Madrid’s triumph is even more impressive considering it’s also the third time they have lifted the Champions League trophy in just four years.
As usual, when it counts, Real Madrid was led by Cristiano Ronaldo. In Cardiff, in a stadium where he won his first ever team trophy in 2004 Ronaldo lead from the front and ensure that, if silverware is at stake, he is the man left holding it at the end.
On Saturday night, he was just too much for Juventus. In fact, the weight of history was too much for the famous old Italian team. This was their seventh defeat in a final and there was the sad yet dignified sight of a 39-year-old Gianluigi Buffon gently applauding Juventus fans as ‘We are the Champions’ bellowed in the background. The face said it all; this trophy seems beyond him.
But Real Madrid, the team who appropriated the old European Cup at its outset, are dominating the modern era. Their 12th trophy in all was a landmark. Never before in the modern era of the Champions League has the trophy been defended. It has now. Three wins in four years begins to invite comparisons to Ajax, Bayern, Liverpool and AC Milan. And Ronaldo is stealing the show, not quite yet up there Paco Gente’s six wins and Alfredo Di Stefano’s five, but closing in with four and becoming the first man to score in three finals.
And what of Zinedine Zidane? 18 months ago he looked a stooge, the teacher’s pet of president Florentino Perez’s vanity project. Now he ranks alongside Bob Paisley, Brian Clough and Arrigo Sacchi as a man who has retained this famous old trophy.
In 18 months he has achieved in this tournament what Sir Alex Ferguson did in a lifetime and what Jose Mourinho has managed in 17 years. In football terms, his path to the top has been smoothed; he is an aristocrat, born to rule rather than a coach forced to survive only by his wits. But, still, what he has done is remarkable.