Assailed by chaos off the pitch before the game, Liverpool were undone by the beautiful anarchy of a Real Madrid team at the Stade de France on Saturday night that has made a habit of plucking victory from the jaws of adversity. Once, they had hoped to seal a Quadruple here in Paris but their season ended as support acts for a Madrid side that won this competition for the 14th time.
Outside the Stade de France, Liverpool’s fans had been made to wait for hours in the spring sunshine, the kick-off growing nearer and nearer, the confusion growing and growing, the congestion starting to seem dangerous and worrying. Gates were closed for no apparent reason. Supporters were doused with pepper spray. The kick off was delayed by 36 minutes and anger and impotence were everywhere.
Once the game eventually began, Liverpool, whose team bus had been trapped in traffic on the way to the stadium, attempted to introduce order to the chaos and somehow defuse Madrid’s reputation, which they have built with a series of miracle comebacks during this Champions League campaign, for conjuring victory from the most unlikely of circumstances.
And so Liverpool, who had once hoped to arrive in Madrid seeking to seal an unprecedented Quadruple, ended their season with just two domestic cups to celebrate. After losing the Premier League so agonisingly to Manchester City last weekend after a titanic battle, this was a bitter pill to swallow. The ‘mentality monsters’ met their match.
It was Madrid’s night. They have now won this trophy double the amount of times of the next most successful side, AC Milan. And their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, can now claim to be the most successful manager in the history of the game. This was his fourth triumph in the greatest club competition of all, one more than Zinedine Zidane and Bob Paisley.
If Liverpool had come here seeking revenge for their defeat to Madrid in the final in Kyiv in 2018, Madrid left having gained revenge for their defeat to Liverpool in Paris in 1981 in the final. This was their fifth Champions League triumph in the last nine years.
This, of course, was a final that was originally scheduled to take place in St Petersburg before it was moved to the French capital after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. And in many ways, Liverpool’s journey to this clash began in Kyiv four years ago in the hours after they were beaten in the 2018 final by goals from Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
It is haunting now to think of leaving the Olimpiyskiy Stadium that night and walking safely through crowded streets back into the centre of a beautiful city, past Independence Square, past the old Dynamo Stadium on the hillside above the Dnipro River, as Madrid fans celebrated and Liverpudlians drowned their sorrows. Far deeper sorrows have visited the environs of that city since.
Klopp mentioned Ukraine in his pre-match press conference here on Friday and said that Liverpool would be playing for its people as well as the club’s own fans but he has also spoken about Liverpool’s football recovery from that night in Kyiv. He got home to Merseyside in the early hours of the morning, had an impromptu party with friends and found himself singing a song of defiance about the final with the lead singer of German punk band Die Toten Hosen, translated as 'The Dead Trousers'.
Klopp convinced himself then that Liverpool could come back the following season and win the Champions League and his belief was borne out when his team beat Spurs in the 2019 final. Andrew Robertson said it felt like revenge because the final was in Madrid, at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but everyone knew the real act of retribution was planned for Paris.
There was little chance of revenge being served cold, though. Paris was a cauldron in the build-up to the game. There were worrying scenes of crowd congestion outside the stadium near kick-off and dispiritingly familiar reports of confused policing. The roads were gridlocked, too. The Liverpool bus became stuck in traffic and arrived at the stadium 20 minutes after Madrid.
It gradually became clear there were serious problems outside the stadium. Swathes of seats in the Liverpool end were empty half an hour before kick off and eye-witness reports spoke of gates being closed with fans stuck outside. Uefa pushed a false narrative about fans arriving late and said the game would be delayed by half an hour. In the end, it kicked off at 9.36pm, local time.