The year was 2002. I was a boy of 9 years and I was a Real fan for geographical reasons only. As I had just started the first year of my two-year tenure in the Spanish capital, I became an official Real Madrid supporter as soon as I moved into my home on Calle Eresma, which was all but two blocks away from the Santiago Bernabéu. On Sundays, you could hear the crowd roar from my bedroom window. That was during the beginning of the month of May, just days before Real Madrid beat Bayern Leverkusen (2-1) in Glasgow to lift the European Cup for a record 9th time.
That was then and this is now. Twelve years later and the glory and magic of Glasgow is but a distant memory, blighted by the stains of over a decade of bitter defeat after bitter defeat. It’s impossible not to fall in love with your hometown club. When the team does well, the whole city just seems like a happier place. Unfortunately, the last twelve seasons have been a roller coaster of immense highs and devastating lows. Since La Novena, Real has only won La Liga four times, with Barca winning six and Valencia and Atletico taking one apiece. Real’s La Liga form doesn’t seem so bad since we have seen the passing of the most successful era our bitter rivals FC Barcelona has ever had in their history as a football club. Our Champions League form however, has been something else entirely.
Following a successful 2002 campaign, Real set off to lose in the semi final against Juventus in 2003, and to AS Monaco at the quarterfinals in 2004 — both completely winnable games considering the galactic strength of Real Madrid’s squad at the time. Then came one of the most humiliating runs of UEFA Champions League form in the club’s recent memory, six straight losses in the round of sixteen. Considering the immense strength and pride of Real Madrid, each year of that run Madrid fans expected more from their team, and each campaign was met with bitter disappointment. A change was needed, and the change came in the form of manager José Mourinho.
The Special One was now in charge. And through him special things began to take root at Real Madrid. We stopped trying to play an “attractive” style of soccer in favor of a more counter-attacking approach (which is just as if not more exciting when done right). This complete 180 in match tactics helped Madrid make use of its strengths and exploit its rival’s weaknesses. An immensely talented central defensive core that featured the talents of Pepe, Ramos, and Verane formed the backbone of the side that have lead Real Madrid to five consecutive semi-final appearances, with the fifth one finally leading to our first final in twelve years. In midfield, we have players like Modric, Alonso, and the newly centralized Angel Di Maria, who can win the ball as well as pass it anywhere on the pitch at any given time. And in offense, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo combine, pace, width, power, and finishing ability possibly unlike any other wing duo in the entire history of world football. Mourinho laid the foundations that we have seen been perfected by Carlo Ancelotti this season, and with a group of players not looking like they aren’t going to slow down anytime soon, you can bet this year’s final definitely isn’t going to be our last one this decade.