MILAN • A season that promised so little when Zinedine Zidane took charge of a beleaguered Real Madrid less than five months ago ended beyond the richest football club's wildest dreams with an 11th European Cup win in Milan on Saturday.
Cristiano Ronaldo struck the winning penalty in a shootout after the match against Atletico Madrid finished 1-1 following extra-time to cap a remarkable turnaround in the Spanish giant's fortunes. For the second time in three years, they claimed a tense final against their local rivals.
Thousands of delirious Real fans poured into the heart of Madrid city centre after the 5-3 penalties victory. They stayed till well after sunrise yesterday to welcome their heroes back around the Plaza de Cibeles fountain - a traditional meeting point for Real's triumphs.
The contrast in emotions to the first half of the season could not be starker as a series of off-field gaffes and poor performances left the club in disarray.
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea's move to Madrid was botched due to a paperwork delay and the club were thrown out of the King's Cup for fielding an ineligible player. A 4-0 home defeat by bitter rivals Barcelona in November left fans calling for the head of then manager Rafael Benitez and president Florentino Perez.
Benitez was the fall guy in early January as Zidane took his first senior managerial role after just 18 months' experience with Real's youth team. Crucially, though, in contrast to the dictatorial Benitez, as a former legendary player, Zidane instantly had the respect of Real's star-studded squad.
"Zizou is very humble but determined. His arrival was really important for us because he has a great relationship with the players," said Real captain Sergio Ramos. "With Rafael we had some good times, but when Zizou came the dressing room was more unified."
Zidane has already gone a long way to matching his stellar career that included World Cup, Champions League and European Championships winner's medals.
Victory in Milan ensured he became the first French coach to ever win the competition and only the seventh man to win the European Cup as both a player and a manager.
Moreover, he has now played a key role in each of Real's last three Champions League triumphs as he scored a sensational winning goal in the 2002 final and was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti in 2014.
"I'm so proud to be part of this great club. It's the club of my life, the one that made me who I am," he said. "I was given the chance to come to this amazing club and then to coach it. I have a phenomenal team and great players who are also talented, and it was together we achieved what we did tonight."
By contrast, Atletico were left with a horrible sense of deja vu as they were once again denied a first European Cup in agonising circumstances by their nearest and dearest rivals with goals bookended by Ramos and Ronaldo.
Two years ago Atletico were seconds away from victory in Lisbon before Ramos' header took the game to extra-time, when Real ran riot with further goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo.
This time Ramos scored the goal that set his team on the way, but Atletico fought back against fate, against that opener, against Antoine Griezmann's penalty miss and against Lisbon.
Substitute Yannick Carrasco ran on at half-time and ran off again on 79 minutes: across the area, over the touchline and to the VIP area at the side of the pitch, where he planted a huge kiss on his girlfriend Noemie Happart's lips, after netting the equaliser.
He sent the final to extra time again, death and glory from 12 yards.
But Real kept their cool from the spot to score all five penalties as Juanfran's solitary miss for Atletico teed up Ronaldo to lash home the decisive strike before tearing off his shirt in celebration in another flashback to Lisbon.
"What really hurts me is to see the hurt of the people who've paid to come here," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. "I feel a bit responsible that I wasn't able to give them what they wanted. That's what really hurts."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN