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Real Madrid achieve immortality, right at the death

When the champagne bubbles settle, the reality is another trophy for a European superpower.

Sergio Ramos soaks in Los Blacos' 10th European Cup success.
Sergio Ramos soaks in Los Blacos' 10th European Cup success.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

RIGHT AT THE death, this Real Madrid team ensured immortality. La Decima was delivered in Lisbon, Atletico Madrid suffered devastation.

And, having set it up, Sergio Ramos summed it up. “It was incredible,” the centre-half said of his injury-time equaliser in Real’s 4-1 win. “That goal isn’t mine, it’s everybody’s.”

It also meant everything.

For all that Gareth Bale ultimately proved his worth with the second goal, and Cristiano Ronaldo crowned his night with the fourth, it was Ramos who provided La Decima’s decisive and defining moment. His plundering header brought so much to a head.

This had so much wrapped up in it, even by the standards of late goals in this famous fixture, from Teddy Sheringham in 1999 to Arjen Robben in 2013. Most immediately, it transformed a 1-0 defeat into a 4-1 procession. Real were suddenly soaring after such a struggle.

Yet, whatever about exaggerating their victory, the unexpected extent of the winning margin only emphasised and reflected the importance of that moment – and not just on the night.

Most obviously, of course, it changed the dynamic. Ramos’ goal ensured all of Atletico’s energy was finally eroded, while Real played with a new momentum. That meant, rather than talking about a modern football miracle, we were merely celebrating the club that were already the most successful in the competition’s history. Instead of Atletico continuing to defy the sport’s economic realities, Real confirmed the value of spending a billion. One side won their long-expected 10th trophy, another were denied what would have been a novel first.

The goal may have changed this match, but it also ensured the game in general remains the same. None of this is to deny the fundamentally sporting qualities of the Real players’ victory. Carlo Ancelotti’s team displayed supreme character to keep going, and then accelerate.

Yet, when it comes to such proper knife-edge moments like Ramos’ equaliser, it can genuinely be difficult and even foolhardy to place too much importance in any individual reasons for success or failure. Had one kick been slightly under-hit, or one pass further been over-played, it could have been completely different. Atletico would be celebrating.

At the same time, it’s impossible not to look at the multiple strands that ensured that single moment was so decisive.

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Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid - Estadio Da Luz Real Madrid's players celebrate at Estadio da Luz. Source: EMPICS Sport

Here, some blame must go to the otherwise brilliant Diego Simeone. For a start, quite literally, there was the gamble on Diego Costa’s fitness. While the decision to play the injured striker from the beginning was some-way understandable, his bizarrely early withdrawal ensured Atletico were denied a substitute in those energy-sapping closing stages. Imagine, by contrast, the effect of bringing Costa on at that point?

Secondly, there was the way in which Simeone’s cynicism eventually proved a negative for his own team. All that defending, and all that systemic fouling, only increased the pressure. Atletico’s time-wasting, meanwhile, gave Ramos an even greater window to equalise.

Yet, from a wider perspective, it would be hugely unfair to overly fault Simeone and his side for any of that that. They themselves are not exactly playing in the fairest context. The Argentine cannot spend multi-millions on transfers, or call on a series of the world’s most expensive players.

Simeone has to cut his cloth to measure, and that won’t always be pretty, especially after the exertions of the domestic league victory. In that regard, there was a certain inevitability about Real’s recovery, even if it didn’t feel like it in the anxious moments leading up to it.

Money talks

Ancelotti’s side won by sheer force of numbers. That’s in an almost literal sense, at least in terms of transfer fees. They were able to rely on record signings, who simply had not expended the same energy in recent weeks. So much effort had been spent on Atletico’s title win. So much money had been spent in Real’s last decade. It said much that the world’s most expensive player scored Real’s second goal and the next most expensive scored the fourth.

Of course, you can’t put any value on the kind of emotions authentically experienced by all at the club on finally ending that wait, but that in itself raises another issue.

This is now the third season in a row in which one of the super-wealthy modern super-clubs have ended a long Champions League drought. Chelsea at last won their first in 2012; Bayern Munich won a first in 12 years in 2013; Real did the same tonight. The novelty value of ending these waits starts to wear off, even if that is obviously not the case for those at the clubs.

The feeling grows that the old elusiveness of the European Cup is now gone for such clubs. A cabal of them will just ending up passing the trophy around, even more so than the last decade. If you have the money, you’ll eventually get your turn.

That the last three finals all came down to the last minute actually emphasises the point. It does not show how agonisingly close Borussia Dortmund and Atletico came, but prove how far away they are.

As the margins lessened, the true gaps were revealed. That is why that Ramos minute was so momentous, and not just for La Decima.

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