Champions League Final 2014: All hail Madrid, football capital of Europe. Or is it?
I’m told the last time two clubs from the same city contested a Champions League final was over two decades ago in the competition’s previous guise as the European Cup.
It’s a final laden with subplots and that can only augur well for the clash as a spectacle. Champions League Final 2014 will be a dream homecoming for the competition’s goal scoring record-breaker Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portugal national team captain started his professional career in Lisbon with Sporting Lisbon, although the match will be played at the home of fierce city rivals Benfica. Surely Portuguese pride will trump club loyalties and Ronaldo will not be targeted for barracking by Benfica fans for his Sporting ties?
And surely both Champions League Final 2014 victor and vanquished will get a heroes’ welcome from a united and proud city on arrival from Lisbon?
Real will be bidding to end a 12-year wait for European glory. The last time they lifted the Big Ears was in 2002 at Hampden Park courtesy of Zinedine Zidane’s sumptuous left-foot volley, arguably the best goal to settle a Champions League final. Zidane will be in Lisbon in the Real dugout as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant.
It is a measure of how quickly the pendulum can swing in football that one of two Spanish clubs dumped out of the competition so unceremoniously last season by German opposition is contesting the final. It is amazing how quickly Spain has usurped Germany, or La Liga the Bundesliga, as Europe’s preeminent league if performance in the Champions League is an indicator of the state of the domestic league.
Only 12 months ago, pundits were falling over each other talking up a power shift to Germany and exalting the virtues of the Bundesliga as the blueprint for European leagues. Eventual champions Bayern Munich, after humiliating Barcelona in the semi-finals, set up an all-German final with Borussia Dortmund, who had seen off Real Madrid.
After the way they cantered to the domestic title sweeping all before them with contemptuous ease many backed Bayern to become the first club to successfully defend their Champions League title. A 5-0 aggregate drubbing by Real Madrid in the semi-finals was not in the script.
Lisbon will be the third time in the last decade that a final has been contested by clubs from the same country. Six seasons ago Manchester United saw off Chelsea in an all-English final in Moscow and that to some was conclusive evidence that the Premier League was the best in Europe. Last season we had an all-German final and similar conclusions were made about the Bundesliga.
The last decade has been dominated by English and Spanish clubs with three wins apiece, Italy with two and one each for clubs from Germany and Portugal. In the last decade Champions League records reveal that two of the last four finals were contested by clubs from the same country.
Is success in the Champions League an accurate barometer of the strength of the European domestic leagues? The Champions League final 2014 is a Madrid derby, does that mean Madrid is the football capital of Europe?
Football fans and pundits tend to exaggerate. They are notoriously prone to knee-jerk reactions and erroneous conclusions. We are quick to pronounce the demise of dominant empires and proclaim the rise of new ones.