Real Madrid seek new era of European domination

After winning 'number 10', the club are eager to avoid the mistakes that saw them fail to build on their last continental success 12 years ago

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 11:15pm

When Real Madrid's team of Zinedine Zidane-inspired "galacticos" won the Spanish club's ninth European crown in 2002 it was supposed to mark the beginning of another golden era of European domination.

As it turned out, and despite hundreds of millions of euros spent on players, it took the world's richest club by income another 12 years to win the coveted 10th title, or decima, a record-extending feat they finally achieved with Saturday's 4-1 extra-time win against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon.

This time around, big-spending Real president Florentino Perez will be desperate to avoid the mistakes that led to him stepping down in 2006 after a poor run.

He arrived and he has already hit the heights. I am sure that the fans are already thinking about the 11th. That is why Madrid will go on forever
Real president Florentino Perez

Since the construction magnate's return in 2009, Real have splashed more than 600 million euros (HK$6.3 billion) on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, both of whom scored in Saturday's showpiece.

The massive investment finally paid off and in coach Carlo Ancelotti Perez appears to have the right man to lead his project.

The Italian succeeded in winning the Champions League in his first season in charge, outdoing predecessor Jose Mourinho, whose Real team were eliminated in the semi-finals in each of his three seasons in charge.

Ancelotti, who also won the King's Cup by beating arch rivals Barcelona in the final, has brought a sense of tranquility back to the club.

A Champions League winner with AC Milan as a player and a coach, the 54-year-old has fostered a harmonious atmosphere at Real that allows Ronaldo and Bale to perform, and he showed against Atletico he has the tactical sense to outwit his rivals.

Real were struggling to create chances against some typically resolute Atletico defending, so Ancelotti threw on attacking midfielder Isco and zippy fullback Marcelo and the game immediately turned in their favour.

Ancelotti signed a three-year contract when Perez lured him from Paris Saint-Germain last year and it would be little surprise if the president moves to tie him to the club for longer after Saturday's triumph.

"He has come and he has brought us the decima," Perez said. "He arrived and he has already hit the heights. I am sure that the fans are already thinking about the 11th. That is why Madrid will go on forever."

Perez has been burned in the past when a team of highly paid superstars failed to deliver what he craved, a repeat of Real's greatest run when they won five consecutive European Cups between 1956 and 1960 with a team featuring Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento.

With Ancelotti at the helm and almost limitless resources to splash in the transfer market he will be confident that this time will be different.

Real overcame Atletico in the final because Ancelotti was able to adjust his tactics and go on the attack in time to rescue the game, while his opposite number Diego Simeone had no cards left to play.

Ancelotti fielded a cautious line-up at Lisbon's Stadium of Light, with Sami Khedira in a deep-lying central role despite having only recently returned from knee surgery, and Real were outplayed for long periods in the first half.

Atletico deservedly went ahead when Diego Godin outjumped a sluggish Khedira and nodded the ball over a stranded Iker Casillas in the 36th minute.

Ancelotti responded with around half an hour remaining by hauling off Khedira and left back Fabio Coentrao and replacing them with Isco and Marcelo.

The tone of the match changed immediately, with Real pushing forward relentlessly and carving out a number of half-chances and Atletico being forced deeper and deeper.

Although Atletico looked like they might hold on and secure their first continental triumph to add to this season's La Liga title, Sergio Ramos leaped to head a superb leveller in the third minute of added time.

The Atletico players were stunned, with several falling to the ground in disbelief, and their fans fell eerily silent.

Ancelotti's Atletico counterpart Simeone had been forced to use the first of his three substitutes as early as the ninth minute when Diego Costa limped off and was replaced by Adrian.

Simeone had used his two remaining substitutions by the end of regular time.

Real sensed victory and played with renewed energy, with Marcelo and the excellent Angel Di Maria attacking down the left with Ronaldo and Bale down the right.

There was a sense of the inevitable when Bale, Real's record signing, made it 2-1 in the 110th minute with a back-post header.

Atletico barely raised a challenge as Marcelo danced through and added a third before Ronaldo's penalty with almost the last kick of the match.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters