MADRID: A season that promised so little when Zinedine Zidane took charge of a beleaguered Real Madrid less than five months ago ended beyond even the richest club in the world’s wildest dreams with an 11th European Cup win in Milan. Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winning penalty in a shootout to cap a remarkable turnaround in Real’s fortunes as for the second time in three years they edged a tense final against local rivals Atletico Madrid.
Thousands of delirious Real fans poured into the heart of Madrid city centre after the match and stayed till well after sunrise on Sunday morning to welcome their heroes back from Italy around the Plaza de Cibeles fountain-a traditional meeting point for Real’s triumphs. The contrast in emotions to the first half of the season couldn’t be starker as a series of off-field gaffes and poor performances left the club in disarray.
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea’s move to Madrid was botched due to a paperwork delay and the clubs were thrown out the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player. A 4-0 home defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona in November left fans calling for the head of then coach Rafael Benitez and president Florentino Perez.
Benitez was the fall guy in early January to make way for Zidane to take his first senior managerial role after just 18 months experience with Real’s youth team Real Madrid Castilla. Crucially, though, in contrast to the dictatorial Benitez, as a former legendary player, Zidane instantly had the respect of Real’s star-studded squad. “Zizou is very humble but determined. His arrival was really important for us because he has a great relationship with the players,” said Real captain Sergio Ramos. “With Rafael we had some good times, but when Zizou came the dressing room was more unified.”
‘What really hurts’
Zidane has already gone a long way to matching his stellar career that included World Cup, Champions League and European Championships winner’s medals. Victory in Milan ensured he became the first French coach to ever win the competition and only the seventh man to win the European Cup as both a player and a manager.
Moreover, he has now played a key role in each of Real’s last three Champions League triumphs as he scored a sensational winning goal in the 2002 final and was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2014. “I’m so proud to be part of this great club. It’s the club of my life, the one that made me who I am,” said Zidane. “I was given the chance to come to this amazing club, and then to coach it. “I have a phenomenal team and great players who are also talented, and it was together we achieved what we did tonight.”
By contrast, Atletico were left with a horrible sense of déjà vu as they were once again denied a first ever European Cup in agonizing circumstances by their nearest and dearest rivals with goals bookended by Ramos and Ronaldo. Two years ago Atletico were seconds away from victory before Ramos’s header took the game to extra-time where Real ran riot with further goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo.
This time Ramos’s early goal was cancelled out by Atletico substitute Yannick Carrasco 11 minutes from time. However, Real kept their cool from the spot to score all five penalties as Juanfran’s solitary miss for Atletico teed up Ronaldo to lash home the decisive strike before tearing off his shirt in celebration in another flashback to Lisbon two years ago.
“What really hurts me is to see the hurt of the people who’ve paid to come here,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who admitted he will take time to consider his future after four-and-a-half glorious years. “I feel a bit responsible that I wasn’t able to give them what they wanted. That’s what really hurts.” – AFP