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the game’s greatest club dynasty
Oh. He’s here again. The man with the rapacious desire for annihilating success in his eyes. In the end it was a strange kind of glory for Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday evening as Real Madrid progressed precariously but also, somehow, inevitably to another Champions League final.
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has been a lot of talk about Ronaldo’s stripped-down role in his late prime. But this was a performance of such minimalism it might have been etched on a grain of rice, a vision of the ultimate endgame some years from now whereby Ronaldo is wheeled on to the pitch by a litter of footmen, emerging from his bathing machine to patrol a roped-off zone around the penalty spot, sampling the air, occasionally dropping into a series of “muscle poses” while in the background a football match takes place.
This is, of course, a tribute not a criticism. Even within these narrowed lines Ronaldo runs and shoots and leaps more than anyone else, just as even on an off-night you still felt Madrid couldn’t have won without him, a player who walks ahead of this team like an imperial standard.
And so here we are. Real Madrid are one win away from four Champions Leagues in five years, a run of success that would make the late Ronaldo years the most dominant club-football era of the modern age.
There are a few things worth saying about this. The first is that while Madrid’s success is thrilling it is also essentially meaningless. This is a success that defies patterns and systems, escapes beyond any kind of workable formula others could adopt.
What is the moral of this story? What is the philosophy of this Madrid team? How should anyone else attempt to repeat it? Sign Ronaldo? Play in white shirts at the Bernabéu and imitate that conquering imperial-meringue demeanour?
At times it feels like a kind of pop-art triumphalism, no more than a perfect surface. The defining image
of this team isn’t a priestly boot room or the earnest intellectualism of total football. The defining image of this team is Ronaldo’s abs.
In the middle of all this winning, Madrid have outlasted the teams around them who were supposed to define the age. Barcelona meant something: the club of nurture and Cruyff-ian collectivism. The Bayern Munich of 2013 meant something, fruits of that vast German production project, a social experiment that could be studied and admiringly replicated.
And yet it is Madrid whose name blocks out the top line in the history books, a Madrid that even escapes the galactico mould of bought success, the spine made up of a £10m goalkeeper, some shrewd defensive gambles and a pair of sublime central midfielders signed on the cheap.
Again, this is not an attempt to criticise, but a comment on the basic idea of meaning in sport, that craving we have for narrative. A couple of weeks ago I found myself engaged in a heated outburst on this subject during a Guardian Football Weekly podcast with my much-cherished colleague Barry Glendenning.
Barry was talking about Tottenham’s losing run in semi-finals. In the course of which I found myself disturbed by the suggestion this is some kind of hex, a shared fear, something passed down through the generations like – I suggested – a witch’s
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People who listened to the podcast were upset by this heated discussion. It rumbled on over social
media. The following day some passers-by spotted Barry in a pub and chanted “witch’s curse” at him, behaviour I cannot possibly condone unless people really want to do it, and which is not funny or proof that I was right.
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