In the end, nothing changed. Real Madrid did what Real Madrid does while UEFA, elite European soccer’s governing body, did what it does too.
Before the more pressing organizational issues, Real deserves heaped praise for winning the continent’s top club prize yet again. 15 Champions League wins are an extraordinary achievement. Against a Red flurry, it stood firm in Paris, thanks to an inspired goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois, who felt particularly vindicated at the final whistle. In attack, it offered little but—like a beast waiting for its moment—bit at the right time, scoring with only its second shot on target compared to Liverpool’s nine.
There was, and is, a sense of destiny with Los Blancos, even against Liverpool, which is also Champions League royalty with six titles. Liverpool was better in how it took the game to Real. But the La Liga winner has this magnetism when it comes to European finals, with resilience and belief so hard to break. For Jürgen Klopp’s team—whose winning mentality rivals the best—there was no answer. Drawing level after Vinícius Júnior’s winning goal seemed more unlikely as the seconds passed. Having beaten the best en route to the final, this too was a winning night for Carlo Ancelotti’s players.
Real’s return to the summit coincides with its comeback as the most valuable soccer team worldwide. Tested by the pandemic-induced changes to the game’s economy, Real remained financially steady, continuing its Santhiago Bernabéu stadium renovations and winning on the field. Sportively, the most impressive takeout has been its ability to recruit young players and ingrain them with the winning mentality so seamlessly. The game-changers haven’t always been the most costly, either. Real Madrid can afford to have Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard watch on as the old heads and dependable selections look after business.
And it’s hard to see that stopping. Real Madrid may not attract a bona fide galáctico this summer, but it doesn’t have to. If it ends up with, say, young French midfielder Aurelian Tchouameni—reportedly courted by a few clubs such as Liverpool—you sense its success will snowball. Signing young, talented players for steep but reasonable prices is the way forward, so there is a future beyond the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, both of whom have not run their race yet.
Real’s dominance is applaudable. But the ones who set the stage are anything but after a chaotic final night, which let down everyone outside the Real bubble. The winner achieved victory less than smoothly, and the management of spectators outside the Stade de France was deeply concerning.
Granted, the clamor that comes with a Champions League showpiece means illegal entries are a distinct possibility. But the real issue was the French authorities and tournament organizer UEFA, whose combined actions left many law-abiding match-goers pepper-sprayed and hurt among the crowds due to an illogical security procedure. The events have angered Liverpool, precisely 37 years after the Heysel disaster in which 39 fans died at a match against Juventus in Belgium.
The chaos resulted in a 36-minute delay to the match, with UEFA quick to shirk responsibility. But footage emerging from outside the stadium shows this was a poorly considered event. It follows on from existing criticism aimed at UEFA too, which allocates a disproportionate amount of seats to corporate hospitality at finals as everyday fans shell out substantially for a limited number of tickets, not to mention travel costs.
External events have forced UEFA to be flexible this year, with the Russian city Saint Petersburg scrapped as the final host due to its country’s role in the ongoing war with Ukraine. But the organization had also received heavy criticism previously, with its insufficient punishments for racist incidents in UEFA competitions and, less significantly, its role in changing the Champions League format from 2024.
The organizer’s problems haven’t vanished, nor has Real’s knack for winning the most prestigious club trophy they offer. However, one thing that could change is the winner a year from now. Liverpool bounced back to win the next after losing to Real in 2018 and has the drive to repeat that feat. The Reds still have momentum as they celebrate two domestic cups, and even if star attacker Sadio Mané leaves this summer, Klopp knows how to build a team capable of challenging on all fronts. For now, though, Real reigns supreme.