Zizou breaks Leverkusen hearts
It was the night Real Madrid claimed their ninth Champions League title. It was far from a classic Madrid display but the winning goal by Zinedine Zidane will live long in the memory.
Real Madrid fans are a notoriously fussy bunch. Impatient, hard to please and insistent on total football at all times. The 2002 Champions League final at Hampden Park was expected to be a coronation of Los Galacticos as the greatest team on Planet Football. The match had added resonance for Real Madrid fans because 42 years earlier at the same stadium a Madrid team boasting two of the game’s greats – Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas – destroyed Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 to claim an unprecedented fifth consecutive European crown.
In the build up to the match the archive TV footage from 1960 was being looped around the news and sports bulletins, and players from the match were wheeled out to eulogise about one of Madrid’s finest teams and the 2002 version that featured Zidane, Figo and Raul. Victory wasn’t just expected against Bayer Leverkusen, and given the opposition was again an unfancied side from Germany, a repeat of the 7-3 thrashing was seen as a distinct possibility.
But since becoming Real Madrid president in 2000 businessman and former politician Florentino Perez had often concerned himself with more than just football. His aggressive policy of pushing the Real Madrid brand around the world had led to accusations that the club was more interested in selling replica shirts than matters on the football pitch. They were prone to take their eye off the ball.
Their opponents in the 2002 final were barely mentioned in the build up as most pundits were handing Real their ninth European Cup before a ball had even been kicked. Never mind that Bayer Leverkusen had beaten Barcelona and knocked out all three English clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United) on their way to the final. Never mind that the German side featured the talents of Ballack, Berbatov, Ze Roberto and Lucio. The night of May 15th 2002 was to be Real Madrid’s night, the night Perez’s Galacticos policy was validated, the night when the club would take another step towards their President’s ultimate ambition of becoming the world’s richest and most prestigious football club.
Stood next to me in the Madrid end was a 25-year-old Spaniard called Sebastian who, along with thousands of his fellow fans, began to vent his spleen.
The atmosphere in and around Hampden Park in the pre-match build-up was certainly one of premature celebration as the familiar tune of ‘Hala Madrid, Hala Madrid’ echoed around the pubs and bars of Glasgow. There were a few pockets of Leverkusen fans and the banter with the opposition fans was good natured, with the Madridistas often adopting a patronising tone towards their so-called lesser rivals. To their credit, the Bayer fans were happy to assume the role of underdog. Their club was building a reputation as Germany’s nearly men, perennial runners up and chokers when the going got tough. They may have created a record for being the only club to reach a Champions League final without ever having won a league title, but between 1997 and 2002 they had finished second in the league on four occasions. Opposition fans dubbed them ‘Neverkusen’. Second place certainties. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Hampden Park in 2002 was destined to be no different and nine minutes into the final the predictions of a Real rout seemed to be coming to fruition. Raul, he of umpteen Champions League goals, bagged another as the Leverkusen goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt hesitantly flapped at the Spaniard’s weak shot which trundled into the net. Cue nonchalant celebrations from the Madrid fans whose unswerving belief in their team’s destiny was backed up by Real’s early dominance.
Football though is rarely so straightforward. And when Leverkusen’s Brazilian defender Lucio headed in an equalizer for the German’s on 14 minutes the mood among the Madrid fans quickly began to change. Conceding the goal wasn’t their team’s only crime. Leverkusen were matching Real Madrid in every department and when Ballack almost scored on 35 minutes a Madrid victory was no longer a foregone conclusion. It didn’t go down well with the Madridistas. Stood next to me in the Madrid end was a 25-year-old Spaniard called Sebastian who, along with thousands of his fellow fans, began to vent his spleen.
This was not how it was meant to be. 42 years after one of Real Madrid’s finest performances, a show of similar artistry was expected. Yet the first half produced nothing of the sort. I don’t speak Spanish but when Sebastian was gesticulating and spitting out bile-filled invective it wasn’t difficult to detect that this typically hard-to-please Real Madrid fan wasn’t a happy camper. As the first half developed Sebastian’s swearing got louder and the look of disgust on his face more pronounced. He wasn’t even born when Puskas and Di Stefano last delighted the Hampden Park crowd but even he had been brought up expecting Real Madrid to win and to win in style. This wasn’t good enough and if he had a white handkerchief he would have been waving it in disgust towards his team.
Then, just as the first 45 minutes was coming to an end a hopeful cross from Roberto Carlos on the left looped towards Zinedine Zidane who was floating on the 18-yard line. With three Leverkusen players running towards him, the Frenchman weighed up his options and produced the most exquisite left footed volley me or Sebastian are ever likely to see. As the ball arrowed into the top right hand corner of Butt’s goal the tone of Sebastian’s language now took on an entirely different tone. “Incredible”, “maravilloso”, “asombros”. What made the goal even more special is that it was scored right in front of the Real Madrid fans and to celebrate Zidane ran towards where myself and Sebastian were sat. It was as if Zidane had heard the bile from Seb’s mouth for the majority of the first half and wanted him to hear his message…. “Have it. Have it you finicky b*****d. Happy now?”.
Sebastian was certainly happy. He was almost crying with delight as the beauty of Zidane’s strike began to sink in. At this point I hadn’t spoken to Sebastian (it was only later that we got acquainted). To him I was a quiet Englishman sat with a mate enjoying the match as a neutral. To me Sebastian was a typically demanding, hard-to-please Madridista who fluctuated from fits of rage and deep depression to euphoria and jubilation depending on the minute-by-minute fortunes of his team. I didn’t speak any Spanish and I assumed he didn’t speak any English. So, as the celebrations after Zidane’s wonder strike subsided, it came as a pleasant surprise when Sebastian turned to me and in the most perfect Hugh Grant, polite, Queen’s English, said “Lovely goal, lovely goal”. It was indeed.
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