A player of a generation, a team of a generation: Ronaldo and Real are the history boys

This Real Madrid team is without equal in the modern era and Ronaldo has taken strides towards immortality after beating Juventus 4-1

A player of a generation; a team of a generation. That is the only way to describe Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid following the club’s 12th Champions League victory.

Ronaldo makes Champions League history

Into the bargain Zinedine Zidane has bettered every Real Madrid coach since 1958. Luis Carniglia equalled the feats of Jose Villalonga a year previous in winning a league and European Cup double. No Madrid coach since then could do it until now.

And it took 27 years for a team to match the feat of Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan side. This Real Madrid have no comparison in the modern era.

The path to the final these days is so fraught with danger and teams such hostages to fortune that it is hard for any side to fulfil their destiny as favourites.

There is such a pervading expectation of success around Madrid, however, and they have broken through that glass ceiling.

Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid

This was supposed to be competitive. Juventus had conceded three goals in the competition to this point and had shut out Barcelona twice.

Tonight, Real Madrid pierced them four times through Ronaldo, Casemiro and Marco Asensio. This was a team going for a treble and they were made to look like they didn’t belong in the same company.

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Madrid’s sense of calm, their ease at coping with pressure, these things don’t come easily. They only come for a team so used to winning – and so sure of it – that every final can be treated as no big deal.

Before the game as the Juventus XI went through a detailed and rigorous pre-match warm-up, the Real Madrid contingent could be seen engaging in an easy-going rondos session and exchanging hugs and smiles. They have been here, seen it and done it. They don’t come to Champions League finals to compete, they come to fulfil a script.

Credit to Juventus. They flew out of the blocks and threatened to disrupt the rhythm of the team in purple but it couldn’t last. Not even one of the greatest Champions League final goals from Mario Mandzukic could knock them from their stride. Indeed, it was appropriate that it required magic to earn Juve some parity because their normal game was sure as hell not good enough to get close.

Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus Real MadridCristiano Ronaldo Juventus Real Madrid

Real did what Real do. They maintained composure in possession and were utterly devastating when they had the ball in front of goal. Gianluigi Buffon barely had his shorts dirtied by the time Ronaldo swept the opening goal past him.

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Juventus came here believing and hoping but all it took was one swipe of the Portuguese genius’s boot to smash their expectations back into the earth.

That’s four Champions Leagues for Ronaldo for those keeping score at home. Three for Real and one more for Manchester United. He has scored in three finals including two goals here. He has scored 10 knockout goals this season; many strikers would be satisfied with that over the course of a career.

Comparisons will always be made with Lionel Messi but now it’s time to start thinking about Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas in the Real Madrid context. He is extra-terrestrial; we will never see his like again.

And, as good as Zidane was a player, he is now emerging the same way as a coach. These are the history boys; modern greats, the best of all time?

Juventus 1 Real Madrid 4: Ronaldo double seals historic Champions League triumph

Real Madrid won a record 12th Champions League/European Cup trophy courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s double against Juventus.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid defeated 10-man Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff to retain their Champions League crown.

Madrid became the first team in the Champions League era to successfully defend the trophy with their sixth triumph in the competition – and 12th when you include it in its former guise of the European Cup – three of those victories coming in the last four years.

A thrilling first half saw Ronaldo put Madrid ahead, becoming the first player to score in three different Champions League finals in the process.

Mario Mandzukic equalised for Juventus with a spectacular overhead kick that will live long in the memory.

But Madrid dominated the second half as Juve collapsed, Casemiro scoring with the help of a huge deflection before Ronaldo made sure of the victory from close-range, ensuring he finishes above Lionel Messi as the competition’s top scorer this season.

Any hopes of a Juventus comeback were ended when substitute Juan Cuadrado was sent off 18 minutes after coming on, the winger receiving a second yellow card for a clash with Sergio Ramos, before Madrid substitute Marco Asensio put the icing on the cake in the last minute.

Having also secured LaLiga glory, the win seals a famous double for Zinedine Zidane in his first full season at the helm, with Madrid the first side since AC Milan in 1990 to win back-to-back European crowns.

Juventus, who had been seeking a treble after winning Serie A and the Coppa Italia, have now lost five straight finals since last tasting continental success back in 1996, including two of the last three, having also lost to Barcelona in Berlin two years ago.

Former Madrid star Gonzalo Higuain tested Keylor Navas early on with a 25-yard drive, before the goalkeeper had to make a terrific one-handed save to keep out a powerful Miralem Pjanic strike from a similar distance.

It was Madrid, though, who opened the scoring after 20 minutes, Ronaldo capping a slick passing move.

Karim Benzema and Ronaldo were both involved in the build-up before Dani Carvajal’s cut-back led to the Portugal international producing an impressive first-time finish, finding the far corner from the edge of the area with the help of a slight deflection off Leonardo Bonucci.

The lead lasted just seven minutes before Juve hit back in magnificent fashion.

Bonucci’s pass from defence was helped on by both Alex Sandro and Higuain – the ball not leaving the ground throughout – to set up Mandzukic and the Croatia international took one touch and unleashed a magnificent overhead kick into the top corner, with Navas not close to it.

Ronaldo had a chance to hit back, but he misjudged an attempted diving header from Isco’s cross as an entertaining first half ended level.

Luka Modric tested Gianluigi Buffon with a left-footed strike from outside the box as Madrid made a faster start to the second half.

And Zidane’s men retook the lead just after the hour mark when Toni Kroos had a shot blocked and Casemiro latched on to the loose ball 35 yards out, firing in a shot which took a huge deflection off Sami Khedira to deceive Buffon.

With Juve shell-shocked, Madrid struck again just three minutes later. Modric played a one-two with Carvajal, latching on to the full-back’s return pass down the right and digging out a superb cross, allowing Ronaldo to nip ahead of a stationary Bonucci and prod in from inside the six-yard box.

Juve brought on Cuadrado, Mario Lemina and Claudio Marchisio as they attempted to reverse the momentum, while Gareth Bale was introduced for Madrid in his home city.

The Italian champions needed a superb intervention from Bonucci to stop Bale from tapping in a Ronaldo cross, before coming close themselves when Alex Sandro’s glancing header fell just wide from Dani Alves’ free-kick.

A miserable night for Juve got worse with six minutes to go when Cuadrado, already booked for a late challenge on Ronaldo, saw red after Ramos went down dramatically, the Colombia international having lightly pushed him and made minimal contact with his foot.

Madrid wrapped up a famous triumph in the final minute when Asensio – eight minutes after coming on – slotted in left-footed from eight yards after superb work from Marcelo down the left in an emphatic triumph for Zidane.

Key Opta stats:
– Real Madrid have won their last six European Cup finals, last losing one in 1981 versus Liverpool.
– Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich, Juventus) became the third player to score in a European Cup/Champions League final for two different teams after Velibor Vasovic (Partizan Belgrade, Ajax) & Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd, Real Madrid).
– Ronaldo has now scored at least twice as many Champions League goals as any other player in the quarter-final stage (20), semi-final stage (13) and final of the competition (4).
– Ronaldo made his fifth European Cup/Champions League final appearance – only Paolo Maldini, Paco Gento (8) and Alfredo Di Stefano (7) have played in more.
– Juan Cuadrado became the third player to be sent off in a Champions League final, after Jens Lehmann (2006) and Didier Drogba (2008).
– Gianluigi Buffon was the third oldest player to feature in a European Cup final (39y 126d) after Dino Zoff and Edwin van der Sar.
– Juventus (4) conceded more goals in this game as they had in the rest of the campaign (3).

How much did Juventus and Real Madrid’s squads cost to put together?

Ahead of Saturday’s Champions League showdown in Cardiff, Goal gets out the calculator and tots up the value of both finalists


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Real Madrid’s Champions League squad is worth over €200 million more than that of their opponents in Saturday’s Champions League final, Juventus.

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While most pundits agree that there is little to choose between the two clubs in a sporting sense, it is clear from the value of their respective panels that los Blancos are operating a different financial level to the Bianconeri.

Juve and Madrid squad costs

The reigning champions’ 25-strong squad was assembled at a cost of €638.2 million and features the second and third most expensive players of all time in Gareth Bale (€100.8m) and Cristiano Ronaldo (€94m).

Bale, of course, is unlikely to be fit enough to start in his native Cardiff and is expected to be joined on the bench by €80m man James Rodriguez, underlining the incredible strength in depth available to Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid

Gonzalo Higuain Juventus shirt

While Juve’s squad is worth ‘only’ €422.03m in terms of overall transfer fees (which, it is worth noting, were calculated by including previous loan fees and bonuses), the Italian champions have a couple of big-money signings of their own.

Indeed, Gonzalo Higuain was signed from Napoli for €90m, while captain Gianluigi Buffon remains the most expensive goalkeeper in history – which is staggering given he arrived in Turin from Parma 16 years ago.

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The Italian’s €53m now looks like a bargain and it is worth pointing out that Juve’s recent resurgence can be attributed to the shrewd work done in the transfer market by CEO Beppe Marotta and sporting director Fabio Paratici.

Juve’s famed ‘BBC’ defence was acquired for a grand total of €23.6m, which is less than Madrid spent on either Danilo or Fabio Coentrao.

Juventus BBC Barcelona

Still, it is worth noting that Madrid have made a couple of prudent signings themselves in recent years, most notably Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, both of whom were bought for €6.5m.

Even the relatively small amounts of money spent on the likes of Keylor Navas (€10m), Raphael Varane (€10m), Toni Kroos (€30m), Isco (€30m) and Luka Modric (€35m) represent excellent pieces of business, given what they have contributed to Real’s recent triumphs.

The fact remains that Real have always spent big in pursuit of success and they will be hoping that their colossal outlay on this current crop of superstars will once again pay dividends on Saturday.

The Juventus guide to building the best team in Europe

The Bianconeri were relegated to Serie B in 2006 but now they are Champions League finalists, as strong off the field as they are on it


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“A cyclone” is how Beppe Marotta describes ‘Calciopoli ‘, a swirling scandal that swept through Italian football in 2006 and reduced Juventus to rubble.

When he arrived in Turin four years on from the club’s relegation to Serie B, the Old Lady was back in the top flight but still struggling with a sense of loss.

“We found a disheartened atmosphere but, above all else, there was no football culture,” the Juventus CEO explained. “That’s what the president and we directors tried to bring to the club.”

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That president was Andrea Agnelli and even his surname offered Juve’s beleaguered fan base hope of a renaissance. Not since his father Umberto’s reign had ended in 1962 had a member of the Agnelli family held the most prestigious position at the most loved – and hated – club in Italy.

Andrea may have been a member of the country’s financial and footballing aristocracy but he was, first and foremost, a Juve fan. He was as shocked as he was pained by the state of the club, which was coming off the back of a dismal seventh-placed finish in Serie A. He saw not only a broken club but a broken system. Even today, he claims that in Italy there is “a total absence of medium-to-long term vision. The Italian system thinks about earning one or two million today, rather than 10 million tomorrow.”

Deloitte Football Money League Juventus PS

Agnelli, though, certainly does not lack foresight. He first created a clearly defined club structure, immediately appointing Marotta as general director and Fabio Paratici as sporting director, before later bringing former fan favourite Pavel Nedved on board as vice-president. Marotta and Paratici had already constructed an exciting squad together at Sampdoria, while Nedved has proven an equally shrewd addition, a Ballon d’Or winner who serves as a beloved intermediary between the players and the president. By the time of the Czech’s arrival in 2012, Agnelli had already started reinventing the Juventus brand.

The wheels may have already been in motion regarding the construction of a new home – which facilitated an ‘English-style’ atmosphere that has driven the team’s sporting and financial success – but Agnelli managed the move masterfully.

The JStadium (soon to become the Allianz Stadium) would be quickly complemented by the JVillage and the JMuseum. Most recently, the club’s crest has been revamped and while it is certainly not to everyone’s tastes, it is entirely in keeping with Agnelli’s vision of the future, a symbol of the club’s modernisation.

He has been bold, innovative – even overseeing a commercial deal with ‘Checco’, a baby accessories company – and, most importantly, successful. After dropping to an all-time low of 13th place in Deloitte’s Football Money League in 2011, Juve have now reclaimed their place in the top 10, with their revenue having risen from €172 million to €388m by the end of the last financial year. The next best Italian team, AC Milan, sit 16th.

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“What we have done in a time of crisis is unprecedented,” Agnelli enthused at the club’s assembly in October.

Indeed, Italy’s recession ultimately caught up with several grossly mismanaged Serie A sides, chief among them Inter and AC Milan, which as Tim Bridge, author of Deloitte’s Football Money League, tells Goal, contributed to the unique economic growth of the well-run Bianconeri.

“Juve rather impressively identified the problems with the old Italian model of clubs renting a stadium off the local council and took the rather bold decision to not only build their own, but also reduce the capacity from around 80,000 to 41,000,” he acknowledges.

Andrea Agnelli Juventus PS

“By doing so, they created a demand for tickets and a safe, secure environment that attracted a new audience to their games. That set them apart from all of their traditional rivals. However, Juve have also benefited enormously from the other Italian clubs’ poor results in European competition because it has allowed them to keep almost the entire market pool from Italy’s Champions League TV revenue all for themselves.”

However, while Juve have become a money-making model for every other Serie A side, Agnelli differs from many of his peers in that his primary concern is making money for the club – not himself.

“My vision of the management of a professional club at the highest level is based on one concept,” he has previously explained, “and that is ‘Football above everything else.'”

Consequently, Agnelli has given Moratta and Paratici more and more money to work with – and they have almost always spent it shrewdly.

There were notable early failures – Milos Krasic for one – but Juve’s record in the market since 2011 is staggeringly good. ‘The BBC’ of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, the greatest backline of the modern era, was assembled at a cost of €23.6m. Carlos Tevez was picked up for just €11m. Andrea Pirlo – “my greatest ever signing”, as Marotta calls him – arrived on a free, as did Sami Khedira, Dani Alves and Paul Pogba, who was sold to Manchester United last summer for a world-record €105m fee.

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Now viewed as a master of the market, Marotta was recently asked how he selects his signings? He replied, “In two ways: We either take someone who is already an established champion: look at Dani Alves, [Mario] Mandzukic, Khedira, [Gonzalo] Higuain and so on. Or, we look for talent. But only a talent who can become a champion.

“That means someone who has not only the technical qualities but also the human values to turn into a champion, as happened with [Paulo] Dybala, for example.”

Gianluigi Buffon Juventus

Juve will not buy a player who does not buy into the club culture that Agnelli has so carefully cultivated. Of course, showing new arrivals ‘lo stile Juve’ (The Juve style) is made easier by the presence of players like captain Gianluigi Buffon.

As former Juve captain Gianluca Vialli says, “Gigi represents everything it means to be Juve: hunger, humility, ruthlessness, a sense of belonging.”

Buffon was one of the select few to endure what he calls “a summer of understandable exits” and stay at Juventus despite their demotion to Serie B in 2006. Two weeks ago, he claimed his sixth successive Scudetto and, Buffon being Buffon, promptly paid tribute to “those who work on the pitch and off the pitch to allow me to do my best, all of this wouldn’t be possible.

“And the most amazing this is that all of this is still not over.”

Juventus vs Madrid: Combined XI

Indeed, on Saturday, they will face Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Victory over a side assembled at a cost of €638.2m (Juve’s squad cost 215.9m less)  would represent the culmination and vindication of everything Agnelli and his directors have done over the past seven years.

Juve and Madrid squad costs

They could, of course, have conquered the continent in 2015 but they were beaten in Berlin by Barcelona. Even Marotta admits, though, that they hadn’t expected to be there. After years of continental disappointment under the otherwise inspirational Antonio Conte – another crucial figure in reasserting the club’s domestic dominance when he arrived as coach in 2011 – Juve’s final appearance in what was Massimiliano Allegri’s first season had taken even his bosses by surprise.

That 3-1 loss served as a lesson – as did the following year’s last-16 defeat to Bayern Munich – and Juve learned from it. While they had laid the foundations for domestic dominance, it was clear to them that they needed to make another leap in quality.

Andrea Agnelli Patriarci Nedved Juventus

After years of practicing prudence in the transfer market, Juve enacted the €32m buy-out clause in Miralem Pjanic’s buy-out clause at Roma before doing the very same thing to prise Gonzalo Higuain away from Napoli. This time, the fee was an eye-watering €90m, the fourth-highest transfer fee in history.

It has already proven a price worth paying.

“The Cardiff final was born last summer,” Marotta argues. “It was a transfer market campaign designed specifically for this objective.

“Andrea, Pavel, Fabio and myself, together with the coach, we had decided to raise the bar. We said to ourselves, ‘In Italy, we understood the right recipe for success; now let’s see if we can now also go all the way in Europe.'”

On Saturday, they will get their answer. Juve have already proven themselves the best team in Europe off the field – all that remains is to do likewise on it.

Higuain’s horrendous scoring record in major finals

The Juventus and Argentina attacker goes into Saturday’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid looking to end a most ignominious record


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Gonzalo Higuain has long been ridiculed for his inability to score in the biggest games. Indeed, the Argentina international even threatened to rip the head off one supporter who brought up his missed penalty in the 2015 Copa America final.

The Juventus striker will, therefore, be determined to leave his mark on Saturday’s Champions League showdown with Real Madrid in Cardiff.

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Indeed, while Higuain has won four domestic titles (three in Spain with Real and one in Italy with his current employers), the 29-year-old has never actually netted in a major final.

Higuain picked up a Copa del Rey winners’ medal in 2011, when Jose Mourinho’s men defeated Barcelona thanks an an extra-time goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, but the River Plate product never actually got off the bench at Mestalla.

Gonzalo Higuain Finals PS

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

After a €39 million move to Napoli in the summer of 2013, Higuain lifted the Coppa Italia at the end of his first season at the San Paolo but he did not get on the scoresheet in the tournament decider despite playing 70 minutes of the Partenopei’s 3-1 defeat of Fiorentina in Rome.

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Just six weeks later, Higuain was made the principal scapegoat for Argentina’s devastating 1-0 extra-time loss to Germany in the final of the World Cup in Rio, with the forward having missed a glorious chance to open the scoring during the first half before then having a goal ruled out for offside just before the break.

‘El Pipita’ and the Albiceleste were offered a shot at redemption 12 months later when they faced Chile in the final of the 2015 Copa America.

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

Again, though, Higuain suffered heartbreak. Having started on the bench, he was introduced in place of Sergio Aguero in the 74th minute and, with just seconds of normal time remaining, had the chance to win the cup for Argentina only to shoot into the side-netting after a great run from Lionel Messi and low cross from Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Things then went from bad to worse for Higuain when he missed Argentina’s second penalty during their 4-1 shootout defeat, blazing the ball over the bar.

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History repeated itself in 2016 when the Albiceleste were again beaten on penalties by Chile in the final of a special, centenary edition of the Copa America.

Once more, the finger of blame was pointed at Higuain, who had dinked his shot wide after finding himself clean through on goal in the 23rd minute.

Gonzalo Higuain Argentina

At least Higuain’s latest cup final appearance ended in triumph, with Juventus beating Lazio 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico last month, but it is worth noting that he again proved profligate when it mattered most.

Higuain shot straight at Thomas Strakosha after being picked out inside the six-yard box by Dani Alves in the first half, while he also fluffed a great chance to put the result beyond all doubt in the closing stages.

Both Higuain and Juve will, thus, be desperately paying that if a big chance comes the attacker’s way in this weekend’s final at the Millennium Stadium, the €90m man will finally take it.