I watched the Champions League final more out of obligation than any sense of joy, which feels so very weird for me to say. There was a time, way back when, when I wouldn't miss a Real Madrid match on TV (of course there were far fewer of them back then), and the idea that I've stopped caring mightily about the Champions League final feels very very strange indeed. I didn't even know what sort of injuries Real was dealing with--I thought I remembered that Gareth Bale had missed the round previous--and I knew basically nothing about Juventus except that Gigi Buffon was their goalie.
The thing is, I'm finding it increasingly hard to care about soccer right now. It's not just that there are too many matches for a spectator to care about. It's that there are too many matches for the players to stay in top form, and so too much of each season is just a grind. I would ask, "Who has time to watch something like that?" but I guess the answer is many many many people. I mean, I used to be one of them.
Anyway, it turned out to be an enjoyable match. The first half saw well-matched, fluid play, and two goals of utter footballing wizardry. The perfection of Cristiano Ronaldo's pass to dead-sprinting Dani Carvajal for the first goal makes no sense to me. Surely Carvajal is screaming the whole way, but from what I can tell Ronaldo never once glances in his direction, and yet the pass is inch-perfect. Is bat-like echo-locative hearing also one of Cristiano Ronaldo's abilities?
And while Mario Madzuckic's bicycle kick lob goal was also a wonder to behold, it is the build-up play for that goal that blows my mind. Leonardo Bonucci hit a 40-yard diagonal to a streaking Alex Sandro, who volleyed his cross into the middle, where Gonzalo Higuaín chested it down and volley-passed it to Mario Mandzukic, who chested it down and then volley-bicycle-kicked it for the goal. I mean, what can you say about that but holy shit? The damn ball didn't touch the ground again after Bonucci sent it on its way. Amazing. Mandzuckic's goal also shows just how incredible the goal sensibility of top players really is, that he can be facing directly away from goal for a substantial period of time and still hit a ball with that kind of accuracy. Yes, there was some luck, but it wasn't just luck. His sense of where he was in relation to the goal and where Keylor Navas was likely to be in relation to him is simply that well developed.
(I would love to embed a video of the goals I'm speaking of, but I can't find one. If you have better luck than me, would you post a link in the comments?)
So it was 1-1 at halftime, and looking relatively even. And then the second half happened.
One wonders what halftime in the respective locker rooms looked like. I have to imagine that the Juventus locker room looked like every classic sports film we've ever seen (except in Italian). I imagine Massimiliano Allegri congratulating his squad on a well-played first half and exhorting them to greater heights in the second.
Meanwhile, over in the Real Madrid locker room, I imagine Zinedine Zidane standing in utter silence. All the players are looking at him, waiting patiently. The lighting is dim, indirect. No one says anything. It's cool in there, almost cave-like. And then Zidane says, quietly, "It is now time to show the world what you can do." And the players all nod their heads silently in assent, then return to the pitch, in order to display the incantatory power of those words.
Because the second half looked like a game of sharks-versus-seals. Real Madrid were just that much better. Juventus had given up three goals total through their Champion's League campaign to that point. Real Madrid scored four in 90 minutes.
And what are we supposed to make of Zinedine Zidane as a manager? He led Real Madrid's B-team to consistent mediocrity before being given the job of managing Real, which is merely the single most scrutinized managerial job in all of footballdom, and that's before trying to appease insane club president Florentino Pérez. After a season-and-a-half at the helm, Zidane has managed to win the league once and the Champions League twice. How the hell is that even possible? You could, I suppose, argue that the Champions League wins were just radical good fortune (but I won't--you don't take down Juventus' defense like that without playing brilliant football), but to finish ahead of Barcelona over a 38-match league season requires a level of consistency that can only be achieved by being actually, you know, really good.
How much of the credit do you give to Zidane? After all, it's not like he's actually one of the people kicking the ball around. The squad is full of world-class players. But results of this consistency would seem to suggest that Zidane's years being one of the greatest players in the world equipped him to be one of the greatest managers as well.