The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was different on Wednesday night. For a change, the fans stopped believing. This was one comeback too many. One deficit too far. Too little time left. None of their stars left.
Because when we entered the final moments of the game, with Manchester City leading by one goal to nil, Sergio Ramos was in Paris, Raphael Varane was in Manchester, Marcelo was past his best, and that iconic midfield of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were nowhere to be seen. They’d been benched.
In their place, stood the likes of Eder Militao, Fede Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga, Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Junior. The men were gone and Carlo Ancelotti was relying on boys to step up to the plate.
No-one expected the drama of the final few moments. “Está muerto (it’s dead),” the Madridista next to me said, resigned, as Ferland Mendy kept the team’s faint chance alive by clearing a shot from Jack Grealish off the line on 86 minutes.
But then something miraculous happened. These boys came of age. They stunned Manchester City with intensity, courage and pure conviction in their cause. This wasn’t just a win. This was a landmark moment in the future of Real Madrid.
When Karim Benzema scored that third goal for Los Blancos, only Benzema himself and Dani Carvajal were on the pitch from the 2018 final. Nacho and Marco Asensio were the only other players on the field to ever have played at the final stage of the tournament for Real Madrid. Only Thibaut Courtois had ever done so for another club.
The mythical presence of Real Madrid in the Champions League is a concept that we’ve all heard about, but this time it was different. This was a new generation, establishing themselves as the next chapter of this heritage.
The era of four-in-a-row has gone. Modric, Kroos and Casemiro struggled with City’s intensity and organisation and couldn’t get a foothold in the game. Camavinga’s energy, Valverde’s press and Rodrygo’s pace could. This was a changing of the guard in every sense.
Yet, Real Madrid maintained everything that they have done for years. Just as they’ve had that slice of luck, that daring belief, that unrivalled cutting edge, these new guys on the block produced the goods at the crucial moment.
The king is dead, long live the king.