They say that if you are ever so unfortunate to encounter a grizzly bear in the wild that your best bet to survive is to drop to the ground, get in the fetal position, and put your hands over your neck.
Turning and fleeing makes the grizzly believe you’re prey, and considering the common grizzly can run as fast as 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour, if you run, you’ll only die tired.
Hitting the deck leads the grizzly to think you’re already dead. It may meander over, poke and prod a bit, and then if you’re lucky, carry on its way.
But the key is to NOT get up immediately after it has left. Grizzlies will often come back shortly after, just to make sure the prospective prey is, in fact, dead. The best line of self-defense against nature’s apex predator that humans have been able to develop is “hope it’s too apathetic to kill you.”
Real Madrid are the grizzly bear that checks on its prey, just to make sure it’s dead. Not long ago, all of European football was celebrating, thinking that they were out of the woods when the lumbering grizzly had walked away.
Now, with yet another Champions League title on the line, the grizzly has trudged back over, putting fear in the hearts of its prey.
Real Madrid came into the season flying, topping Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup and then pummeling Barcelona in the Supercopa over the course of eight days.
But then came the fall, when Madrid walked away from their form, checking out of the Liga title chase by Thanksgiving and floundering in the Champions League group stage.
Many fans and pundits were prepared to write off this iteration of Real Madrid. Ronaldo was done, Zidane was a fluke, the defense was in shambles — they had a fantastic run, but it was time to retool. The bear had walked away.
Now, having reached a third Champions League final on the trot, the narrative surrounding Madrid is that they’re more lucky than good.
Conspiracy theories aplenty are being floated right now, ranging from “they got help from the officials,” to “Zidane has no tactics and is simply lucky”, or my personal favorite, “James deliberately blew the game for Bayern at the end.”
Reducing what Zidane’s men have achieved this CL campaign to favorable calls, missed handballs and lucky breaks is either willfully ignorant or misinformed. Yes, Bayern made amateurish mistakes and Benatia made one of the worst tackles in Champions League history. But part of winning is capitalizing on your opponents errors. Madrid made haste in making their opponents pay for theirs.
Real Madrid will always be seen as the villain, doubly so against a scrappy, buccaneering side like Liverpool, which is fine. Liverpool are a darling story, and a deserved opponent. What Klopp’s done with the team is admirable and Liverpool’s attack, led by Mohamed Salah, is as volatile as any in Europe.
But at the end of the day, Real Madrid thrive in the Champions League because their players’ mental fortitude and ability to put their boots through the ball have been superlative — not because of lucky bounces or whistles not blown.
Speaking of thriving in the Champions League, the bear is still hungry and red sure looks delicious.