Liverpool Against Real Madrid Shows Knowhow Beats Money In Europe

Whatever transpires when perennial Champions League winners Real Madrid and Liverpool lock horns once again in Europe’s soccer showpiece in France, the matchup is more significant than ever.

Despite the constantly shifting soccer-scape across the continent, both are still there—after everything. And no matter the changing ownership structures, record transfers, and eye-watering contracts shaping the game today, they will be there again. For them, what happens outside is just background noise.

That background noise is Paris-Saint Germain, which has reached deep into its deep pockets to tie down Kylian Mbappé to a new deal. Factoring in the amount PSG could have received from Real, alongside its longer-term expenditure to keep Mbappé, holding onto its brightest young player has meant an approximate $400 million hit, the New York Times reasoned. Erling Haaland, another rumored target, will soon be playing soccer at Manchester City.

Besides having Middle Eastern funds and European ambitions, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have something else in common. They have never won the Champions League. With exceptional players and a world-class coach—especially in City’s case—they can. But knowhow has eluded them. Real and Liverpool have done so 19 times between them, and the ticker will strike 20 when either Marcelo or Jordan Henderson—possible captains on the night—lifts the prize at the Stade de France.

Real and Liverpool have proven that one billboard-fronting player does not bring success in the Champions League. If anything, missing out on Mbappé only hurt Los Blancos’ pride, given its name is usually enough to secure the best players around. On the turf, no Mbappé certainly does not mean a step backward. PSG, meanwhile, has and will keep spending millions just to maintain the status quo.

Behind Real and Liverpool’s success has not been individuals but a much greater force—their managers. And their contrasting leadership styles make this particular finale intriguing.

Jürgen Klopp has been the perfect tonic for Liverpool, charismatically galvanizing the club to regain European prominence over recent seasons. As for Real, both Carlo Ancelotti and his predecessor Zinedine Zidane have fostered a winning mentality through serenity. Liverpool’s squad feeds off Klopp’s enthusiasm, while Real’s respond well to their calm strategist, who has managed dozens of stars throughout his career.

The teams’ run to the final has depended on various individuals peaking in the right moments. Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was unstoppable during the first half of the season, and just as his goals have dried up slightly, Sadio Mané and Luis Díaz have stepped up in the final third. Similarly, Karim Benzema was the man with the Midas touch until Real needed a fresh spark in Rodrygo to save it when the chips were down. Each instance resulted from a strong group mentality needed when under pressure.

Indeed, although teams win the Champions League, one player may swing this one. Salah is desperate to win the trophy after going off injured when both sides last met in the final, and what better opportunity to return to form than this. However, some reports are not focusing on Salah. Instead, they are talking up the battle between Real’s Vinícius Júnior and Reds full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. The former is rapid, meaning Alexander-Arnold will need to look over his shoulder when supporting the attack.

Regarding money, both teams will have collected dozens of millions of dollars from matches won on the course to the final. Yet, although both sides are expensively assembled, you sense their success is down to much more than that.