A victory worthy of the label ‘supremacy’ was witnessed last night as Real Madrid retained the Champions League at the expense of Juventus, becoming the first team to do so since the re-formatted ‘Champions League’ in 1992.
In doing so, they underlined the strength and immeasurable talent across their squad and management team and dealt one notable Italian a possibly fatal blow in the hopes of winning the trophy which continues to elude him.
Gianluigi Buffon has been a stalwart of various generations of the Juventus squad, through playing alongside Zinedine Zidane, Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Cannavaro, Pavel Nedved, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to name but a few. The 39 year old was the standout figure who many neutrals desperately wanted to win the award, believing him to be worthy of it given his years of service to this one club. Yet he continues to be denied. In the five finals Juve have played in since winning the competition in 1996, Buffon has appeared in three, and been defeated in all.
Buffon must now know that any further chances to win the trophy are surely beyond him. A final hurrah beckons in the shape of next year’s World Cup but, despite manager Massimiliano Allegri insisting the club will ‘go again’ next year, Juventus must now face an ordeal this summer with several of their key men being targeted by offers abroad. To reach the final again is a tumultuous event they have not begun to try and deal with yet.
But what to say of Real Madrid? They have fully eradicated from their team the petulant episodes that saw them fall short under previous management and have shown that they can now battle as a unit. A breathtaking goal by Mario Mandzukic was all Juventus had to show for their efforts on the night, as they were outrun and outgunned by Real. The second half was all Real, orchestrated to a tee by Cristiano Ronaldo and Luke Modric, and paid dividends with two quick fire goals just after the hour from Casemiro and Ronaldo. The final cherry on the cake was ignited by a blistering run from Marcelo and finished by Ascensio in added time. Symbolic of how much they fought with ingenuity and sheer grit that they pierced a Juventus defence that kept out Barcelona over 180 minutes of football.
Zinedine Zidane has now won five trophies since taking the helm at the Bernabeu in January 2016, and has shot down any critics who believe his inexperience as a manger is being covered over by the talent of his squad. He has crafted his own tactics which has seen Gareth Bale and Pepe relegated to the bench and questions raised over the future of Alvaro Morata and Raphael Varane. He has reinvested in the talent of Isco and brought Casemiro in from the cold, both delivering results that many thought were beyond them at Real Madrid.
The Frenchman has cooled the petulance and the egomania that shrouded the club in perennial failure during the reigns of Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini and exerted his influence at the club to bring this squad to its peak; and he has done it without the relentless high end purchases that was once the ploy which drew him to the Real squad in 2002. As the tide turns for Los Blancos, a third Champions League title in four years is secure and with it, the future of Zidane and his squad of heavyweight rulers.