Real Madrid show no signs of slowing down in Champions League celebrations
MADRID -- Cristiano Ronaldo's future plans dominated Real Madrid's celebrations of their 2018 Champions League victory back home on Sunday, just as they had the previous night after Zinedine Zidane's team had beaten Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev, Ukraine.
There was no sign at all of any trophy fatigue as Madrid's players and fans marked their historic, third straight UCL victory, and fourth in five years, in some style. The squad were allowed home for a rest and a shower (presumably) after the team landed back in the Spanish capital early in the morning. But everyone was back at the Bernabeu by 6 p.m. for the start of a full evening programme of celebrations.
The first stop was the city's cathedral, where Bishop Jesus Vidal thanked the team for the example they set for young people, before club captain Sergio Ramos presented the Champions League trophy to the "Virgen de la Almudena," the patron saint of all madrileños.
From there, an open-top bus brought the players first down to the Puerta del Sol, where they were welcomed by regional government president Angel Garrido. A newly shaved-headed Ronaldo took the microphone on the town hall's balcony to address the fans packed into the central square below.
"Thanks for being here, and to all madridistas," Ronaldo said. "This is an unforgettable moment. We have made history, which is what we are looking for. We are all very happy. Hala Madrid!"
This message was greeted from below by chants of, "Cristiano, stay" from fans whose faith had not been shaken (fully) by the Portugal captain using his post-match interview Saturday night to suggest he was leaving the club this summer due to a breakdown in talks over a pay rise with club chief Florentino Perez.
Next was the city's town hall at the Palacio de Comunicaciones, where city mayor Manuela Carmena presented the team with the traditional offering of chocolate replica medals. From there, it was a short hop to the Cibeles fountain, where captains Ramos and Marcelo made the traditional offering of the newly won trophy to the earth mother goddess, draped a white scarf around her neck and led the assembled fans in a rendition of the newly updated chant: "Como no te voy a querer, si fuiste campeon de Europa por decimotercera vez" ("How could I not love you, being champions of Europe for the 13th time"). Ronaldo's shouting, "Until next year!" as he danced on the podium only added to the speculation over the 33-year-old's future.
Ramos also took the time to poke fun at Atletico Madrid, who just last week celebrated their Europa League success just 500 metres away at the Neptune fountain. "That all the indios [Atletico fans] realise who really rules in the capital," the Blancos captain shouted, already getting the "morbo" rivalry heated ahead of the next "derbi" in Aug.15's UEFA Super Cup in Tallinn.
From Cibeles, it is exactly 5 kilometres straight up the city's main Paseo de la Castellana thoroughfare to the Bernabeu. Its doors were opened for free for Madrid's socios (club members), with the stadium also having been packed the night before with mostly younger fans taking advantage of the €10 entry price to suffer and then celebrate with their team, via eight huge screens mounted on the pitch.
Sunday evening's ceremony first saw Madrid's Euroleague-winning basketball side presented to the crowd, with more history having been made, as no other club had previously won the European title in both sports in the same year. Then Zidane and his staff walked across the raised gangway to a podium raised over the centre circle, followed by other younger squad members and the senior stars.
Saturday's match-winner, Gareth Bale, looked a bit sheepish as he joined the group, possibly due to this likely being the final time he would be at the stadium wearing a Madrid shirt. Ronaldo appeared draped in a Portugal flag, holding up five fingers to represent his five personal Champions Leagues, one of which was won with previous club Manchester United.
Last out was Ramos, holding the trophy he has now lifted in each of his three seasons as Madrid skipper. Queen's "We are the Champions" blared over the speakers, white confetti flew and a pretty impressive fireworks display lit up the night sky over the stadium.
"They said it was impossible, but we are back here again," thundered Ramos from the platform. "Thanks for your support in the most difficult moments. We do not get tired of winning -- let's go for number 14."
Zidane reluctantly took the mic, to huge cheers. "I just want to thank you for your support, we suffered at times during the season," the Frenchman said. "But you were always behind the players. So, thank you so much."
Ronaldo was happier to take his turn to speak. "I am proud to play at the biggest club in the world," said the Portuguese, before he was swarmed by dancing teammates shouting, "Cristiano, stay, Cristiano, stay," with the chant soon taken up by the rest of the stadium. When things eventually quietened down again, Ronaldo gave another hint to his future plans: "I like to win, and with these players, it is impossible not to win Champions Leagues."
Bale did not, unsurprisingly, step up to speak. But both the Welshman's possible exit and, more importantly, his match-winning contribution on Saturday night, were again totally overshadowed by his more ostentatious teammate.
The fun finished with Zidane being thrown in the air by his players, and no feeling at all of any era coming to a close. This Madrid side do not get tired of winning trophies, and, whatever his real future intentions, Ronaldo remains front and centre of everything they do.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan