Real Madrid and Manchester City once again faced each other in search of the last place for the final in Paris
It happened again. Real Madrid have won a draw they absolutely had no right to win, and City have another Champions League failure to take home and feel sad. Proof that Madrid have a great new team on the way while City have a heavy psychological burden? Or proof that the magic is real? Why not both.
Shot of cabbage
Think about match reports. Think of all those poor lost match reports, tipped and tailed and ready to send as the 90 minute mark ticked around. And think about how boring they must have been.
It’s not the press’s fault, of course; we don’t come for their prose. But until the 90 ‘, City’s visit to Madrid was – to use the code words – an intriguing affair. City, while not playing particularly well, had done enough. Madrid, although it hadn’t played particularly badly, had failed to produce a single good chance, or even come up with a single hit on target. Nobody had thought too much or too little: the most obvious thing had happened and the best team had won.
In fact, the most agitated thing about last night’s game was the prospect of the final: on the one hand, the two best teams in the world; on the other, two teams from the same league. A question of taste, of sports issues against the HANG ON narrative. THIS IS THE MUSIC OF REAL MADRID.
The word being thrown for this Madrid team is magic. It’s another code word and essentially means, “Look, we don’t really know what’s going on here, but you don’t know either, and nobody who’s actually responsible, so that’s okay.” Any sufficiently inexplicable return is indistinguishable from magic, as Arthur C Clarke would have written if he had been a football fan.
Of course, while magic is fun to watch – unless you’re a rabbit, or Rúben Dias – it’s a bit unsatisfying as an explanation. Was he a magician? Well then. After the match, Carlo Ancelotti underlined the power of Real Madrid in the Champions League: “I can’t say that we are used to living this kind of life, but what happened tonight happened against Chelsea and also against Paris. If it has to be said why, it is the history of this club that helps us to move forward when it seems like we are gone ”.
He has something in mind, one suspects. The comebacks generate comebacks. Real Madrid’s long-term history with the European Cup is a beautiful reciprocity; their immediate story is a story of victories snatched from the jaws of defeat. Or, in this case, reaching right through the jaws of defeat, down the throat, and pulling the semi-digested victory out of the stomach.
As Rodrygo, the most superb of the supersubs, said: “We were losing the game, we were dead and what happened happened. With this shirt we learn to always fight until the end. We were almost dead but with my first goal we began to believe in it ”.
Beyond the intangibles of football – magic, history, faith – there is something else impressive about this Madrid team. Sure, they start every game with Karim Benzema in front and that perfectly balanced trio of midfield of Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, Casemiro. But when they started scoring in this match, that midfield had already taken their training shirts and sat on the bench. By the time of the final whistle, Benzema had joined them. This victory belongs to Rodrygo, who is 21, and to the brilliant and precocious Eduardo Camavinga, who is only 19. To Fede Valverde, 23, and Vinicius Jr, 21.
It’s easy to take Real Madrid a little less seriously. The same goes for Carlo Ancelotti. The club does not appear to operate along any of the accepted lines of being a fair, sensible and well-run football club, and their manager attracts adjectives like ‘cuddly’. Pep Guardiola introduced himself dressed as Steve Jobs and waved his hands a lot; Ancelotti showed up in a nice dress and raised his eyebrow a little. This world should belong to people who dress up like Steve Jobs and do their job to the hilt, whether it’s football, boss’s wager or technological advancement.
But look at what a renewal: the old guard dragging his aching bones to the sideline, the new guard advancing at full speed. Look at how impassive they remained, how the boys didn’t get scared, as they replaced some of the greatest players of their generation and took a step forward. Football management is all about turning individuals into better individuals, and then these better individuals into a team. And a team is more than a plan: it is union, it is interdependence, it is mutual reinforcement. This Madrid team has a great united calm that allows them to ride the moments of uncertainty and take advantage of the good ones. And when it comes to football, this is the magic that really matters.