out onto the field to remonstrate with him.
It was a sad way for the Atletico dream to come to an end, but their season will eternally be worthy of praise and commendation.
This night though, was Real’s, its first Champions League success since 2002 and the one that had come to be known as the mystical "La Decima" among those devoted to the club.
For Ronaldo it was the prize he wanted as much as any, the one he was signed to win five years ago. Coming in the capital city of Portugal, the place where he burst to prominence as a precocious teenager with Sporting Lisbon, it could not have been any sweeter.
For head coach Carlo Ancelotti, who would have found himself under pressure without this victory, it was both vindication of his methods and a remarkable fifth personal Champions League medal.
And for Bale, it will surely mean an end to any question marks about whether that fee was worth it.
Perhaps no man can be truly be worth such an inflated amount, but in terms of a return on investment, Real must feel as though it got the good end of the deal right now.
- Sports & Recreation
- Real Madrid
- Atletico Madrid
- Gareth Bale