Wednesday 16 January 2019

Comment: Real Madrid’s three-in-a-row would be remembered forever for being truly better than all others

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo

Miguel Delaney

It’s an indication of how much the football world has changed, and how Real Madrid might yet change perceptions.

The last time a club achieved the wondrous feat of winning the European Cup three years in a row, there was an awful lot of respect… but not much reverence or even reporting. That was for a reason.

“Of course we were happy,” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said of his Bayern Munich side after they beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in the 1976 final at Hampden Park. “But we didn’t really have a proper programme until the early hours of the morning. Back then we weren’t so well-organised. We were more or less sitting by ourselves having dinner. Then we got home to Munich and the printers were on strike. You couldn’t read about our victory in the newspapers.”

It’s a situation that now seems almost alien, and that’s not because of a change in media. Should Madrid on Saturday night in Kiev follow Bayern to win three successive Champions Leagues, there will be a saturation of coverage. All the big stories from it will be pored over, all the little details scrutinised, and there will be so much talk of what this achievement actually means.

It arguably has more meaning than any other in football.

That goes beyond the mere numbers, since Real have themselves won five in a row and other sides have gone on greater runs in other competitions, but the number itself is so self-contained and symbolic.

The idea of just scoring a hat-trick in football is already such a little landmark, so to manage it in the most prestigious prize in the club game is then so grandiose. There’s also the fact that, in this competition, it’s happened so rarely.

Only three sides have managed it: Bayern Munich 1973-76, Ajax 1970-73 and Real Madrid 1955-60.

After Real actually claimed a fifth by eviscerating Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960, German midfielder Paul Osswald declared: “They should just give Real Madrid the trophy and make another one for the team that earns the right to be humiliated by them in the final.”

That was something Uefa actually decided upon once they had to cast a new trophy in 1966, after the old Greek vase was awarded to Real Madrid for winning their sixth in 1966. With the ornate new piece of silverware, it was indeed decided that clubs would be allowed to keep it if they won three in a row or that initial landmark of five.

Owning the trophy itself seemed representative of how they made the top level of the game their own, not letting anyone else in. It was total domination. And, for one period, it was Total Football.

Ajax 1970-73 certainly managed complete domination, as they also claimed an actual treble in their three-year spell amid two domestic titles. Given that they were the first to achieve the feat after Real Madrid, and the magnificent manner they did it, the great Dutch side arguably infused the achievement with this grander mythos.

Bayern midfielder Franz Roth - the scorer of winning goals in the finals of 1975 and 1976 - was asked by The Independent a few years ago about the nature of their victories and how they followed Ajax, and couldn’t do much more than point to the numbers.

“Well, we were the best. We won three in a row, they won three in a row. It says it all.” It means it all… and yet the oddity is it doesn’t say everything.

It doesn’t say how even that great Real only won two domestic titles between 1955-60; how Bayern only won one between 1973 and 1976 and finished 10th of 18 teams in 1974-75.

It is similar now with Real Madrid, who will have only won one league title in the same half-decade they are going for five Champions Leagues. So these sides so regularly won club football’s best prize, while only rarely getting near to being the best in their country. Some of that is of course just down to the curious nuances of knock-out football.

That is maybe why the feat of three in a row should be considered more mythic than magic, since it instantly grants a side that legendary status.

The reality is that, if Real manage this, no one will care about their league performances. That won’t be remembered, as is precisely the case with their 1950s predecessors. They will have changed perceptions.

That won’t be all that’s changed, though. Uefa decided in 2009 that clubs would no longer keep the trophy if they win three in a row.

It won’t have a lasting place in Real's museum, unlike the trophy from the 1950s. It will ensure they have a lasting place in history, though, ahead of almost everyone else, just like that side from the 1950s.

Independent News Service

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