We all know that as fast as streaks start, it ends. It’s just the nature of things. As I sat there Sunday night, a bit dumbfounded that the streak had come to an end, my mind drifted to another streak - a streak that spanned about a decade and cemented Real Madrid in the history books. Back then it wasn’t known as the ‘UEFA Champions League’, but the European Cup.
It would be Santiago Bernabéu that would have a hand in crafting the tournament that would bring five consecutive European Cup trophies to the Spanish capital. It was because of this they were awarded the original European cup which is on display to this day. So from the inception of the competition, Real Madrid put it’s stamp on both domestic and European football.
Alfredo Di Stéfano
There is one common link in those five European cups and it’s Alfredo Di Stéfano. The Argentinian was the key to Real Madrid’s attack. He is the third highest scorer for the club, and brought the Merengues eight titles. Striker by trade, he would often drift back into the midfield and at times would be found organizing the defense.
He was the complete player.
Another reason that Real Madrid was so successful in the late 50’s and early 60’s was this man. Puskás defected from communist Hungary at the age of 31, but don’t let the age or his weight fool you - the man was a beast on the pitch. Add the Blond Arrow into the mix and they became an unstoppable duo. This is a guy with a hammer of a left foot and once scored 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary. As a striker he would actually play inside and to the left of Di Stéfano in the midfield. When the Blond Arrow floated back into the midfield Puskas would occupy the space left open from Di Stéfano’s absence. Taking up real estate in the opposing club’s box.
Paco is the only player to win six European Cup’s. 'The Gale of the Cantabrian Sea' is also one of two players to reach eight finals — the other Paolo Maldini. Gento came from Real Racing Club Santander at the age of 17 and remained at the club until he was 37. He’s also the only player to win 12 league titles, all with Los Blancos. It was his crucial runs down the left that would set up Di Stéfano, Puskás and Kopa.
Big signings along with changing tactics (still in it’s infancy at this point) helped with Real Madrid's dominance during their run. In their five consecutive cup runs they scored 20, 20, 25, 16 and 31 goals, that’s 112 in all if you’re keeping score at home. There was no team at the time in Europe that could stand in the way of Real Madrid’s attacking force. During this time they deployed either a 3-2-2-3, or they would roll out 3-2-5 which was ultra aggressive.
It worked, and it worked well.
"When you have talent like Raymond Kopa, Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo di Stéfano, you have to put them all in the team and as a result we were very attack-minded," recalled Francisco Gento of his side's ultra-aggressive 3-2-5 lineup. "We had so many great players in that team it's not surprising we won so many European Cups."
This was arguably the greatest club side of all time.
Crucial to this era was continuity on the pitch in what would be dubbed the Golden Era. Di Stéfano would famously score at least a goal in each of the five European Cup wins. Though the product on the pitch was a constant, the position of manager wasn’t. The club would see three different managers during the era.
José Villalonga was on the touchline for two of those cups. Antonio Carniglia was the mastermind behind cup wins in 1958 and 1959. It would be Carniglia that would leave out Puskás in the 1959 final — all because he didn’t like Ferenc.
Real’s third manager would come from the playing ranks as midfielder Miguel Muñoz took the reins and went on to win the cup in 1960. His sides were utterly dominating domestically during the 60’s. Muñoz wouldn’t make the same oversight as Carniglia and made sure Puskás was in the side for the 1960 final.
That final would be considered the greatest football match of all time. It would be the fifth time Los Blancos played for the title of European Champions. They would take on Eintracht Frankfurt. It was a final that almost wasn’t. At the time West German FA had a ban in place for any team playing against a team that had Ferenc Puskás. Puskas, you see, accused the Germans of using drugs in 1954.
The match was played in Glasgow’s Hampden Park in front of over 127,000 people. Think about that for a minute. That’s a lot of people who can say they got to see the greatest match of all time. Puskás and Di Stéfano are only two of three players (the other being Pierino Prati of AC Milan) to have scored a hat-trick in either a European Cup or Champions League final.
No one has seen a cup run like that since.
Like I said at the start, streaks come and streaks go. The best thing you can do is enjoy the ride until the next one comes along.