Real Madrid defy Champions League odds but what next for ageing team?
Real Madrid may be the most successful club in Champions League history but they defied the odds all along their way to victory in this season’s final against Liverpool. The question now is how long they can continue to do so with their current team.
The Spanish champions’ build-up to Saturday’s match was overshadowed by Kylian Mbappe’s decision to turn down a move to Madrid and stay at Paris Saint-Germain.
That snub from the player Real hoped to build their next team around suggests the future looks uncertain.
For now Real can revel in winning their fifth Champions League in nine seasons, and a record-extending 14th European Cup overall, after a solitary Vinicius Junior goal decided the contest at the Stade de France.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were seen as the favourites heading to Paris, but then again Real were not expected to beat PSG, Chelsea or Manchester City on their way to the final.
A campaign that started inauspiciously, with Moldovan outsiders Sheriff Tiraspol beating Real at the Santiago Bernabeu in the group stage, has ended in familiar fashion.
Real have now won on each of their last eight appearances in the final of Europe’s elite club competition since they lost 1-0 to Liverpool in Paris in 1981.
“This Cup has been the most difficult to win, definitely. I think the fact that nobody thought we could win it helped us,” said coach Carlo Ancelotti, who was also in charge when Real won the trophy in 2014.
“I have to say that it is easier to win the Champions League with Madrid than another team.
“For all that has happened down the years, given the history and the support we have. The structure of the club makes it special.”
Ancelotti has now won four Champions Leagues as a coach, more than any other coach and the same number as Casemiro and Toni Kroos have managed with Real.
Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal have played in all five of Real’s final victories going back to 2014, while Marcelo, Gareth Bale and Isco featured in four before being unused substitutes on Saturday.
A team written off as too old and no longer good enough at the very highest level has won La Liga and beaten the top three in this season’s Premier League, the French champions and last season’s Italian champions en route to European glory.
“Coaching this team is easy,” admitted Ancelotti. But will Paris prove to be their last dance?
– ‘Mbappe is forgotten’ –
Modric will be 37 in September but is set to sign on for another season, while Benzema is 34.
Marcelo is the same age as the Frenchman and out of contract along with Bale and Isco, while 32-year-old Toni Kroos is heading into the last year of his deal.
Once the celebrations have died down, Madrid must plan to defend their European crown without the prized signature of Mbappe.
“Mbappe is forgotten,” Real president Florentino Perez told broadcaster Movistar+ after Saturday’s final. “Real will keep working to attract the best players.”
Saturday’s match-winner, the 21-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior, is such a formidable talent that they may indeed be just fine without Mbappe, while Eder Militao and Fede Valverde are not yet at their peak and Eduardo Camavinga is still a teenager.
Real are also still capable of competing economically with the giants of the Premier League and PSG.
They had the second-highest revenues in world football last season, just behind Manchester City, according to Deloitte’s Football Money League.
A study by analysts Football Benchmark last week ranked them as Europe’s most valuable club.
Yet Real were in favour of a breakaway Super League because of the threat posed to Europe’s traditional elite, in particular by PSG and Manchester City, who are both owned by Gulf states.
Those clubs have secured the services of the two most exciting young players in world football in Mbappe and Erling Haaland respectively.
Neither has yet got their hands on the Champions League and they will not give up until they get there.
Next season may be very different but Real –- with the weight of history behind them -– will not relinquish their crown easily.