Cardiff, Sunday @PeopleSports11
He did what he always does. And Real Madrid did what they have done so often since this rather magnificent trophy was first awarded in 1956. Cristiano Ronaldo, at 32, is still demanding centre stage.
He won an FA Cup final at this stadium in 2004 as a callow youth against Millwall. It was his first ever team trophy. On Saturday night, the opposition was somewhat more glamorous, the prize somewhat more treasured but the performance has remained the same.
He did what he does, which is to lead from the front and ensure that, if silverware is at stake, he is the man left holding it at the end.
The Lionel Messi debate will never be properly resolved but let it simply be said that Ronaldo’s capacity for reinvention is remarkable. He has fewer touches than almost anyone but the ones he has are decisive.
The ability to track back and press relentlessly may be diminishing. But put a ball at his feet and his speed and movement is still bewitching. On Saturday night, it was just too much for Juventus.
In fact, the weight of history was too much for the famous old Italian team. This was their seventh defeat in a final and there was the sad yet dignified sight of a 39-year-old Gianluigi Buffon gently applauding Juventus fans as “We are the Champions” bellowed in the background. The face said it all; this trophy seems beyond him.
But Real Madrid, the team who appropriated the old European Cup at its outset, are dominating the modern era. Their 12th trophy in all was a landmark.
Never before in the modern era of the Champions League has the trophy been defended. It has now. Three wins in four years begins to invite comparisons to Ajax, Bayern, Liverpool and AC Milan.
And Ronaldo is stealing the show, not quite yet up there Paco Gente’s six wins and Alfredo Di Stefano’s five, but closing in with four and becoming the first man to score in three finals.
And what of Zinedine Zidane? 18 months ago he looked a stooge, the teacher’s pet of president Florentino Perez’s vanity project. Now he ranks alongside Bob Paisley, Brian Clough and Arrigo Sacchi as a man who has retained this famous old trophy. -DAILYMAIL