When it all died down, the tickertape had blown away and someone had told Cristiano Ronaldo to put his shirt back on, Gareth Bale might well have given Sergio Ramos another hug.
He’d have hugged him already of course, as would each one of his Real Madrid teammates after the defender’s stoppage time header wrestled the Champions League trophy out of Atletico Madrid’s hands, becoming the most dramatic last minute goal in a European showpiece event since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s for Manchester United in 1999 in the process.
Ramos – this incredible goalscoring force in recent weeks – had saved his side, but perhaps most tellingly he had saved Bale as well.
Things hadn’t gone to plan for the Welshman in the previous 93 minutes in Lisbon, with the chance he missed in the first half no doubt haunting him in the manner that it did the watching Xabi Alonso at the time.
That moment was given an increased importance by Iker Casillas’ error which allowed Diego Godin to score just minutes later, and suddenly the possibility of a horrible symmetry emerged for Bale.
Because the world’s most expensive player had introduced himself to Real Madrid’s fans in a 1-0 defeat to Atletico on his home debut last September, one of the pivotal results of a campaign which saw the underdogs eventually take the league title ahead of Real and Barcelona. Lose to Atletico again here, and all that Bale has achieved in his first season in Spain would be tinged with disappointment, and the question of money would be brought up again.
Ah yes, the money.
Bale cost Real Madrid almost double the amount of Atletico’s starting XI in Lisbon on Saturday night, something that you can guarantee you’d be hearing a lot more of right now if the trophy had ended up swathed in red and white ribbons and not just plain white ones.
As has been seen elsewhere this season, romance and football are often difficult to force together right through to the end. Those who long for the great underdog stories got Atletico winning La Liga, but little else.
For Real though this was a different tale, with the most expensive of their recruits ultimately proving a deciding factor in the clinching of a trophy they have reportedly spent a billion euros chasing for the last 12 years.
Bale didn’t have his greatest game, largely down to the fact that Atletico’s defence was excellent right up until the fatal moment they lost their legs, the match and their dream. He was caught in possession, knocked off the ball and making the wrong decisions over who to pass to (it’s usually Ronaldo).
Around the watching world, thoughts were to turning to the potential irony of a below-par performance from the world’s most expensive player – who missed another decent chance late on in the 90 minutes – playing a key role in a victory which flew in the face of football’s money obsession. Then everything changed.
Bale owes a lot to Ramos for the equaliser, but perhaps even more to the surely shattered Angel Di Maria for the burst into the box 10 minutes from the end of extra-time, with the Argentinean’s effort looping off Thibaut Courtois and allowing Bale to end Real’s wait for European glory. Alonso reacted a little differently this time.
And it was Bale who ended that wait, regardless of Marcelo’s late strike and then Ronaldo’s late attempt at scene stealing. The Welshman’s will be the face associated with the triumph in Madrid, and you might even see a few more Spanish Gareths in nine months’ time.
Where does he go from here? To the Wales camp for a pre-World Cup friendly with the Netherlands – their World Cup, sadly not Wales’s – and then eventually he’ll return to Cardiff for the European Super Cup final in August.
That’ll be seen as a triumphant homecoming, but his home is Madrid right now.
His first season in the Spanish capital had already ensured that it should be his home for years and years to come, and after Saturday night they’ll never want him to leave.
Neither will he.
This could be the start of something very, very special.
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