Madrid may not have given the impression of being the best team throughout the tournament but their experience, know-how and sheer individual quality shone through.
As such, there were a few individuals who stood out during their quest for European glory.
No surprise here though. The Champions League is very much Cristiano Ronaldo‘s tournament, he’s made certain of that. The Portuguese superstar has now won Europe’s elite competition a remarkable five times and is its leading goalscorer of all-time with a staggering 115 strikes to his name.
Granted, he wasn’t at his phenomenal best in the final itself, but he top scored with 15 goals in this edition, producing a few sensational displays. His brace away to Juventus in the quarter-finals certainly makes the highlights reel.
Rating – 9/10
Ronaldo aside, Marcelo has arguably been Madrid’s most eye-catching performer. The marauding left-back’s ventures into the final third only seem to increase in frequency and effect. Marcelo has really come to life in the knockout stages of this season’s competition.
The Brazilian made telling impacts, scoring against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich en route to the final where he set up Bale for what will go down as one of the Champions League’s greatest ever goals.
Rating – 8/10
Much to Xavi’s chagrin, Casemiro now has four Champions League winners’ medals and in the process of acquiring the last three, he’s grown into one of the best defensive midfielders in the game.
He’s unsurprisingly made the most tackles in this year’s tournament with 36 while his passing and overall game has progressed exponentially since he first became a mainstay in the line-up under Zidane.
Rating – 8/10
Loris Karius was the goalkeeper who reluctantly commanded the spotlight in the aftermath of the final while at the other end, Keylor Navas had uneventfully delivered another solid performance.
The Costa Rican only has two clean sheets to his name, owing to Madrid’s questionable defending over the course of the tournament but with 32 saves – some of them spectacular – he regularly impressed as his side’s last line of defence. His heroics against Bayern Munich in the second leg of the semi-finals got Madrid to the final in the first place.
Rating – 8/10
It was a pretty unusual way to celebrate a Champions League triumph, but then Real Madrid are a pretty unusual club. Completely unique, in fact.
Within minutes of scoring twice to give his team their fourth European crown in five years – one outrageously brilliant goal, one hugely fortunate – Gareth Bale appeared on live television to bring down the euphoric mood by revealing he is considering leaving the club this summer.
At more or less the same time, a few metres away his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo was doing the same thing with another broadcaster, ensuring he would steal the headlines despite a notably poor performance by blurting out his latest threat to depart.
Talk about celebrations falling flat. The firework smoke had barely dissipated and already the winning team’s star player and match-winning hero were casting an unnecessary shadow of negativity over the proceedings.
In isolation and at a different time, their comments were not that controversial.
Bale’s point is that he wants to play every week, and that is something he has not and probably will not be guaranteed at Real Madrid. Sure, Saturday night became his moment, but the star-laden nature of the squad and Zinedine Zidane’s rotation policy means that next time it might be Isco’s, or Marco Asensio’s, or Lucas Vazquez’s.
WATCH: Guillem Balague believes Real Madrid president Florentino Perez may try and sell Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo if an opportunity to sign Neymar presents itself. https://t.co/bBYOnOucFk— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) May 27, 2018
At the Bernabeu, everyone has to wait their turn, and Bale is not prepared to wait. Everyone, that is, except Cristiano Ronaldo, the only attacking player in the squad who is guaranteed to start every big game whenever he is fit.
Although Ronaldo’s outburst was regrettable, it is nothing new. He is a master at grabbing the limelight and has scratched out a new pay rise through sulky behaviour on pretty much an annual basis.
In another context, Bale saying that he wants more playing time and Ronaldo saying that he is thinking about his future would provoke nothing but stifled yawns.
This, though, was different. Ronaldo staging a strop on the pitch just minutes after winning the Champions League Final, stealing the thunder of his teammates, is far more serious than his previous moans. And the same applies to Bale, whose choice to immediately throw his future into doubt rather than basking in the glory of his match-winning heroics is extremely unusual to say the least.
What’s going on here? Are Bale and Ronaldo both really on the verge of leaving Real Madrid?
Perhaps they really are, and perhaps the main reason for their discontent lies a few hundred kilometres to the north-east of Madrid, in the French capital of Paris: Neymar.
The Brazilian star, it is very obvious, wants to join Real Madrid. He has repeatedly refused to turn down opportunities to distance himself from the Bernabeu club and pledge his future to Paris Saint-Germain, and from an objective viewpoint who can blame him?
If you are the cream of the crop, the best player in the world in-waiting, would you want to mess around in the subpar French Ligue 1 with a team which has never come close to winning the Champions League, or would you prefer to join the mighty Real Madrid, one of the three highest-profile clubs in the world (alongside Barcelona and Manchester United) and kings of Europe in four of the last five years?
The answer is obvious, and in normal circumstances – considering Madrid president Florentino Perez’s taste for expensive shiny toys – it would be a given that Neymar is set to head to the Bernabeu as early as this summer. The only difficulty is his past as a Barcelona player, which prevented him from making the move directly from Catalonia to the capital and forced him to take a brief detour to France.
But Neymar is unlikely to be too worried by the negative reaction a move to Madrid would provoke, and neither will be Perez. The transfer just makes absolute sense, and it makes sense to get it done as soon as possible – neither the player, who will be 27 by the end of next season, nor his suitors will be keen for him to waste another year in France.
And if Neymar does come to the Spanish capital, he will be coming on the condition that he is the main man. Madrid’s Messi. The focal point of the team. Everyone else will have to adapt to him, and play through him.
Ronaldo knows this. Bale knows this. Ronaldo also knows he is 33 years old, while Bale will turn 29 in a fortnight. They are wise enough to sense that Neymar’s likely arrival will bring their respective eras as Galacticos to an end, and that their next transfer will probably be their last.
Now is the time for them to leave while they can still negotiate a hefty package elsewhere; now is the time for Neymar to arrive rather than throw away another season of his career.
And speaking to the home fans during the victory celebrations in Madrid, captain Sergio Ramos didn’t forget to thank the fans for their unconditional love and support for all these years.
Watch what the Spaniard had to say, below!