Bale is Real Madrid’s future
Ronaldo deserves Kodak moment, but Real's future probably belongs to Bale
REAL MADRID 1
(Sergio Ramos 15)
ATLETICO MADRID 1
(Yannick Carrasco 79)
- Real win 5-3 on penalties
Cristiano Ronaldo writes his own storybook endings. He even prepares the artwork.
The decisive penalty was premeditated, but so was the strip tease.
For most of the Champions League final yesterday morning (Singapore time), he was Bruce Banner, consigned to the fringes and increasingly angry at his impotence.
But the Hulk inevitably turned up to win the game. The thumping spot-kick had to be followed with the gleaming torso and the awe-inspiring abs.
In demanding to take the fifth penalty and then tearing off his shirt, Ronaldo had made his statement.
Real Madrid's Hulk had smashed Atletico Madrid yesterday morning. He was not a man, but an impenetrable slab of tightened muscle, the perfect sporting specimen.
Stripped to the waist, the veins danced along his arms as he roared in celebration. Or it might have been a primal scream of relief.
His incomparable career had earned the right to win Real's 11th European title and his third, but the performance hadn't.
Ronaldo was a peripheral figure throughout at the San Siro. Nothing really came off. For the first time, he looked his age.
A minor injury, the "dead leg" that he had referred to earlier in the week, perhaps contributed, but a more obvious culprit was his birth certificate.
Ronaldo is 31 and probably feels he has nothing left to prove, except that he does, every season, every game, every second.
He lives not only in the shadow of Lionel Messi, but also bears the burden of the impossible expectations that the Portuguese colossus imposes upon himself.
Ronaldo wasn't born to be a support act. He just isn't wired that way. But at the San Siro, he was.
Gareth Bale's contribution dwarfed that of his more illustrious teammate.
In truth, neither forward enjoyed a final to remember, with Atletico's peerless defensive organisation denying both time on the ball.
Ronaldo and Bale swopped flanks for 120 minutes, but were passing ships in the night, rarely coming into contact or acknowledging the other's existence.
After three seasons, Ronaldo and Bale still lack the artistic telepathy and even the selflessness enjoyed at Barcelona, through Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta.
Through two hours at the San Siro, it's hard to recall a single one-two or a neat, improvised bit of interplay between Real's prized assets.
Their toiling resembled a battle of the individual and Bale clearly prevailed. His endeavours were not always successful, but he was everywhere.
The Welshman not only managed that exquisite assist, flicking an under-hit cross on to Sergio Ramos, but he also created three chances and managed eight shots.
More significantly, Bale's defensive contribution further undermined Ronaldo's lacklustre showing.
At times, Bale popped up as a deep-lying midfielder, supporting the tireless Casemiro in stopping Juanfran, who was superb at right back and did not deserve to miss the decisive penalty.
Ronaldo retreated less often, which proved pivotal in the second half when Atletico pressed forward, led by substitute Yannick Carrasco.
Zinedine Zidane's surprisingly cautious approach and even stranger substitutions left Real looking subdued and vulnerable. They needed Duracell bunnies rather than preening peacocks.
Bale did his bit. Ronaldo appeared content to wait for the shoot-out, as if aware of the best photo opportunity, the inevitable Kodak moment.
He's always had a great eye for the hero shot.
When the penalties finally came around, Bale could barely walk. Cramp had consumed him. He buried his spot-kick on one leg, hobbling back to the centre circle and clutching his groin like a confused Michael Jackson impersonator.
Ronaldo was never going to be quite so low key.
Adulation fuels him. Self-love is the drug and the San Siro crowd was privileged to witness the greatest showman of his generation.
The overriding memory of the occasion will of course be the one entirely engineered by Ronaldo, a shiny, sinewy superhero basking in his immortality.
Ronaldo controlled the climax, but not the match. He still decimates lesser La Liga opposition for fun, but can no longer quite dictate the biggest finals.
In a scrappy Champions League contest, no one did, but Bale came closer than his colleague.
Once the open-top bus parade and town square celebrations come to an end, Zidane, a ruthlessly honest man, will reflect on his personal good fortune.
Apart from an unnecessarily conservative line-up and some hasty substitutions, he has guided a disjointed Real side to an unexpected pinnacle.
Zidane deserves tremendous credit not for building a new dynasty, but for delaying the decline of an old one.
And Ronaldo delivered another glorious highlight, one that will be added to a surreal list of extraordinary achievements that have long since surpassed the dreams of ordinary human beings.
He owns the moment and rightly so.
But Real's future probably belongs to Bale.
It maybe wasn’t the best one (performance), but who played unbelievable tonight? No one. It’s tough. It’s the end of the season, you don’t have power in your legs that you have at the beginning of the season.
— Cristiano Ronaldo
I had cramps after it (the penalty), thank God it wasn’t before. I actually wasn’t too nervous — I was nervous after it (the penalty). I don’t know why. They were brilliant penalties from everyone.
— Gareth Bale
To be honest, I was confident I would score, I said to Zidane before the penalties: put me the last one because I feel I’m going to score the winning goal, and this is what happened.
— Cristiano Ronaldo
BY THE NUMBERS
Zinedine Zidane becomes just the seventh footballer to win the trophy as coach and player. In 2002, the Frenchman's stunning volley was the match-winner in a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.
With 16 goals in the competition, Cristiano Ronaldo has finished as top scorer for the second time after his 17-goal haul in 2014.