Money talks in the sport of soccer, and on Saturday night, Real Madrid got a return on the $310 million they splashed out on just three players. Sergio Ramos cost them $36m; Cristiano Ronaldo, an eye-watering $122 million and Gareth Bale was the dearest of all at $130 million.
But "La Decima?" The 10th European Cup that even their manager admitted was an obsession? That was priceless.
Real Madrid won that trophy on Saturday at the Estadio da Luz, downing their cross-town rivals Atletico 4-1 in the first all-city final in the history of the European Cup. Gareth Bale scored what would prove to be the winner after a late Sergio Ramos goal took the game into extra-time. Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo added late goals as insurance.
"It was an incredible win," said an emotional Carlo Ancleotti after the match. "We suffered for it, but we deserved it. We always believed we could equalize, and in the end, we got it."
Ancelotti became just the second man to win three European Cups, matching the mark set by Liverpool legend Bob Paisley. And Bale, with his header to the back post, paid back every dollar spent on him with interest.
But while the history books, at a glance, will record this as a rout, a 4-1 thrashing by Los Galacticos, that is false, for until Sergio Ramos headed the ball home deep into stoppage time, Atletico had given Real Madrid a nightmare, the working-class "mattress makers" out-hustling the slick stars to stake a 1-0 lead.
Diego Godin had headed home after just 36 minutes to stake Atletico that lead, and in truth it was a gift Off a corner lofted in by Gabi, the ball was slapped back out by Sergio Ramos, with keeper Iker Casillas chasing the play. That was a mistake; Juanfran simply lofted the ball over forcing the keeper to backheel in desperation, and Godin outjumped the defender to head it home. It was a dreadful error from the veteran – and more proof that his time at the top may be up.
But Real would not be denied. Ramos, who has so often been the hero for this team, rose up above an exhausted Atletico back line to power home Luka Modric’s cross. With that, the air went out of the Atleti end. The Real fans, who had been chanting "si, se puede" for the better part of a half hour, exploded. Casillas raced the length of the field and planted a kiss on Ramos’ cheek. Then he hauled away and told him: "You are the [expletive] chief."
"Sometimes you make mistakes, sometimes you do well," said an elated Casillas after the game. "I cannot complain, as despite my mistake, we did it in end."
For Gabi, Atletico’s indefatigable captain, the goal was a dagger. "The equalizer was just tragic," said Gabi in the flash zone post-game. "We tried to keep fighting and battling, but they took advantage in extra-time."
Indeed. As Ramos careened away from the net, with just a minute left on ref Bjorn Kuipers’ watch, the game felt as if it had irrevocably slipped away from Atletico. Out of subs after the gamble to start Diego Costa backfired when he had to be subbed after only nine minutes, Atletico went into the extra half hour with plenty of desire, but no legs to speak of.
And, then, in the words of Casillas: "the goal from Bale killed them."
Angel di Maria fired a cross in that keeper Thibaut Courtois kick-saved in desperation, but Bale was lurking at the back post unmarked. On those very expensive legs, he torqued up and buried the ball inside the near post. The clock read 110 minutes elapsed. It might have well sounded a toll, for Atletico were dead and buried.
Real scored two late goals after the fight went out of LosColchoneros; one from Marcelo, a fine solo strike to the corner after a mazy run around some very tired defenders. Gabi would then concede a penalty two minutes later with a shabby tackle on Ronaldo that the Portuguese star buried.
The game ended on a sour note as Atletico manager Diego Simeone raced on to the pitch after that goal to confront Raphael Varane, needlessly. He was sent to the stands, but returned at the whistle to gather his players and console them.