WHEN Real Madrid’s team of Zinedine Zidane-inspired “galacticos” won the Spanish club’s ninth European crown in 2002 at Hampden Park 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 tenth 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 consolidate the club’s position at the summit of European football and avoid the mistakes that led to him stepping down in 2006 after a poor run of results.
Since the construction magnate’s return in 2009, Real have splashed more than 600 million euros (£485m) 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 also appears to have found the right man to lead his project for European domination.
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 Europe during each of his three seasons in charge.
Ancelotti, whose Real side also won the King’s Cup by beating arch rivals Barcelona in the final, has brought a sense of tranquillity back to the club after the divisive Mourinho years and has wasted little time in moulding his expensively-assembled squad into an impressive unit.
A Champions League winner with AC Milan as both a player and a coach, the 54-year-old has fostered a harmonious atmosphere at Real that allows Ronaldo, Bale and their team-mates 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 full-back Marcelo and the game immediately turned in their favour.
Ancelotti signed a three-year contract when Perez lured him from Paris St 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.
Perez had tried to sign Ancelotti before and now that he has his man he is unlikely to let him slip away, especially if he continues to deliver in terms of silverware.
“He has come and he has brought us the ‘decima’,” Perez said after Saturday’s final. “He arrived and he has already hit the heights,” he added. “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 and the 11th European crown is just around the corner.
Despite the mind-boggling amounts of money Bale cost Real, his joy could not be counted in cash terms on Saturday as he marked the biggest night of his career so far with a vital contribution despite missing earlier chances.
The Welsh forward, signed for 100 million euros (£81m) from Tottenham Hotspur last August, headed his side in front with ten minutes of extra time remaining as Real claimed their tenth European Cup in dramatic fashion.
Bale, the first Welshman to score in world football’s most prestigious club final, said: “For me the price tag means nothing. If I came for a penny I wanted to play well and play in big competitions and win trophies like we have this season and obviously the move has paid off.”
Bale’s 23rd goal of the season for Real, an impressive return which included six in the Champions League, arrived just when the Lisbon final looked to be heading for penalties.
Angel di Maria’s shot was well saved by Atletico keeper Thibaut Courtois but the ball looped up invitingly and Bale, arriving at the far post, stretched his neck muscles to head it into a gaping goal to spark wild celebrations from Real’s fans.
“We have shown all season when we play our own football we win games. It was ‘keep attacking’, do what we do best, and we all believed in that,” Bale said.
“I started to have a little feeling (it wasn’t going to be my night) but I’ve learned to keep going, forget about chances missed and keep going and eventually one will come. Thankfully I got a decisive goal. I was just thinking do not miss it. The celebrations from the fans means everything for me. It was an unbelievable feeling lifting the trophy, one you can’t describe and it will be a memory forever.”