Real Madrid has apparently gotten bored of winning. Because before it could even lift the trophy that thousands of players across Europe would die to get their hands on, its two most expensive stars flipped the postgame narrative away from the team’s glory and toward themselves.
Cristiano Ronaldo was one. He didn’t score in a 3-1 triumph over Liverpool. But for Cristiano Ronaldo, a Champions League final story cannot be written without mention of Cristiano Ronaldo. So rather than let fans and teammates revel in victory, he spoke about his time at Real Madrid in the past tense, and seemed to know exactly the effect that his words would have.
“It was very nice to be at Real Madrid,” he said. And later, after being told his words sounded like a farewell, refused to explain what they meant. “In the coming days I will talk about it more.”
And thus, his words were all anybody wanted to ask about or talk about after the match. Sergio Ramos was made aware of them, and said Ronaldo “will have to clarify” them.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had to address them: “Cristiano’s words? Everyone can say what they like,” Perez said. “Here the important thing is the club.”
And manager Zinedine Zidane: “He must stay.”
Then Gareth Bale, who should have had the spotlight to himself after his stunning bicycle kick, had to steal part of it back for the wrong reasons.
"I need to be playing week-in-week-out…that hasn't happened this season."
— Real Madrid vs Liverpool live on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 26, 2018
“Should we do our annual question about whether you’re going to return to the Premier League?” BT Sport’s reporter asked Bale, half-joking. Bale easily could have played it off.
But no. “I need to be playing. I need to be playing week-in, week-out, and that hasn’t happened this season, for one reason or another” Bale said. “I had a five-, six-week injury at the start of the season, and I’ve been fit ever since. So, yeah, obviously now I have to sit-down in the summer and discuss it with my agent. And we’ll take it from there.”
And with that, the days of enjoying triumphs, uninhibited by upcoming decisions and less happy days to come, officially ended. If Real Madrid players would rather talk about themselves and their futures than a Champions League title, I suppose that’s what we’ll do.
Ronaldo has reportedly been in search of a new contract ever since last year, and rumors of an exit began to swirl in January. Bale’s future has been shrouded in doubt due to his lack of playing time at Real Madrid. Both have been linked with Manchester United. Bale, who scored 23 goals in all competitions but received just 29 starts, could very well be on his way.
But there is very little chance Ronaldo forces a move away from Madrid before the World Cup, or indeed this summer at all. He is still one of the best players in the world. He is, at 33, however, not a viable transfer target for all but one or two clubs. His comments serve one of two purposes. They’re either an attempt to put pressure on the club in Ronaldo’s quest for a new deal. Or they’re an attempt wrest attention away from more deserving teammates.
And they may very well be both.
Ronaldo attempted to downplay the comments afterward, saying they have been taken out of context:
Ronaldo in mixed zone, trying to put lid on things: "I'm not saying I'm going, in coming days we will see. They took something out of context, that I shouldn't have said. I didn't know it'd be so strong. I prefer not to talk and to enjoy this lovely moment to the maximum."
— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) May 26, 2018
But his attempt to walk them back won’t stop speculation from running rampant.
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More Champions League final coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Real Madrid wins Champions League for third straight year
• Schaerlaeckens: Real Madrid isn’t always the best, but is in finals
• Loris Karius apologizes to Liverpool fans after two howlers
• Salah’s World Cup in doubt after shoulder injury