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Looking to extend a Real legacy

Unprecedented 15th title will send a strong message to incoming French star

Updated: 2024-05-29 09:38
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Real Madrid's players take part in a training session at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on Monday ahead of their Champions League final match at Wembley in London against Borussia Dortmund. AFP

MADRID — Whether it admits it or not, there is no doubt Real Madrid considers itself favorite to beat Borussia Dortmund on Saturday and win a record-extending 15th Champions League trophy.

Not only because the German side is considered to be a shock finalist, but simply because the king of Europe would feel the same way regardless of the opposition.

Another triumph on the biggest stage would be the perfect showcase of its power and prestige to superstar striker Kylian Mbappe, set to join from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer.

Madrid plays with a belief that it will prevail, but also with the humility to know that to do so requires flexibility in the 'how'.

It demonstrated as much in the quarterfinals against champion Manchester City, keeping its backs to the wall and squeezing through on penalties.

It delivered a trademark last-gasp sucker-punch against Bayern Munich to reach the final after falling behind, with substitute Joselu netting a late brace for Carlo Ancelotti's team.

That is precisely when comeback experts Madrid strikes — just when its opponent starts to believe that it can't do it, that it is finally defeated, that it is out.

"We're not thinking about whether we're favorites, but about playing against a team that deserves it too," Madrid coach Ancelotti told reporters Monday.

"We know that we will have to suffer and fight, like in all finals."

Madrid has established an astonishing European hegemony, with five triumphs in the last decade.

The next closest side to Los Blancos in overall victories is AC Milan with seven, the most recent of those coming 17 years ago.

Ancelotti pointed out one of the principal reasons for Madrid's dominance — the club's president.

"Here, there is a captain and he's called Florentino Perez," said the Italian earlier in May. "The rest of us are sailors."

The chief has been the constant in Madrid's most recent era of success, although its love affair with the European Cup started long before his reign.

The competition began in the 1950s, when Santiago Bernabeu was the club's chief, and Madrid took to it like a duck to water.

It won the first five editions of the tournament, between 1956 and 1960.

"Madrid's history in this competition was born in the 50s," said Ancelotti. "It's a competition where you concentrate more, you are more focused."

Madrid added a sixth in 1966, but had to wait more than 30 years for the seventh, achieved in 1998 after beating Juventus.

The eighth soon followed, in 2000 with a comfortable victory over Valencia, shortly before Perez became Madrid's president.

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior during a training session in Madrid, Spain, on Monday. AP

Stars and silverware

The construction magnate led Madrid into the Galactico era, with Zinedine Zidane's superb volley the highlight of the 2002 final, its ninth victory.

It established Madrid as the world's most glamorous club, allowing it to continue attracting the biggest star names in the game.

While the early 2000s era was underwhelming in terms of trophies, it laid the groundwork for Madrid's future success.

With Perez reappointed as president in 2009, Ancelotti and Zidane, turned coach, drove the team on to many more glories, with star forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale vital components.

It achieved "La Decima" — the deeply craved 10th — in 2014 against rival Atletico Madrid, the first of its recent string of successes.

Ronaldo became the top scorer in Champions League history with Madrid, his own appetite matching the club's hunger for glory.

Its new stars, Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior, are young players keen to write their own names into the club's history and continue Madrid's legacy of dominance.

Vinicius scored the winner in Madrid's most recent success, edging Liverpool 1-0 in the 2022 final in Paris.

Perez is always looking forward, plotting how Madrid can keep expanding its dynasty. The club's renovated Santiago Bernabeu stadium will provide bountiful streams of revenue, while Madrid has been rejuvenating its squad.

Jude Bellingham hones his skills ahead of the Champions League final at training in Madrid on Monday. AP

Mbappe message

The next star arrival is expected to be PSG striker Mbappe, arguably the world's most devastating forward.

Victory in London against Dortmund would be a well-timed flexing of its muscles before Mbappe's move is sealed.

It would make it obvious to the French forward that he is not needed to turn the team into the greatest club in the world — it already is.

With some concerns among supporters over how well Mbappe will potentially gel with his teammates, demonstrating the club's might would set a perfect tone.

Mbappe tried and failed to bring a first, highly coveted Champions League trophy to Paris several times over the past seven years.

To arrive at an institution lifting its 15th would certainly keep any ego in check.


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