MADRID >> The kings of Europe are back.
With victory over Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday, Real Madrid won its record 12th title, and third in four years, to firmly establish itself as the dominant force in European soccer after years of supremacy by Spanish rival Barcelona.
After seeing Lionel Messi and Barcelona reign with four titles in a decade, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Madrid raised its game the last four seasons and again became the team to beat in the continent.
As fans celebrating on the streets of Cardiff proudly sang “Somos los reyes de Europa (We are the kings of Europe),” a traditional team chant, it was only fitting that one of the dignitaries congratulating players in the changing rooms was Spain’s former King Juan Carlos.
“We have achieved a historic feat,” Madrid left back Marcelo said. “We are defining an era.”
The 4-1 win over Juventus allowed Madrid to become the first team to win back-to-back titles in the Champions League era. It was the team’s sixth title since the competition’s new format was created in 1992, two more than Barcelona.
The two Spanish clubs have dominated in the Champion League, winning six of the last nine titles, but Madrid had gone 12 years without lifting the trophy while Barcelona and Messi thrived.
Madrid now has five titles more than AC Milan, the second most successful European club all-time. Barcelona has five.
“We can say that it is a historic day for everyone at Real Madrid,” said Zinedine Zidane, who thrived as Madrid’s player and now has been excelling in his second season as a head coach.
Zidane was an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Madrid won its 10th Champions League trophy in 2014 to end its title drought.
“I think the project is well laid out,” Madrid president Florentino Perez said. “We have the world’s best players and plenty of youth. This year has been a result of this policy. When the stars didn’t play, the youngsters did and they did well. We have to give credit to Zidane, he helped us in 2001 by bringing in his talent and changing the course of history, and now as a coach he is doing a tremendous job and we have to thank him.”
Zidane, who helped Madrid win five different titles since taking over the squad in 2016, including the team’s first Spanish league title in five years, has only one year left on his contract but is widely expected to stay.
“I’m not going to say that I’ll be here for the rest of my life, that’s doesn’t exist,” Zidane said. “But I’m very grateful to this wonderful club for giving me this opportunity. I have a year left in my contract and I think that I’ll be here the next year.”
A key move for Madrid in its European resurgence was the signing of Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009, a transfer that took the team to another level.
“It’s been a special season,” said Ronaldo, who scored twice against Juventus to finish as the competition’s top scorer for the fifth straight year. He also became the first player to score in three Champions League finals, and the first to score more than 100 goals all-time in the competition.
Madrid also has Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in the attack, although there have been rumors of a possible transfer involving them in the near future. One player almost certainly to leave is James Rodriguez, who arrived amid high expectations after the 2014 World Cup but didn’t get a lot of playing time under Zidane.
One of the team’s strengths this season was to stay competitive even without its stars, relying on talented players such as Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio.
Asensio scored one of the goals in the final on Saturday. Casemiro scored the other.
Madrid will begin next season with two difficult matches against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.
For Ronaldo and Zidane, it will be just another opportunity to show which team is really in charge.