It’s easy to forget just how impressive this Real Madrid side has been for the past 18 months. As you all take in Real Madrid’s third Champions League trophy in four seasons, I encourage you all to take a step back and appreciate all that has happened.
Your first response to that statement is probably along the lines of “Of course I’m appreciating it, I’ve been celebrating since the final whistle”. No, I mean really take a step back and realize how historically great this run is. It was not always like this, and will not always be like this.
In a dark time for Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane stepped in when Real Madrid desperately needed a hero and completely changed not only the landscape in Spain, but also Europe. What has occurred in just a season and a half has been nothing short of incredible for both fans and neutrals. Zidane has transcended politics, negative stigmas, difficult results, and the potential problems that come with managing a squad with this much talent in order to lead Real Madrid to history.
The celebration at the Bernabeu the day after was stunning, but do Real Madrid fans even realize the magnitude of what has transpired over the past few seasons? The answer on the surface is yes, they have. However, as I watched the second half of the Champions League final, there was a certain inevitability to it. Even as a self-proclaimed pessimist, I knew Madrid would come out victorious. You could just tell by the first few minutes of the half. That swagger the team had played with all season, and especially towards the latter stages was rearing its head again.
Despite playing a better team than the one in last season’s final, I was nowhere near as nervous this time around. The mental fortitude that Real Madrid had displayed so many times under Zidane had to be rubbing off on me, and the rest of the club’s fans. This arrogance may or not be healthy, but it is undeniably a product of success. I had grown used to winning, that I had forgotten the years of losing the club had suffered through in order to get to this point.
Not too long ago, many moments that the team would have suffered from in the past, ended exceptionally well for Real Madrid. Whether it was a clinical performance against a rock solid defense, or a late comeback win against a team that should have never been leading Los Blancos in the first place, Madrid never buckled.
Not even when Kroos, Bale, Varane, and countless others missed countless minutes through injury. Not even when their insanely long unbeaten streak ended on a stoppage time winner at the Sánchez Pizjuán. Not even when they were forced to start Nacho in both legs against Bayern freaking Munich. Not even after giving up a back-breaking goal to Messi in El Clasico when La Liga seemed all but won. Nope, none of that mattered to a team that set lofty goals for themselves right from the start of the season.
This credit has to go to Zidane. The aforementioned moments could have all snowballed into season-crushing moments, but the Frenchman made sure that the squad stayed the course. Zidane made sure that every single player bought in to the team. There is no example more blatant than Danilo celebrating a Carvajal assist more than any other player on the bench. The result was Madrid’s first European double in nearly 60 years. Made even more impressive by the fact that the Champions League was retained.
To put this into perspective, only 22 clubs have ever won the Champions League since the competition’s debut season in 1955. Only 10 clubs have qualified for consecutive finals appearances, and only three have won three finals in four seasons. The most impressive stat of all though, is 12. The number of European cup/Champions League victories Madrid have since the competition’s beginnings. Easily the most in tournament’s history, as second best is still five trophies off.
Ignoring all of those numbers by themselves, Real Madrid became the first club in the Champions League era to retain the title. This competition has grown more difficult to win every season, due to the modernization of the game and the financial influences. Not even Pep’s Barca, considered by many as the greatest of all time, could retain the Champions League title. Real Madrid, however, did.
So fucking proud of this team. We made history tonight lads. Think of all the great teams that couldn't do what we've just done.— O.Dembélé fanboy (@OmVArvind) June 3, 2017
It is easy to take this level of success for granted, but it is so important to remember that it does not come around often. Just two seasons ago Madrid had to watch the Champions League final from the couch as Barcelona won a historic treble. How quickly winning makes people forget. Even last season’s La Liga title race that went down to the very last matchday has been forgotten about due to the club’s success both this season, and last season in Milan.
Not that you should be feeling guilty for celebrating your heart out, because you shouldn’t — in fact you should enjoy it as if your life depends on it. There is no guarantee that the future will be as good as the present.
Yes, Real Madrid’s youth within the club is astounding, and has so many people enthusiastically looking forward to the future. Imagining future lineups with the likes of Theo Hernandez, Dani Carvajal, Varane, Vallejo, Llorente, Kovacic, Isco, Vinicius Junior and Asensio is a natural and exciting prospect. Thinking about whether to buy Dembele, or drop over 100 million on Mbappe in order to secure the future even more is as well. But what about the present, which is just as important? Instead of imagining what the team could look like, appreciate it for what it already is and represents.
Nothing is certain in this sport. As bright as the future looks, there is no guarantee we will approach this level of success again. There is no guarantee we will have the two best central midfielders on the planet again, there is no guarantee that we will have another Cristiano Ronaldo leading the charge, and there is certainly no guarantee we will ever have this squad depth again.
Football is not only cyclical, but also cruel. As much as we enjoy watching this team, the harsh reality is that half of the starting XI will be declining within the next two-three years, if not sooner. Real Madrid will have to replace Ronaldo, Modric, Navas, Ramos, Marcelo, Benzema, and others. That’s the entire backbone of the team. With all being phased out in the next few seasons, Madrid fans will have to deal with a lot of change.
The talent is there to replenish, but as stated earlier nothing is certain. Potential does not always equate to superstardom. Even if all of these young talents do pan out, it is not certain they replicate the performances on the European stage. At this point I’m living up to my self-billing of negativity, but what I’m saying holds true. You can have all the talent in the world and still win nothing.
Which is what makes the present that much more impressive. The fact that they’ve been able to survive this competition against the best of the best this many times is remarkable. To put a cherry on top, the team has won all three finals in the process, and has not been knocked out of the Champions League since May of 2015.
However, this current crop of players is more than just three Champions Leagues titles in four seasons. It represents so much more than that. As much as we hate to admit, Barcelona was the best team on the planet for many years. They are still very capable of beating us, and will be for years. This current squad was the rebellion against that. The ultimate result of coming in second for many years. The team that Florentino Perez has put together may even signal a changing of the guard in Spanish Football; back to its rightful place in the Spanish capital.
The team’s performance the other day may have made winning the Champions League final seem lightyears easier than it is. Don’t let this fool you, it is still the most difficult competition — in any sport — in the world to win. Juventus was an incredible team, but were unlucky to run into a Madrid team going through a historic time period in its history. This squad will be talked about forever, we just don’t realize it yet because we are still living through it. Consider yourselves beyond blessed.
To answer the question that I posed at the beginning of this article, the answer is No, Madrid fans don’t understand how lucky they are. One day, you all will though. You will be telling your kids that you were able to watch one of the best Madrid sides of all time.
So instead of only doing this appreciating in the future, I encourage you to do it now, during this historic run. We truly do not realize how special this team and these moments are until they pass. We take winning for granted as a fanbase, and under Zidane we have been even more spoiled than usual.
As I watched Ronaldo’s second clinical finish against Juventus, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew that I was witnessing a historically great run. I had no idea whether it was the peak of an era, or just the beginning of another unbelievable dynastic run. Never in my life had I been prouder to be a Madridista. I appreciated everything about the club and it’s players in that moment. I encourage you all to do the same.
So don’t get ahead of yourselves. Don’t go around the internet banging your chest about next season’s potential treble, and don’t try and blow the team up through your hypothetical lineup with an expensive signing. We are all guilty of this, including myself because best is the minimum, not the standard at Real Madrid. Appreciate this team. Appreciate these players. Appreciate this management. Appreciate this moment. You never know when this window of success will close, and you don’t want to be the one saying that you didn’t appreciate what you had until it was gone.