Real Madrid hopeful of new era of European domination
Lisbon: When Real Madrid`s team of Zinedine Zidane-inspired "galacticos" won the Spanish club`s ninth European crown in 2002 it was supposed to mark the beginning of another golden era of European domination.
As it turned out, and despite hundreds of millions of euros spent on players, it took the world`s richest club by income another 12 years to win the coveted 10th title, or "decima", a record-extending feat they finally achieved with Saturday`s 4-1 extra-time win against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon.
This time around, big-spending Real president Florentino Perez will be desperate to consolidate the club`s position at the summit of European soccer and avoid the mistakes that led to him stepping down in 2006 after a poor run of results.
Since the construction magnate`s return in 2009, Real have splashed more than 600 million euros ($818 million) on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, both of whom scored in Saturday`s showpiece.
The massive investment finally paid off and in coach Carlo Ancelotti, Perez also appears to have found the right man to lead his project for European domination.
The Italian succeeded in winning the Champions League in his first season in charge, outdoing predecessor Jose Mourinho, whose Real team were eliminated in the semi-finals in Europe during each of his three seasons in charge.
Ancelotti, whose Real side also won the King`s Cup by beating arch rivals Barcelona in the final, has brought a sense of tranquility back to the club after the divisive Mourinho years and has wasted little time in moulding his expensively-assembled squad into an impressive unit.
A Champions League winner with AC Milan as both a player and a coach, the 54-year-old has fostered a harmonious atmosphere at Real that allows Ronaldo, Bale and their team mates to perform and he showed against Atletico he has the tactical sense to outwit his rivals.
Real were struggling to create chances against some typically resolute Atletico defending so Ancelotti threw on attacking midfielder Isco and zippy fullback Marcelo and the game immediately turned in their favour.
Ancelotti signed a three-year contract when Perez lured him from Paris St Germain last year and it would be little surprise if the president moves to tie him to the club for longer after Saturday`s triumph.
Perez had tried to sign Ancelotti before and now that he has his man he is unlikely to let him slip away, especially if he continues to deliver in terms of silverware.
"He has come and he has brought us the `decima`," Perez said in a television interview after Saturday`s final.
"He arrived and he has already hit the heights," he added.
"I am sure that the fans are already thinking about the 11th. That is why Madrid will go on forever."
Perez has been burned in the past when a team of highly-paid superstars failed to deliver what he craved, a repeat of Real`s greatest run when they won five consecutive European Cups between 1956 and 1960 with a team featuring Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento.
With Ancelotti at the helm and almost limitless resources to splash in the transfer market he will be confident that this time will be different and the 11th European crown is just around the corner.($1 = 0.7336 Euros)