Gareth Bale broke Liverpool’s hearts with a stunning substitute performance crowned with a goal out of the ordinary – then effectively issued a ‘come and get me’ plea.
But Liverpool were left to rue a series of extraordinary events in their 3-1 defeat that started with Mohamed Salah suffering a potential shoulder dislocation in the first half and Loris Karius making two mistakes that came in for ferocious criticism.
Karius was inconsolable after he gifted Real Madrid their first goal when throwing a ball into Karim Benzema in the 50th minute. He then allowed a fierce shot from Bale to slither through his fingers in the 83rd minute to give the Madrid their third consecutive success in the Champions League.
Sandwiched in between that was a quite magnificent strike from Bale, who – with just his fourth touch of the game – acrobatically dispatched an 18-yard left-foot scissor-kick into the roof of the net. It was a goal so good that many assumed it was Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bale, though, was superb when he came on for the ineffective Isco. He was devastated not to play from the beginning and he will consider his future during the summer. With words that will put clubs such as Manchester United on high alert, he insisted he had to be playing.
Speaking to BT Sport, Bale explained:
‘I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season for one reason and another. I had a five, six week injury at the start of the season but I’ve been fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent and take it from there.
‘I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions. The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did. It has to be the best goal in a Champions League final, there is no bigger stage. I am just happy to get the win.’
Bale, who was a noticeable absentee from Real Madrid’s pre-match warm up, added:
‘It is a team game but when you are a substitute, it is a game of more than 11 players. I made an impact. We know what we have achieved and how good we have been.
‘The league was disappointing but we won the Champions League. It turns out to be a great season. We let everyone else speak (about us). We know how hungry we are in the changing room, how prepared and motivated we are.’
This success cemented this Madrid team in history – they are the first team to win three consecutive Champions League finals – and Bale has now scored winning goals in two finals. Zinedine Zidane, Madrid’s head coach, understands his frustrations.
‘It’s complicated but everybody has their own interests and own future to think about,’ Zidane said.
‘But we are a team. And a squad. And nothing will change. As I always do, I try to do the best for the team. And from time to time it’s true, some players deserve more playing time.
‘I understand a player like Bale wants to play more. He proved that tonight. He made the difference with the second goal, so it’s natural he wants more regular games.’
Where do you think Gareth Bale will be playing next season?