By Richard Martin
KIEV (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s third successive Champions League triumph rubber-stamped their recent hegemony in European football and underlined their status as a true super club but did not confirm them as one of the all-time great teams.
Zinedine Zidane’s side showcased their grit and determination to win in their 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev, as well as their ultra-versatile squad.
Their depth in talent allowed them to bring on their most expensive player, the 100-million-euro ($116.5 million) Gareth Bale off the bench to win the game when it was poised at 1-1.
Real’s unique character, however, was displayed in the fact that moments after they had hoisted a record-extending 13th European Cup, their usual talisman Cristiano Ronaldo turned the attention back on himself, hinting in a post-match interview that he had played his final game for the club.
This was not the era-defining performance they had produced last year in the final in Cardiff, when they blew away Juventus to win 4-1. Nor could it be compared to Barcelona’s sensational displays over Manchester United to win in 2009 and 2011.
Instead, the win over Juergen Klopp’s spirited yet mismatched side will be remembered for the two catastrophic errors from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius which bookended Bale’s sensational overhead kick which made it 2-1 to Madrid.
The game also hinged upon Liverpool losing their influential forward Mohamed Salah to a serious shoulder injury after tangling with Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, a serial winner who knows exactly what to do in the biggest games.
“Everything imaginable seemed to happen in the game but we did it in the end, and even with everything that happened we always believed in our chances of winning, even when they equalised,” said Madrid coach Zidane.
“Then a player like Bale came on and did what he did.”
Ronaldo’s surprising statement that “it was beautiful to play for Real Madrid, I’ll make an announcement soon” meant that the aftermath of a unique achievement — an unprecedented third title in a row in the Champions League era — turned into a discussion about the future of their most important player.
Match winner Bale also cast doubt on his future at Real, although before the game the Wales forward’s status in the team next season was by no means certain.
Ronaldo said in a later interview that he regretted the timing of his comments although his remarks brought back instant reminders of reports that emerged days after winning the 2017 final that he wanted to leave the club.
“I spoke when I shouldn’t have done but something is going to happen. It wasn’t the right time, but I was honest,” said Ronaldo.
Spanish newspaper Marca reported that the Portuguese’s team mates were furious with him and that captain Ramos admonished the player after the game for taking the shine off the victory.
Real president Florentino Perez also appeared frustrated with Ronaldo.
“Everyone has the right to say what they want but the most important thing on a day like today is the club and that we all celebrate, and because people are always talking about him (Ronaldo) and nothing happens,” said Perez.
“I’m delighted that Cristiano has five Champions League wins, just like me. It’s not a question of him staying or not, he has a contract with us.”
($1 = 0.8584 euros)
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)