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Drawing Board: Preparing For The Champions League Final

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Let’s get prepared for the most nerve-wracking game of the season

The Champions League trophy. Drawing by Sofi Serg. Sofi Serg

Today I want to start my article with a fact: Real Madrid is in the Champions League final for the third consecutive season. Breathtaking, isn’t it?

The team has already started the preparations for the final: training sessions, press conferences, packing equipment for the match, etc. That means it’s time for the fans to start our own preparations. Let’s start immediately, because there are a few important things we have to do.

First of all, the location. Where are you going to watch the Champions League final? At a local bar with other fans or at home? At the Bernabeu? Or maybe at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev?

Another step of the preparation to the final match is summarizing this strange season, which will be remembered as one full of nervousness, and at times, listlessness. But will this season be defined as successful?

Estadio Municipal de Butarque. Illustration by Sofi Serg.
Estadio Municipal de Butarque during the match between Leganes and Real Madrid, 21.02.18
Sofi Serg

Every season is special and different from the previous ones. I think a successful season is not only a season when our team wins everything, but also a season when we can look back and realize that we’ve made huge leaps, have done a lot of work, and have learned a lot of things. And I’m talking not only about the players, but also about the fans.

One of the most important lessons for us from this season is understanding that the players are not flat images on the screens of our devices, they are real people with feelings. Sometimes (especially when the team is struggling) they just need some support instead of criticism. It can be quite sad for them to hear whistles from the stands or to read so many accusing comments and messages on their socials from their own fans after a bad match.

“Karim just missed another chance,

And then again, one more,

He kicked the ball but didn’t score

Karim was mad and lost another chance,

He screamed: ‘Bad luck!’

’Is you for our club!’- was added by the fans”

November 2017

”Bad luck”

Karim Benzema. Drawing by Sofi Serg.
Karim Benzema during the match against Leganes, 24.01.18
Sofi Serg

Sometimes it may seem like the fans and the players are enemies. We blame them for the bad results, and they are angry with us for the lack of support. But the truth is that the connection between us and them is important for the club. The players understand that, and they do appreciate the support of Madridistas.

“I’ve always said that when you’re coming to the stadium and you see the fans out of the window, it’s like injecting blood into your veins,” said Keylor Navas in his latest interview for Mahou. “It’s something that motivates you a lot. The fans are extremely important for us.” So, let’s not forget about the meaning of the fans for the players and their motivation.

Keylor Navas. Drawing by Sofi Serg.
Keylor Navas during the match against Valencia, 27.01.18
Sofi Serg

Also, I think in this season we’ve judged the young players a bit too hard. There’s a stereotype that if the team buys a prospect that is supposed to score/assist in every single match. But the reality is, that it never works out like this. The club can sell the whole current squad and buy other players, but the situation won’t change. There will still be key players and benchwarmers.

For example, Dani Ceballos or Borja Mayoral have been reserve players for the whole season and now some fans say that they both are unimportant members of the squad. But what if one of them would be the last substitution in the final and would score the winning goal in the last second of the game? Would he still be ‘an unimportant player’?

Some players were bought to play at the club for many years and to bring the positive result in every match, but some were bought just to score only one crucial goal in a tense final, to be heroes of a single moment. Every player plays his own role in the team. Every player is important.

Isco Alarcon. Illustration by Sofi Serg.
Isco during the match against Leganes, 21.02.18
Sofi Serg

Zidane talked about the importance of every player in the squad many times this season. He definitely knows the power of words, and this is one of the reasons why he’s so good at motivating the players. Although, some fans think that Zidane’s press conferences are boring. Well, maybe he doesn’t make a show during his conversations with the press, but he always says a lot of correct things. He always shows his support for the players and never blames them. He speaks about any opponent respectfully and tries not to discuss the referee’s decisions.

The players learn from Zidane a lot. You could spot how careful their phrases were in the latest interviews. That’s another important point in the list of preparations for the final: Don’t be overconfident.

Anyway, it’s time to leave all this season’s travails, troubles, and worries behind and start looking forward to the most crucial game of the season.

Zinedine Zidane. Drawing by Sofi Serg.
“But all you had to do was trust because Zidane’s new plan was very clever...”
Sofi Serg

The pressure of the Champions League final is always very high and it can motivate the players or make them too nervous. So, another important thing is to remember that the team’s style of play is based not only on tactics and numbers, but there are also emotional aspects such as self-motivation and attitude. As I said, one player can unpredictably change the whole game in a split second.

We can’t cancel human factor out of football. No computer program can foresee anything like, for example, Sergio Ramos’s 92:48 goal in Lisbon. It was pure football serendipity in action.

Football is an unpredictable thing, it’s like a movie without any prepared script. Sometimes a football match seems like a handful of real-life stories summed up in 90 (and sometimes more) minutes, it can show us unexpected turns, ups and downs, triumphs and regrets. We love football because it can surprise us even after many years of watching it.

Every single match is unmatched. Just imagine: over the history of football there were played millions of matches but none of them are identical. It’s impossible to play a look-alike copy of a football game.

Marcelo Vieira. Drawing by Sofi Serg.
Marcelo right after the match against Gremio, 16.12.17
Sofi Serg

The match on Saturday will be unique too. And, being a Champions League final, it’s even more unpredictable. Speaking of the final matches, when someone asks me, “Who do you think will win this tournament?” I prefer to predict two teams in a final match, not a winner of it. Because a top-level final match is something from a different universe and it always stands apart from other games. There won’t be any second chances, and one moment can change everything. Also, everything is possible there, even if it seems very hard or unattainable.

Who will score? Who will make an assist? Who will be the hero of the match? Who will be an anti-hero? There are too many questions, but no answers at all. All we can do is guess and predict the plot.

But there is a thing that we know for sure: this team of Zidane’s is just two and a half years old, and it’s already written with golden letters in the history of football. Now this team is on its way to one more Champions League trophy.

It’s important to not take this for granted. Some teams don’t even dream to play in a final, while we are in it for the third time in a row. Many fans probably remember how hard it was to wait for La Decima after 12 years. We have to understand that every single Champions League final is never an ordinary for our team — it’s never a casual thing. We have to appreciate this historical moment. Maybe it seems easy for our club to win trophy after trophy, but we know that it’s not easy at all. Sergio Ramos said the same thing during the Open Media Day on Tuesday: “We have made the difficult thing look easy enough”.

Sergio Ramos. Drawing by Sofi Serg.
Sergio Ramos during the match against Bayern Munich, 01.05.18
Sofi Serg

This season was really tough, but the fans are still here with Real Madrid. Sometimes it’s hard to support this club. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to understand the feelings of the players, to accept the opinions of other fans, or to appreciate the ideas and decisions of the coach and the board. Sometimes supporting this club can make us exhausted. But it also teaches us a lot of things, gives us unforgettable memories and helps us find new friends from different parts of the world. Andrew Gomes (Managing Madrid’s Patreon member and also the author of the podcast intro) said lately: “Who knew that loving a football team could help you make such good friendship with some other people”.

So, the Champions League final is coming. Hundreds of emotions caused by every single moment of this game will be remembered for many years, and thousands of stories from different people will interweave into something historical. The countdown has already started: Two days, 10 hours, 23 minutes... Two days, 10 hours, 22 minutes... Are you ready?

Wherever you’ll be watching the match — at home, at a bar, at the stadium, at the fan zone, in a traffic jam, at work, at school, or at your friend’s wedding, no matter — just stop for a second to remember that our team is in the Champions League final (for the third time in row!). Just try to truly come to grips with this, try to capture this emotion and to save this memory. And then.. Just support the team. Yes, let’s support Real Madrid. Let’s show why this club is always on top, let’s show how much this club is loved by people from all over the world. Let’s cheer our players up! And let’s make Managing Madrid’s editor Om Arvind finally admit that our fanbase is the best in modern football.

Real Madrid. Artwork by Sofi Serg.
Los Galacticos
Sofi Serg

Oh, wait a second. I forgot to mention one more important thing. Remember: don’t touch the cup until you win it.


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