Club World Cup: Real Madrid out for yet more success 'in colour'
The first time I heard talk of the European dry spell Real Madrid endured between their domination of yesteryear and their more recent trophy success was when Barcelona won the '79 Cup Winners' Cup, and thousands of Culés savoured their club lifting its first continental silverware - in glorious technicolour. All of Madrid's European Cups had only been won in black and white, it was said; their triumphs were viewed through a prism that can only be described as deeply sinister. Madrid, it was claimed, had only won because of Franco, because they had been marked out as the beneficiaries of who knows what favours and privileges. Despite Spain hardly being the toast of Europe during the dictatorship, by the way.
Now, Madrid are preparing for their third straight Club World Cup final, having won the last two. It no longer cuts any ice to try and trace Los Blancos' success back to the helping hand that the old regime, one a good few clueless clots inexplicably yearn for, is supposed to have given to a club who carry the name of Spain's capital city. It's nothing to do with that. What drives Madrid on, even on a 'lesser' big occasion such as today's, is a simple, unadulterated obsession with excellence. Maybe the pressure of bearing the name of the capital is a factor in that. Or maybe it's the tailwind provided by the feats of Di Stéfano, Puskás, Gento et al, who the lads of today may not know so much about, but whose legacy still pushes them on.
That's Madrid: they always come back for more. It's an expression which some like to scoff at, but it's true. I've been watching them for many years, and they're always ready for centre stage, always ready to do what it takes to be successful. Today's trophy decider won't be against the champions of Oceania (New Zealand's Wellington), or of Africa (Tunisia's ES Tunis), or of South America (River Plate). No, each of those hurdles has been overcome by tournament hosts Al Ain. It may be a final against a side perceived as lowly opposition, but where Madrid are is where the likes of Bayern, Barça or Atlético could have been, and aren't. What Madrid have and others don't is a relentless obsession with operating at nothing less than full tilt.