KEIR RADNEDGE in CARDIFF —- UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin admitted on the eve of the Champions League Final here in Cardiff that he is concerned about the length, depth and breadth of the wealth gap in European football.
But the truth is there has always been hierarchy, a class structure. The difference between yesteryear and today is only the exacerbating size of the commercial revenues cascading into the game from television and sponsors.
For example tomorrow Real Madrid, the current and record 33-times champions of Spain, will be defending their European crown against Juventus, the current and also 33-times champions of Italy. Juve won their first national league title in 1905, Madrid in 1932.
That is not all. These two grandees have been confronting each other in European football’s elite club competition ever since 1962. On that occasion they were brought together in the quarter-finals.
The first leg was played in Turin and Madrid won 1-0 with a goal from legendary Alfredo Di Stefano; the return saw Juventus inflict Madrid’s first home defeat in Europe, also by 1-0. The goal was scored by Enrique Omar Sivori who had followed Di Stefano as hero and favourite at Argentina’s River Plate.
Both also played for their newly-adopted countries, Spain and Italy; both also won the European Footballer of the Year prize.
These being pioneering days before away goals and penalty shootouts, the clubs had to play off in the old Parc des Princes in Paris. Madrid struck immediately through midfielder Felo and Juve were level by half-time through John Charles. Madrid pulled away in the second half with further strikes from Luis Del Sol and Justo Tejada.
Old days, old heroes. Since then they have met a further 15 times, including the 1998 final which Madrid won 1-0 in Amsterdam.
Thus, more than half a century since the first duel, it’s still Real Madrid v Juventus and the heroes are still the high-cost imports, be they Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric or Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala.
There has always been an important Welshman at the party. Back then it was Charles, the ‘Gentle Giant’; now it’s Gareth Bale.
The one question for Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane in Cardiff is whether to start with home-town favourite Bale or in-form Isco who has scored five goals in his last eight games. Bale says he is fit after a calf muscle injury against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals but has conceded this is different from being matchfit.
As for Juve’s Max Allegri – who has been linked with Arsenal though nothing right now could be further from his mind – the one doubt may be between Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic and Claudio Marchisio for two midfield slots.
Two years ago Allegri and Juventus were losers in the final to Barcelona in Berlin. They took revenge in the quarter-finals this term and Allegri insists they have grown technically, tactically and psychologically since then.
Zidane’s pride is to have steered Madrid to the ultimate triumph in 2016 after assisting Carlo Ancelotti in 2014. Both victories were so tight – extra time and then penalties – Madridistas may fear their favourites’ luck will run out some time which could be here here and now.
Otherwise, if Madrid win in Cardiff their ‘novice’ coach will have converted the record 11-times European champions into the first team to defend successfully the modern-era Champions League crown.
The Frenchman knows all about success at this level. It’s a key to his command of an infamously difficult dressingroom. He scored what proved the magnificent winner for Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002. But that was then; this is now. He also knows what it is to lose . . . as with Juventus against Borussia Dortmund in 1997.
But for all the history between the clubs and the personalities that is all it is.
As Allegri told the media: “I’ve heard people say Juventus have lost six finals but history doesn’t count. We just need to do what we need to do. It’s very simple.”