Champions League final 2014 report: Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid (aet)

A version of this originally appeared in the Irish Examiner

Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid

Miguel Delaney, Estadio Da Luz

Having finally put Real Madrid’s name back on the European Cup, a serene Carlo Ancelotti put it into the club’s true terms.

“On my first day, when I went to the Santiago Bernabeu trophy room, I said to the president [Florentino Perez] that there was one trophy missing.”

Ancelotti has completed that job, delivered La Decima, and it’s difficult to think of a more complete victory in terms of the dimensions of their 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid.

This, in so many ways, was the perfect 10th. The wait made it all the more wonderful for Real, the circumstances all the more special.

For a start, right at the death, there was the relief and release of Sergio Ramos’s stoppage-time equaliser. It gave Real new life, and killed all of Atletico’s momentum. From there, there was only one winner, but also one player who needed to score that key goal most.

Gareth Bale went some way to justifying his world-record transfer fee, and overcoming so many earlier misses, by heading in the decisive effort that finally put Real ahead. Marcelo made it 3-1 before the man that Bale succeeded as the world’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, got his big goal in his home country.

Then, there was the significance of all that. The competition’s most successful ever club brought the trophy back to what they consider its rightful home, and against the side closest to home.

Perez looked on proudly. The Real Madrid president could finally say all that outlay was worth it, given how so many of his expensive stars had struck. It was testament to Ancelotti’s ability to handle top players. It also meant the Italian had his hands on a landmark third European Cup as a manager, finally becoming the figure to match Bob Paisley’s record.

On the pitch and off it, the emotions were clear. Iker Casillas said it was better than winning the World Cup. On 90 minutes, the goalkeeper had energetically grabbed Ramos and kissed him, fully aware of the importance and immortality of that equaliser. The two Real stalwarts were the last to leave the stadium mixed zone, but not until after Casillas had held up two hands to signify those 10 European Cups.

In the end, for all the emotion, it’s difficult not to distil it down to the numbers like that: a 12-year wait since Real’s ninth Champions League, over €1bn spent, three world transfer records… and one minute from the most painful failure.

That shows how close Atletico came, but also how far away Diego Simeone’s side really were.

The story of their season has been how they so admirably defied football’s economic realities. In winning the Spanish title, they spent so much energy, rather than money. It couldn’t continue indefinitely, despite Diego Godin’s opening goal. Real had that bit more.

In extreme circumstances like that, it’s difficult to put such a result down to any single factors. Had a bounce gone a different direction, or a ball gone another way, Atletico would be celebrating.

Instead, the only issue that Simeone was lamenting was the gamble on Diego Costa, who went off injured after nine minutes. The true consequence of that was that Atletico could really have done with that extra substitute as the extremities of the game sapped their energy.

“It was my responsibility to have [Diego Costa] play and obviously I made a mistake because I had to switch him as early as I did.”

Simeone, however, acknowledged that Real deserved it late on, but it takes nothing from Atletico’s campaign.

“You have to look at it overall – Madrid were better in the second half, they kept us in our half and we couldn’t get out. Football is wonderful because of that.

“The supporters should be proud of an excellent season, they shouldn’t waste a single second being sad.”

Bale, by contrast, had wasted many a chance.

“A few thoughts crept into my mind,” he admitted afterwards. “It happens and sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green but you have to keep persisting, keep going and you may get that chance that will may get that chance that will make the difference. Thankfully, I was able to get that chance and I was able to take it.”

Ancelotti, meanwhile, insisted it was down to much more than the “rub of the green”.

“You can say I’m a lucky man in the end, or you can say that we tried to do everything until the last second of the game.”

Real certainly did try to do everything, but not just on this night in Lisbon. It means, for now at least, they have achieved everything that has consumed the club for the past decade: la Decima.

***

A version of this originally appeared on The Score

Right at the death, this Real Madrid team ensured immortality. La Decima was delivered in Lisbon, Atletico Madrid suffered devastation.

And, having set it up, Sergio Ramos summed it up.

“It was incredible,” the centre-half said of his injury-time equaliser in Real’s 4-1 win. “That goal isn’t mine, it’s everybody’s.”

It also meant everything.

For all that Gareth Bale ultimately proved his worth with the second goal, and Cristiano Ronaldo crowned his night with the fourth, it was Ramos who provided La Decima’s decisive and defining moment.

His plundering header brought so much to a head.

This had so much wrapped up in it, even by the standards of late goals in this famous fixture, from Teddy Sheringham in 1999 to Arjen Robben in 2013.

Most immediately, it transformed a 1-0 defeat into a 4-1 procession. Real were suddenly soaring after such a struggle.

Yet, whatever about exaggerating their victory, the unexpected extent of the winning margin only emphasised and reflected the importance of that moment – and not just on the night.

Most obviously, of course, it changed the dynamic. Ramos’s goal ensured all of Atletico’s energy was finally eroded, while Real played with a new momentum. That meant, rather than talking about a modern football miracle, we were merely celebrating the club that were already the most successful in the competition’s history. Instead of Atletico continuing to defy the sport’s economic realities, Real confirmed the value of spending a billion. One side won their long-expected 10th trophy, another were denied what would have been a novel first.

The goal may have changed this match, but it also ensured the game in general remains the same.

None of this is to deny the fundamentally sporting qualities of the Real players’ victory. Carlo Ancelotti’s team displayed supreme character to keep going, and then accelerate.

Yet, when it comes to such proper knife-edge moments like Ramos’s equaliser, it can genuinely be difficult and even foolhardy to place too much importance in any individual reasons for success or failure.

Had one kick been slightly under-hit, or one pass further been over-played, it could have been completely different. Atletico would be celebrating.

At the same time, it’s impossible not to look at the multiple strands that ensured that single moment was so decisive.

Here, some blame must go to the otherwise brilliant Diego Simeone. For a start, quite literally, there was the gamble on Diego Costa’s fitness. While the decision to play the injured striker from the beginning was someway understandable, his bizarrely early withdrawal ensured Atletico were denied a substitute in those energy-sapping closing stages. Imagine, by contrast, the effect of bringing Costa on at that point?

Secondly, there was the way in which Simeone’s cynicism eventually proved a negative for his own team. All that defending, and all that systemic fouling, only increased the pressure. Atletico’s time-wasting, meanwhile, gave Ramos an even greater window to equalise.

Yet, from a wider perspective, it would be hugely unfair to overly fault Simeone and his side for any of that that. They themselves are not exactly playing in the fairest context.

The Argentine cannot spend multi-millions on transfers, or call on a series of the world’s most expensive players.

Simeone has to cut his cloth to measure, and that won’t always be pretty, especially after the exertions of the domestic league victory.

In that regard, there was a certain inevitability about Real’s recovery, even if it didn’t feel like it in the anxious moments leading up to it.

Ancelotti’s side won by sheer force of numbers. That’s in an almost literal sense, at least in terms of transfer fees

They were able to rely on record signings, who simply hadn’t expended the same energy in recent weeks. So much effort had been spent on Atletico’s title win. So much money had been spent in Real’s last decade.

It said much that the world’s most expensive player scored Real’s second goal and the next most expensive scored the fourth.

Of course, you can’t put any value on the kind of emotions authentically experienced by all at the club on finally ending that wait, but that in itself raises another issue.

This is now the third season in a row in which one of the super-wealthy modern super-clubs have ended a long Champions League drought. Chelsea at last won their first in 2012; Bayern Munich won a first in 12 years in 2013; Real did the same tonight.

The novelty value of ending these waits starts to wear off, even if that is obviously not the case for those at the clubs.

The feeling grows that the old elusiveness of the European Cup is now gone for such clubs. A cabal of them will just ending up passing the trophy around, even more so than the last decade. If you have the money, you’ll eventually get your turn.

That the last three finals all came down to the last minute actually emphasises the point. It doesn’t show how agonisingly close Borussia Dortmund and Atletico came, but prove how far away they are.

As the margins lessened, the true gaps were revealed.

That is why that Ramos minute was so momentous, and not just for La Decima.

Champions League 2012 report: Bayern Munich 1-1 Chelsea (Chelsea win 4-3 on penalties

Miguel Delaney

In Munich

Moments after Frank Lampard finally lifted the prize that Roman Abramovich has obsessed about above all others, the Chelseaowner strode away from the Allianz Arena podium like a man on another mission.

He hurried past the assembled media, refusing to even admit he was happy. He refused, in fact, to say a thing.

Finally, by the time he got to the Chelsea dressing-room – and by the time the jubilant players made their way back – he spoke.

What Abramovich said, however, was seemingly only for those who heard it. John Terry wouldn’t reveal. Frank Lampard wouldn’t reveal. And, from his boss’s words to whether he will even have a job next week, Roberto Di Matteo was giving nothing away.

But that was only in keeping with the 2012 Champions League final as a whole and his team’s run towards it.

Of course, the minimalist, defensive style of Chelsea’s victory was not exactly in the manner that Abramovich imagined when he fist decided to buy the club after being dazzled by a Real Madrid master-class at Old Trafford.

In many ways, however, this was a more appropriate win.

First, it was fired – and secured – by the player who arguably defines the Abramovich era more than any other. Unlike both Lampard and Terry, Didier Drogba was bought for huge money, was one of the first to come and – for the moment – is one of the last of those initial signings to remain. The striker refused to be drawn on whether his emphatic winning penalty was his last kick for the club but did, apparently, make an emotional speech in the dressing-room.

That it came to that kick was also because of the kind of drama and occasional chaos that has typified Chelsea’s history in this competition and created such an obsession. All of the club’s keynote moments – from missed penalties to dubious penalties to devastating last-minute equalisers – were repeated on Saturday in reverse. Ultimately, Drogba got to take the kick he never could in Moscow.

Finally, the entire victory was built on the element that has been almost as important to Chelsea’s last decade of success as Abramovich’s wealth: the durable defensive base that Jose Mourinho put in place.

Immediately after the final, there were already questions about the exact ‘morality’ of Chelsea’s win and whether the success of such a defensive system from such an elite club was good for the game.

“I think the supporters are happy,” Di Matteo argued. “You have to try and get the best out of what you have and that’s what we did.”

To a certain extent, he’s right. It may not have been the purest way to win. But, given the circumstances and given the time available, it was the only way Di Matteo was going to win the Champions League [open itals] this [close] season. After the chaos and aging team he inherited from Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo had little choice but to revert to the framework the side’s core knew best.

This was something Lampard also touched on as he defended the team’s approach,

“We weren’t playing good football three months ago. We weren’t at a good level. And, to become organised, Robbie’s got to take a lot of credit… he’s built confidence and spirit in the group.”

Lampard also praised the manager’s general demeanour in a statement in which the slightest criticism of Terry’s behaviour could be construed.

“There’s a humility about him, the way he even picked up the cup. He’s been really, really impressive to me.”

Such a description, of course, is difficult to apply to the game itself. It certainly wasn’t a vintage final. Indeed, in terms of general play if not drama, it went exactly as expected: Bayern’s proactive control against Chelsea’s attempts to contain and counter. Given that, many will point to the pity that the team that actually tried to win the game didn’t do so.

But, in truth, Bayern Munich wouldn’t have been vintage champions themselves.

For one, there was their attitude. All through the build-up and many stages of the game itself, there seemed an unsavoury assumption the home team would win. That culminated in the Basler 1999-style moment when Thomas Muller was brought off for Daniel Van Buyten to receive the acclaim of scoring the expected winning goal.

When things went against Bayern, however, their attitude was the exact opposite and just as extreme. As soon as Mario Gomez failed to score the first of many chances, there was an angst creeping into their play. By the time Muller volleyed wide shortly before half-time, their body language betrayed genuine anxiety. They were snatching at chances and trying to force things. The pressure had got to them. And it contributed to a situation where they only scored once from a massive 35 efforts on goal.

By contrast, Chelsea only won one corner. They scored from it.

That illustrated a wasteful front and a soft centre in a hugely inconsistent and incomplete Bayern.

It shouldn’t be forgotten either that, for long stretches, these teams looked exactly what they are: effective also-rans in their domestic league. Chelsea’s otherwise impressive defence still allowed too many chances; Bayern missed them. As a result, the sixth-placed English side are somewhere around Liverpool 2005 in the competition’s pantheon; nowhere near the level of the last few years.

That, however, is knock-out football. Its nuances create such situations; not to mention one where a club from a country famous for scoring penalties let a player from a country infamous for missing them hit the key kick.

Many Chelsea players cited Arjen Robben’s miss as the point they truly believed.

Ultimately, too, they found the formula to properly build on that belief.

It may not have been pure. It certainly does not mean they are the best on the continent. But, in the end, Di Matteo’s minimalism reaped maximum reward. Abramovich, meanwhile, enjoyed the ultimate return on his investment.

***

THE OBSESSION IS finally obliterated.
It may not have been done so in style. It may not have been a vintage final. Chelsea may not be vintage champions.
But they are, ultimately, champions.
The percentage-play tactics received the ultimate pay-off. Indeed, given the nature of Chelsea’s approach, it is arguably – for once – apt that the 2012 final boiled down to the simple logistics of a penalty shoot-out.
Indeed, the identity of the heroes was also entirely appropriate.
Petr Cech has recovered form magnificently over the past few months, and arguably returned to his world-class best. Although neither of Ivica Olic’s or Bastien Schweinsteiger’s penalties were particularly well-struck, they were decently placed and the Czech had to stretch to keep them out.
In front of him, Ashley Cole has been exceptional in Roberto Di Matteo’s reversion to a team more solidly based on Jose Mourinho’s defensive foundation. His battle with Arjen Robben was epic and it was a pity that the rest of the clashes on the pitch didn’t live up to its levels.
One man did though. He arguably surpassed them: Didier Drogba. The man whose energy up front actually makes Di Matteo’s tactics workable ultimately won this game in multiple ways: first with the force that Chelsea had been missing to bring what seemed an unlikely equaliser. Secondly, by facing down Manuel Neuer – and the Bayern stand – to thump home the winning penalty.
For Chelsea, the player that has almost defined the Roman Abramovich era more than any other (unlike both John Terry and Frank Lampard, he was bought in expensively) struck its most decisive kick. For Bayern, it ended an exuberant – and, in truth, expected – party.
All around this final, there was a huge sense of anticipation that Bayern would have a relatively easy ascension.
It didn’t translate to the players though. Although, as also expected, they largely controlled the game with their possession, their failure to quickly make it count gave rise to anxiety strikingly quickly. When Thomas Muller volled wide from an inviting position shortly before half-time, the body language said a lot.
Of course, once Muller finally scored, shortly before full-time, the body language then said even more.
Finally, the Bayern players allowed themselves to believe. They were to regret it.
With Muller taken off for a defender in Daniel Van Buyten, the shape and emphasis changed. Chelsea at last showed a bit of ambition and Drogba made it count.
From there, it was a completely different tie.
Suddenly, it was open. Suddenly, there were no guarantees… until Drogba foolishly fouled for the penalty.
Then, a team from a country famous for scoring penalties allowed a player from a country infamous for missing them to hit one. He did so poorly.
After that, it seemed the two teams were only playing the game out until the situation would be replicated.
It was. But, crucially, for more Bayern players than Chelsea ones.
Di Matteo’s minimalism had prevailed by the narrowest of margins: a tie-breaker.
Of course, Chelsea’s approach may not have been pure. But, to a degree, it was the only way they were ever going to win this trophy this season.
Plunged into a desperate situation, Di Matteo had to revert to what his players knew best: that defensive base, even if he did show some admirable alterations up front.
That may not be to people’s liking. But that’s what cup football is.
Chelsea may not be the best team in Europe. But thanks to the manager’s pragmatism, Abramovich’s riches and the players’ durability and attitude, they are its champions for the very first time.

Champions League final report 2013: Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich

Miguel Delaney, Wembley Stadium

A wait has ended, a weight is lifted and Bayern Munich thereby rise well above the rest of Europe.

Of that, there can be no argument. If the Champions League knock-out format only occasionally rewards the most rightful winner by accident rather than design, Bayern brutally eliminated any element of chance at Wembley. By the end of this groundshaking showdown with Borussia Dortmund, their utter dominance reflected their undisputed status as the continent’s best team. The 2-1 final score confirmed it.

Jupp Heynckes has now won two Champions League trophies as a manager, while Bayern have lifted five as a club.

The key question now is whether this is the first of many for this squad.

Because, as much as this victory proved the culmination of one period, it may prove the start of something else.

That is the potential effect of a cathartic moment like this. The relief was evident. The release, for everyone else, may be ominous.

Make no mistake. Had Bayern managed to lose this match, and to such a close rival, it could have created an even more neurotic complex about this competition for the club.

Consider the amount of anxieties and and troubling experiences that led up to Arjen Robben’s eventual winner.

At that exact point in the previous year’s final, Didier Drogba had scored the goal that sent Bayern’s match into a tailspin. That strike had been preceded by a series of misses which had been repeated in this game, not least from Robben himself.

As Neven Subotic desperately cleared Thomas Muller’s 71st-minute shot off the line just as the Dutch forward was ready to point, there seemed to be an element of destiny about it all; that Bayern would again be bound to punishing failure.

Instead, Robben made his own destiny by discarding so many difficult moments and memories and even having the poise to second-guess Roman Weidenfeller.

It illustrated remarkable mental fortitude, particularly after Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty had almost immediately cancelled out Mario Mandzukic’s scrambled opener.

“We didn’t resign ourselves to our fate,” Heynckes said afterwards. “We upped the ante and tried even harder. You’ve seen the result.”

We’ve also seen the numbers. The chastening experiences of previous campaigns were offset by the champion-making excess of this one. Bayern have broken virtually every record going in the Bundesliga to arrive at this point. In that, it marks a true completion. They were hardened by the harsh lessons of 2010 and 2012 but also lifted by the luscious excellence of 2012-13.

“I think in the whole history of the Bundesliga there has been no team that has played at such consistency, such a high level, 25 points clearing and winning the championship, breaking almost all the records in the Bundesliga. Today, we saw that my team was determined to win that match.”

That was the other impressive aspect. Bayern did not just overcome the endings of their last two Champions League finals, but also the beginning of this one. For the first half hour, it seemed like an excellently intense Dortmund were going to blow them away. Instead, Heynckes’s side held their nerve and gradually took hold of the game.

“To begin with, we didn’t quite find out feet and I have to pay a compliment to Dortmund,” Heynckes said. “They pressed forward, we didn’t find our rhythm and it was a difficult match for us but, before the breakthrough with Robben, we had two opportunities and after the break we took command of the game. I think it’s because of the second half we really deserved to win.”

It also defined the differences between the two sides. As Bayern increasingly came together, Dortmund started to come apart. The gaps in their make-up grew even larger, allowing the likes of Robben more and more space.

That also reflects the chasm that has developed between the two squads as a whole this season, and that is no accident. It has come about for two reasons.

One, it must be admitted, is Bayern’s immense workrate.

They did not just display drive but also application.

“From the outset of the season, we have been changing things, improving things, adapting things. We have a team spirit and ability to work together which I have never experienced in a championship.

“We’ve worked tremendously hard for it, especially in the training sessions, but also on psychology, on communication.”

There was also, however, the platform and power they enjoyed. Heynckes himself referenced the two key signings that effectively completed the team as a unit.

“[Javi] Martinez and Dante, players that have been bullseye successes.”

And, as respectful as the entire post-match atmosphere had been between both teams and the two managers, Heynckes couldn’t resist one big punch.

“We know [Mario] Goetze will be joining us and I don’t think [Robert] Lewandowski will be hanging about too much either.”

This, perhaps, is the real significance of this final. Had Dortmund won, it would have proven such a blow to Bayern that a true rivalry might have been fostered. Instead, they have only consolidated their singular dominance.

They don’t just have the resources; they don’t just have all the most important signings; they don’t just now have one of the best managers in Pep Guardiola.

They also have the belief and cathartic conquest that completes all of that.

Even Goetze will add another dimension to that attack.

It is frightening and may well see the Champions League retained for the first time since 1990. Now Bayern have finally banished their recent history, the rest of Europe suddenly has a lot of catching up to do – even Barcelona, who they so humbled en route to this final.

As a consequence, Robben’s goal represented the perfect ascension: an emotional last-minute winner to complete a commanding season that actually lifts the club above the Catalans in terms of European Cups won.

“I think of course FC Bayern next year will have to prove that can continue to do these things,” Heynckes said. “But I think it possible that a new era in Europe might have begin under the aegis of FC Bayern.”

It certainly felt like it on the night. Bayern themselves, meanwhile, finally felt like European champions.

***

The perfect season, the most perfect of endings.

Bayern Munich did not just confirm their undeniable status as Europe’s best team and bring an incredible campaign to crescendo. They also washed away away all the woe of the last few years. The relief and release were palpable.

Most notably, Arjen Robben overcome so much personal anguish. At almost the same point in the game that Didier Drogba scored last year to send the Munich final into such a tailspin and make the Dutch forward’s penalty miss so decisive, Robbencoolly slotted the winner. More impressively, it came after this final seemed to be following a similar course. You could have forgiven the number-11 for frantically fluffing that late chance given how poor his previous three one-on-ones his previous. Instead, he illustrated composure, character and outright craft to delicately put the ball the other side of the excellent Roman Weidenfeller.

It was cruel on the goalkeeper given how superbly he had performed throughout, barely slipping once. That in itself illustrated just how complete Bayern’s domination was by that point.

For Dortmund, this was no longer a fairytale. It was a grim test of endurance as their goal was increasingly pounded. Ultimately, it reflected the clear chasm that has grown between the sides.

As utterly exceptional as Dortmund can be when they are at their best, any drop-off will reveal the amount of gaps in that make-up. Too many times here, Robben was left in so much space in their half. In that sense, it perhaps made the winner as inevitable as it was innovative.

For that, though, Dortmund can perhaps also look to the opening half hour. While that saw so many of their finest attributes, it also created a franticness that ensured they overplayed too many attacks. It also left them without reward, as Bayern gradually rose to the challenge.

By the end of the half, Bayern were clearly in the ascendancy. They had survived the onslaught and were now surging forward. It perhaps illustrated that there is more to their game, more elements to their side. On the hour, Robben finally illustrated another element to his game as he squared for Mario Mandzukic instead of shooting. The Croatian gladly headed in the opener.

In fact, it was telling that Dortmund’s equaliser had to come from a reckless Dante challenge rather than a true moment of attacking quality. All their energy had seemed expended in the opening half. The irrepressible Ilkay Gundogan still had enough to slot home.

In truth, Dante should have been off the field by then for a second booking, while Franck Ribery also escaped appropriate punishment for an elbow. On Dortmund’s side, though, Lewandowski illustrated similar petulance on a disappointing night for him.

As Bayern struggled to finish, it seemed they needed a forward of the Pole’s calibre.

Instead, Robben showed the quality that has previously been missing on his biggest games.

Now, he’s provided one of the biggest goals in Bayern’;s history. They’ve won it five times. Jupp Heynckes has won it twice.

The question, for the squad as a whole, is whether this will be the first of many.

Robben: vindication and victory

A version of this originally appeared on ESPN FC in May 2013

Soccer - UEFA Champions League Final - Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich

On the eve of the Champions League final, as Bayern Munich were getting accustomed to Wembley Stadium in their last training session, manager Jupp Heynckes decided to pull Arjen Robben to the side.

“Look Arjen,” the coach said. “You’re in really good form and tomorrow that is going to be one of the crucial factors.”

It’s the kind of exchange that is often instilled with greater importance only after the fact. Of course, Heynckes may have had a genuine feeling or tactical epiphany. On the other hand, it’s equally possible he was just trying to motivate one of his many players.

Then, there’s the reality that Robben reflects the history of this specific Bayern Munich team better than any other player; that, with sufficient ability and the right circumstances, your time will come sooner or later.

Up until that 88th-minute strike against Borussia Dortmund, after all, Robben had hit 24 shots in Champions League finals without reward. One of them was eventually going to count. Just as Bayern’s sheer resources were gradually going to condition conquest in this competition, Robben has too much quality to fail so completely.

Except, when you listen to his explanation of how the winning moment unfolded and what went through his mind, you realise how much those previous misses had honed the forward for a moment like this. This wasn’t fated, it was fashioned. Most impressively of all, it was clearly a goal borne of intellectual gymnastics rather than basic instinct. Robben reacted to Franck Ribery’s touch and had the presence of mind to register Roman Weidenfeller’s movement.

“When I got the ball, I was free,” Robben said in his post-match press conference. “I anticipated Franck’s movement. The only thought was ‘I hope he lets the ball there’ because I saw the space. I took it well. My first choice was actually to go past him [Weidenfeller] on the left side but then he made a move and I could put it on the other side. He was on the wrong leg.”

Finally, Robben had provided the right finish in a big game and Bayern had at last won that fifth Champions League. Although the Dutch forward later struggled to put the emotion into actual words, his jubilant face and uncontrollable reaction revealed enough.

“For a footballer, this is the greatest you can achieve. When the whistle of a referee blows and you know that you’re winners of a Champions League, for a lot of us it was the thing we really needed that we lacked in our lives.”

That is certainly true of this Bayern squad, not least the likes of Bastien Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. For Robben personally, though, it wasn’t just about this specific trophy. It clearly meant more to him than most.

It redefined his career.

That feeling grew with every missed chance. It became increasingly apparent that either Robben was going to have to finally score himself or some other Bayern player was going to have to spare him in order to prevent this match becoming another high-profile failure.

That 88th-minute strike, after all, wasn’t just preceded by the three opportunities he had squandered at Wembley on Saturday. There were also the penalty and chances missed against Chelsea in the 2012 final as well as the two crucial one-on-ones wasted against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final.

For all the important goals Robben had scored against Manchester United in the 2009-10 quarter-finals or Barcelona in this year’s last four, he hadn’t yet defined or decided a victorious campaign at the most exacting level. The Dutch forward himself admitted this was on his mind.

“After all the disappointment of last year I personally had, and let’s the say the World Cup – that’s three finals and you don’t want the stamp of loser. You don’t want that tag. At last we did it today and we can’t forget the other things.”

If it seems unfairly stark for an entire career to swing on an individual moment that is still susceptible to unpredictable bounces of the ball – regardless of the stakes – it is ultimately what remains in the memory. Robben has now provided one of the great clubs with a moment they will cherish forever.

The actual reality, beyond the reminiscences, is obviously more complex.

As illustrated by those games against United and Barcelona, as well as countless important domestic fixtures, Robben did produce in decisive games that had their own individual demands. The absence of that keynote performance, though, did reflect the general trajectory of the forward’s career.

He never really became the dominant world star his talent suggested when Alex Ferguson was so desperately pursuing him in the 2003-04 season. That was emphasised by the manner he was discarded by both Chelsea and Real Madrid, a player only intermittently hinted at brilliance rather than regularly provide it.

Now, with Ferguson there to present the man-of-the-match award that confirmed a crowning moment, Robben had proved himself a crucial player for the best side in Europe.

“I am particularly pleased for Arjen,” Heynckes said, “because we were all tragic figures, not just Arjen. Today he was so crucial. Today, for me, he played a very good game.”

No, Robben may not have ultimately made himself one of the greats. But he now has a great goal to cap an excellent career.