Inside Real Madrid’s Champions League final triumph
PARIS — Lucas Vazquez doesn’t speak much French at all. But the Real Madrid utility player had no problem understanding one word, and repeating it after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Liverpool in the Champions League final: “Cinq.”
Karim Benzema had his right hand open, looking at his family members in the stands — many of whom made the three-hour train journey from his hometown of Lyon to the French capital — and shouting: “Cinq, cinq!” Vazquez then started shouting it, too, with a big smile on his face.
Five is the number of Champions League trophies Benzema has won. Five in the past eight years. This one, in France, on home soil, has a particular flavour. Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Dani Carvajal are also part of this incredibly exclusive club. Carlo Ancelotti has six (two as a player, and now a record four as a manager) but the Italian coach couldn’t show six with his fingers because he was too busy hugging all of his players. One after another, they came to him for a kiss, an embrace, a nice word, as though he were their father.
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On Friday evening, before the last training session, Ancelotti gathered all of his players and staff in the middle of the pitch. Wearing his cap and his tracksuit, he spoke for five minutes, and everyone was focused on his words. He reminded them that Real Madrid don’t play finals, they win them. He reminded them that Real Madrid had won a Champions League final at the Stade de France before, and that they have beaten Liverpool in a Champions League final before. It was all about the mindset, the habit of winning, not about the prematch game plan. Ancelotti wanted a relaxed squad.
“He transmitted so much confidence, calmness and positive energy” a source told ESPN. This is what Ancelotti does. But this time even more than ever.
That training session, by the way, felt like one that happens during a preseason tour. Players brought their children on to the pitch to kick a ball, they took photos with former Madrid captain Iker Casillas, they played little games with the ball. It didn’t feel like a massive match was coming up the next day.
A Champions League final? Kroos, Modric and Casemiro — the Madrid midfield trio that has been together since 2014 — were more interested in their card game only a few hours before the match than anything else. It is a force of habit, they would tell you.
In the locker room before kick-off, Ancelotti knew Real Madrid were going to win. He told his players that they just had to go out and make it happen. So they did.
Once departing club captain Marcelo lifted the trophy, then Benzema, then the rest of the squad, it was time to party and celebrate. All the families came down on to the pitch. Former players Kaka, Raul, Clarence Seedorf and Roberto Carlos were part of it, too. All the Real Madrid family was there. Former coach Zinedine Zidane, with his wife and two of their sons, were also in attendance, but they stayed more discreet after full-time — Zidane had already enjoyed such a party three times over the past few years, after all.
Back in the dressing room, David Alaba, who claimed a LaLiga-Champions League double in his first season at the club, started spraying champagne over everyone while jumping from one massage table to the other. The music was loud, everyone was dancing. Club president Florentino Perez congratulated all his players for an incredible campaign. Real Madrid have further cemented their status as kings of Europe: They have won this competition 14 times over 67 seasons, making them champions for 21% of its history.
In 2014, on the plane back from Lisbon after beating Atletico Madrid to win La Decima (their long-coveted 10th European crown), they celebrated like mad. They celebrated so much that the pilot had to ask them to stop jumping around or there would be a risk that the plane would crash.
In 2018, after their 13th Champions League and the third in a row under Zidane, the flight back from Kyiv was much more peaceful. Not that they weren’t happy or that they were complacent — it was just a feeling of a job well done. They are serial winners. It is in their DNA.
This time, on the flight back from Paris, it was a mix of the two. Once Eder Militao brought the trophy on to the plane, it was welcomed with a loud cheer. Fittingly, one of the songs played on the flight was “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar.
This is what Real Madrid are. They have royal blood. And they celebrated like kings.