Real Madrid Claim 11th Champions League Title (unLadecima)
Zinedine Zidane might not have demonstrated tactical innovations to the extent of Pep Guardiola so far in his career, but Florentino Perez's gamble in trying to promote from within following the sacking of Rafael Benitez has paid off.
Real Madrid are champions of Europe for the 11th time thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s decisive fifth penalty following Juanfran's miss.
It will be that ubiquitous tanned torso on your back pages in the morning, not the bald head of Zizou. The two shared a few quiet words before the second half of extra time; they both parted with a smile and a laugh. They looked like two old timers chatting at a bus stop. There is the key to what Zidane has brought.
He has now played his part in the last three Real Madrid European Cup victories. There was that volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, he was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2014 when Real claimed la Decima against Atletico Madrid and now he has emerged from the shadows of the Castilla team to claim the European Cup as a coach in his own right.
There is a touch of Ancelotti about Zidane's success and, in truth, a certain continuation of the policies of Benitez. He has expertly blended both for a new Real Madrid. The club may not have a coherent strategy off the field but Zidane is the carpet under which it all can be brushed.
Where the players loved Ancelotti, there was only antipathy towards his successor. However, by marrying the strands of Ancelotti's management of people to Benitez's ideas of giving balance to Madrid, Zidane has forged a winning identity.
Benitez was whistled, booed and ridiculed for putting Casemiro in the team at the expense of James Rodriguez and Isco as starters. Zidane's midfield plays in a similar manner to that which his predecessor intended. Casemiro could have given his team the lead here but the balance he brought on the night was key throughout. The experiment of playing Gareth Bale through the middle has been dropped.
There is enough trust and affection in the Frenchman from the players that he can execute the job without the hostility the group openly displayed towards Benitez. There is not a tactical revolution around Santiago Bernabeu, only things being done effectively, tasks being carried out as they should.
Sure, Zidane has had his share of luck. To face Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City in a run of knockout matches is about as gentle a run to the Champions League final as could be hoped for, but Zidane and his charges got Real Madrid over the line.
Their season was in turmoil when Rafa went out. As recently as Gerard Pique's opening goal in the Clasico, they were on the verge of being 13 points back in la Liga. Where Barcelona flagged, Real built a head of steam and had the finishing line been a little further away, they probably would have caught their great rivals. And nobody believed they would.
To look at a Madrid line-up pre-Christmas and now, you would struggle to identify what exactly is different. A cloud has lifted, everyone is happier. Ronaldo and Bale defend with a sense of pride and not simply obligation. The reward is the richest prize in the game. Again.
Atletico Madrid’s history is littered with hard-luck stories - from the 1974 final when they lost in a replay to Bayern Munich to Lisbon two seasons ago. And now it's happened again.
Their supporters, while hoping for the logical success their wins over Barcelona and Bayern should have granted, always feared Real in the final. They are the team with the rabbit’s foot. There is a Champions League destiny wedded to the White Club, even more so with Zidane involved.
Diego Simeone planned this one well and his side were better on the night. But that doesn’t count when the fates are against you and very much with your opposite number.