Deep down, Real Madrid doesn’t imagine in magic. Or, somewhat, it doesn’t only imagine in magic. It may need spent much of the last three months apparently touched by some golden light, its run to the Champions League final a dream of stirring comebacks and insurmountable odds and inconceivable triumphs.
Those triumphs, against Paris St.-Germain and Chelsea and Manchester City, may need looked as if it would prove that ultimate victory on this competition is Real Madrid’s irrevocable destiny, that it’s driven by some elemental, unstoppable force, one which defies rational explanation and brooks no resistance.
After the curtain had been lifted and the veil drawn, though, when reality’s cold light poured in, there was no magic in any respect. There was, as an alternative, only a plan: a painstakingly crafted and expertly executed plan that ended, because it all the time gave the impression of it could, with Real Madrid lifting yet one more European Cup.
That, in a way, was the twist: There was no twist. Real Madrid beat Liverpool, 1-0, on Saturday in Paris with a performance of ruthless efficiency, of meticulous organization, of clinical obduracy. To achieve this, it required not only a single goal, scored by Vinícius Junior, but really only a single attack, a single move, a single probability.
It leaned, it’s true, reasonably heavily on its goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, in those fleeting moments when Liverpool — one other team in possession of a really particular sense of its own destiny — appeared to be gathering a head of steam. Nevertheless it is one in every of soccer’s most cherished misapprehensions that having a great goalkeeper is just one other type of luck.
They’re a part of the team, too, in spite of everything; to beat Real Madrid, it’s vital to beat Courtois, and the rationale the previous is so difficult is since the latter, at times, appears to skirt the inconceivable. Real Madrid could risk absorbing pressure, conceding probabilities, secure within the knowledge that Courtois is a redoubtable last line of defense.
Even he, though, found his role diminishing because the game wore on. Those previous couple of minutes, as Real Madrid waited impatiently to say its glory, didn’t construct to some deafening climax. As a substitute, if anything, the sport ambled gently to an in depth. There have been some substitutions. Liverpool committed some injudicious and unnecessary fouls. Real dawdled over some free kicks. The whistle blew. The trophy was presented. Everyone went home.
It felt, in reality, like something of a non sequitur: Not only because Real Madrid has spent the spring finding ever more improbable ways to win games, but because that kind of drama is now an important ingredient on this competition.
Breathless fervor, something bordering on persistent mayhem, has turn out to be the hallmark of the fashionable Champions League. It’s what has helped turn it, for all of the enduring concerns over its domination by a tiny cabal of clubs from a small group of nations, into such a consistently compelling spectacle. No victory is ever secure. No game is ever over. Nothing is ever certain. That’s what makes it so compelling.
Saturday’s final, in contrast — delayed by greater than half an hour due to an entire organizational breakdown outside the Stade de France — looked as if it would belong to a previous incarnation of the tournament, when European soccer’s showpiece occasions were way more tentative, when the slightest mistake tended to prove fatal, when games were decided by which team seized individual moments, somewhat than which could best harness some elusive, vaguely ethereal type of momentum.
And yet, below the surface, there was an undeniable thematic consistency to Real Madrid’s victory, its record 14th title within the competition. The composite can have seemed distinct from all the games that brought Carlo Ancelotti’s team to Paris — and the coach himself to a record fifth Champions League final — however the strands were almost the exact same.
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Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach, spoke last week of Real Madrid’s ability to “keep the door open.” In all of its previous knockout games, it had faced moments when elimination seemed all but certain but still found a technique to cling on. What looked like magic was underpinned by the distinctly material virtues of resilience, and courage, and indomitability.
So it was in Paris. For all that Liverpool and Real Madrid have in common — each are members of European soccer’s aristocrat class, each imagine themselves to have a special relationship with the Champions League — their approaches to maintaining their modern superiority couldn’t diverge more sharply.
Liverpool is a mirrored image of what soccer has turn out to be, an information-soaked industrial complex, through which no gain is simply too marginal, through which decisions are driven by data, through which even throw-ins may be weaponized, made more efficient. It has worked, too: This was the club’s third Champions League final in five years.
Real Madrid, alternatively, tends toward a rather more simplified interpretation. The team that wins, so far as Real can tell, generally employs the higher players, as much as and including the one wearing gloves. Not simply by way of talent, but experience, grit, composure under essentially the most intense pressure and a refusal to wilt, too.
Ancelotti’s team displayed all of those qualities in abundance. It didn’t a lot as blink as Liverpool fizzed and fretted around its penalty area in the primary half. At times, Real Madrid appeared to be standing still, daring its opponent to attempt to forge a gap.
Nor did it freeze after Vinícius had taken his probability — the possibility — and Liverpool had nothing left to lose. Real Madrid’s players seemed blissfully unaffected by the ticking of the clock. They didn’t hurry or panic or sink back on themselves. They looked, as an alternative, as in the event that they had on a regular basis on this planet.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise. In any case, for a substantial proportion of the team, this was a fifth Champions League final. They’ve been here before, time and time again, and so they understand how it seems. They know what’s required, and it will not be magic. Magic, in spite of everything, is only a way of explaining the parts of reality that you simply don’t understand, and Real Madrid understand this all too well.
Much better, as an alternative, to have a plan, painstakingly crafted and perfectly executed and all the time ending in the identical way, the way in which it ended here: in a blizzard of white ticker tape and Real Madrid, beaming, holding the European Cup aloft.