Cup of unlimited joy

Cup of unlimited joy

Cup of unlimited joy

When Sergio Ramos leaped to head the goal three minutes into added time that saved the Champions League final for Real Madrid, a bespectacled man in a suit leaped in front of his king in a VIP suite of Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz.

And up there, just for a moment, the sedate Florentino Pérez pawed at the air like a delighted child.

The moment passed. Pérez, the president who spent a billion euros of his club’s cash to buy players in pursuit of winning back the most cherished club trophy in the world, wiped his glasses, smoothed down his jacket, and sat back with the manner he has always deemed appropriate.

“In football,” Pérez once told me, “it is like a company. There is a lot of passion, but there has to be a balance between passion and organisation. I would be a bad president if I allowed passion to guide me. My role is organising the economic activity.”

That conversation took place 12 years ago, shortly after Real Madrid won the title as the best club in Europe — and effectively the best on Earth because European money buys the outstanding talents, no matter where they emerge. Pérez’s one business is running the construction company Grupo ACS, a global giant in its field and in his country. His other job is as elected head of a club that his family has supported for generations, one that breaks world-record fees for players, time after time.

Winning the election to represent 75,000 club members — King Juan Carlos of Spain is one of them — is a privilege even for a consummate businessman and former politician like Pérez. With it comes an obligation that was set decades ago by Santiago Bernabéu, under whose presidency the famous Whites of Madrid won the first five European Cups, from 1956 to 1960.

Bernabéu was like Charles de Gaulle, who said that France could not be France without grandeur. So Real Madrid moved heaven and earth to hire the grandest players, culminating in the most memorable of all European Cup finals as Real Madrid won the last of those five straight titles in 1960.

The Argentine Alfredo Di Stéfano scored three times and the magical Magyar, Ferenc Puskas, notched four goals in Madrid’ s 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt at Glasgow’s Hampden Park stadium.

There may never be another final like it. Certainly, the match between the two Madrid teams in Lisbon was dramatic, but it was more about suspense than the freedom exploited by Di Stefano and Puskas. That was largely to the credit of Atlético, whose players — costing maybe one-fifth of Real’s collection — went to their limits to demonstrate that a team united can be the equal to any amount of glittering superstars.

The artists, known in the Pérez era as los Galácticos, won out in extra time when the artisans ran out of energy.

Ramos’s header had changed the final, just as his two headers a month ago in Munich helped dethrone last season’s European champion, Bayern. The defender rose, and the reign of German soccer was decimated.

In the final, the same defender rose again, and the so-called Décima, the tenth time Real had conquered Europe, was on its way.

Later, when the team arrived at Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles with the trophy, there were still tens of thousands of its fans in the square. “Thank you for waiting,” Iker Casillas, the club’s goalkeeper and captain, told the supporters. “It has been worth it after 12 years.”

Casillas, one of the few Real Madrid players who was born in Madrid, then said the blindingly obvious. “After today, it’s time to think about the Eleventh.” La Undécima.

Ramos also took up the microphone. “This,” he said, “is dedicated to Pitina, who helps us from above. Hala Madrid!”

The defender who struck the all-important goal also struck a chord. Pitina Pérez, the wife of Florentino, died in May 2012, and Ramos, knowing the private thoughts of the president whose emotions he helped to unmask, revealed another side, the family side, of this man who is either building town halls or apartment buildings across Spain or building up the legacy of a club that is already the richest sports franchise on earth.

Again, that conversation with Pérez in Madrid 12 years ago springs to mind.

“I am committed,” he said, "to the policy of signing the best players in the world. One every season is the aim, but also to producing players here in our own school.

“We have,” Pérez continued, “to feel our history. For many years, Real Madrid had the best players in the world; we have to do that again. But not only players. We have found a definitive solution to the serious economic problems that plagued the club, and at the same time find a structure for the 21st century.”

That structure, in the hands of this builder, was to find the right players, to market them around the globe, and to search and keep on searching for the right man to knit together some sort of cohesive pattern of play.

This is where Pérez has proved impatient and fallible. He fired Vicente Del Bosque, the last coach to bring Europe’s top prize home to Madrid, and Del Bosque then emerged as the manager of the Spanish team that won the last World Cup.

Pérez, in two spells as the president, first from 2000 to 2006 and starting again in 2009, has run through as many coaches as he has had years as club president. We will never know how much longer he might have stuck with Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian who seems impervious to the whims of team owners and presidents, had the final in Lisbon ended in failure rather than in triumph.

Maybe even Ancelotti does not know how close he came to potentially losing his job. The Italian would, in any case, take it with his famous raised eyebrow, just as he usually does all his triumphs and all his firings at the hands of owners and elected presidents.

The business depends upon results. And results depend upon getting 11 individuals to play as one at a given time. Eleven players will soon be required to think of the 11th title. It is in the blood of the club they represent.