Madrid: The curse, the gods and the Champions League final

LIGHTS OUT The now-defunct Atlético stadium, the Vicente Calderón, which has lost its shine and most of its lights. Picture: Muhammad Hussain
LIGHTS OUT The now-defunct Atlético stadium, the Vicente Calderón, which has lost its shine and most of its lights. Picture: Muhammad Hussain

“We hope to play in the final in our stadium – for me, for the players, the coaches and particularly the fans, it would be beautiful and it motivates us,” Diego Simeone, Atlético Madrid’s coach said last year when asked about Atlético’s dream of playing in the Champions League final at their home stadium the Wanda Metropolitano.

At the time, the Rojiblancos were playing their second Champions League game against Club Brugge at home, had won the Uefa Super Cup, had won the Europa League and had made it to the finals of Europe’s greatest club competition twice in the previous four years.

But, in the 26-year history of the Champions League, no football club has won the title after its home stadium was selected to host the final. And the curse continued this year after Atlético were booted out in the quarterfinals.

The closest any team has come was Bayern Munich in 2012, when they lost to Chelsea at the Allianz Arena in Germany.

In the 37 finals prior to the Champions League era, only three teams made it to a home stadium final: Real Madrid in 1957 at the Santiago Bernabéu, Inter Milan in 1965 at the San Siro and Roma in 1984 at the Stadio Olimpico. Only Madrid and Milan have won.

Be that as it may, the city of Madrid, and indeed the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, are iconic and filled with footballing history.

Mesón
FAMOUS HEADS Some famous patrons of Mesón Txistu: David Beckham, Tom Cruise, Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture: Muhammad Hussain

For those intending to travel the 11 500km for the final this year you may not get to see the home team play but there is a lot more to experience in this city of 4 million people, which is so entrenched in footballing culture.

Madrid is home to five top-flight football clubs but only two have played in the Champions League: Real and Atlético. With the respective European dominance of these teams, the city can rightly claim a certain sense of footballing royalty that even offers its trophies to gods and goddesses.

Bernebéu
FOOD AND FOOTIE The view of the iconic Santiago Bernebéu during lunch at Puerta. Picture: Muhammad Hussain PHOTO: Muhammad Hussain

Real celebrate their trophies at the Fuente de Vicente Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele – a primal nature goddess who was worshipped with orgiastic rites) where she resides on her 18th century lion-pulled chariot. Atlético celebrate down the road at the Fountain of Neptune – the god of the sea.

Each victory sees the trophies presented to the gods and the scarf of the respective team wrapped around their heads or necks.

“This is the only time anyone is allowed to go and touch the statues, with the cup,” our Spanish guide explains.

Sergio
OFFERING TO THE GODS Captain of Real Madrid Sergio Ramos kisses the statue of Cybele after wrapping the Real scarf around her neck, as vice-captain Marcelo holds the Champions League trophy. Picture: Getty Images

These statues had nothing to do with football when they were built, in fact they pre-date their respective clubs by a couple of hundred years, but because football is embedded in the cultural fabric of Madrid, most cultural sites now have footballing links.”

From there it’s a 35-minute walk south-east towards Atlético’s previous stadium, the Estadio Vicente Calderón.

Calderón
DON'T TOUCH THE BADGE Club stickers near the Calderón. Picture: Muhammad Hussain

The now-defunct stadium is in the process of being demolished, with some of its sides completely torn down already. The name of the stadium is still visible while stickers and flags of Atlético can be seen around the suburb.

Unfortunately, the Atlético Museum is no more but there are plans for a bigger, more spectacular showroom at the Wanda.

There are a lot of bars and restaurants in the area of Atlético’s former stadium, with many parks for a kick around if the need gets too real.

But if you want to eat where the footballers eat, then there are two restaurants that are a must. One is located a kilometre north of the Bernabéu and the other is at the Bernabéu precinct.

Mesón Txistu – a Basque-style restaurant that serves authentic Spanish cuisine is a must for all the famous sporting personalities.

Don’t believe me, just look at the walls and the smiling faces of the Brazilian Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Rafael Nadal, Tom Cruise and even Pelé, as they watch you eat.

Spanish food, especially Basque food, is bland, so make sure to ask for hot sauce if that’s where your palate likes to live. You will also see replica trophies and signed T-shirts of Real Madrid’s Champions League victories, as this is the place the team come to for a celebratory meal.

The other restaurant is within the Bernabéu and offers patrons exquisite views of the stadium (which was being mowed at the time for the next day’s El Clásico).

FAST FACTS

Other sites of interest in Madrid include the former-penthouse of Carlo Ancelotti which, according our guide, was valued at a minimum of € 1.5 million.

This can be found in a creamy-white building to the right of the Puerta de Alcala – an arch that was part of the five doors when Madrid was a walled city.

For a life-sized version of the Madrid city coat of arms – the bear and the tree, which also features on Atletico’s badge, head over to the east side of Puerta del Sol, where the official starting point of Spain’s six national roads are.

Puerta 57 takes its name from gate 57 of the stadium and its elegant décor of rich carpets, white table cloths and intricately carved adornments will take your breath away before the roof-to-floor window overlooking the stadium questions your ability to breathe.

Don’t forget to take the Bernabéu tour where you will see everything from Roberto Carlos’ boots to Santiago Bernabéu’s membership card and the dozens and dozens of trophies, including one that looks like a chimney.

Football souvenirs can be bought from the official club stores at the stadiums or in Gran Via, the shopping district.

However, there are also shops and stalls that sell knock-offs and other cheaper trinkets if you are thin on budget.




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