Real Madrid had to conquer Europe for a 14th time before they were taken seriously.
It was only after choking off Liverpool’s offer of immortality that the penny finally dropped.
The search for greatness this season has been thrown all over the place – but always seemed to overlook the greatest of them all.
Would it be Jurgen Klopp’s quadruple chasers or would Pep Guardiola finally end his ever-escalating hunt for a third Champions League crown?
Could Thomas Tuchel become a back-to-back winner – or Lionel Messi deliver the trophy Paris Saint-Germain dream of the most?
In the meantime, Real have systematically extinguished the hopes of each of these clubs, but still felt like they had come from nowhere to lift the biggest prize in club football at the Stade de France on Saturday.
It’s an insult to the Spanish giants as an institution that so little credit has been given to their credentials to win a trophy that seems to have a return signal guiding him to the Bernabeu.
They have now won it as many times as all English clubs combined and more than any other nation.
And that ragtag group of misfits – as it often seemed they were considered – now numbers no less than nine players to have personally won the competition five times.
Then there’s Carlo Ancelotti – who looked like he was put to pasture at Everton last season, and this year became the first manager to win a title in each of Europe’s top five leagues and is now the only man to lead a team. to four Champions Leagues.
Class is permanent – and the Italian has plenty of it.
The same goes for its aging stars, which so many have been so quick to dismiss.
Karim Benzema has surpassed Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah as the best striker in the world this year. Luka Modric and Toni Kroos remain at the heart of this Real team.
The vintage trio have a combined age of 102.
They characterize their manager as utterly unwavering no matter the circumstances.
It’s the most enduring quality of this team that they let the rest of us worry about them. Meanwhile, they are desperate to break hearts.
Caught in a tornado caused by Manchester City in the first leg of their semi-final – 2-0 in under 11 minutes and in danger of being swept away before the half-hour – unfathomably they returned to Madrid with the tie just fine alive, trailing 4-3.
What followed in the second leg, scoring in the 90th and 91st minutes to extend the draw, had almost become an expectation, given their spectacular comebacks in earlier rounds against Chelsea and PSG.
Yet they continued to be written off – and on Saturday the smart money was on Liverpool again.
Klopp’s side lacked the defensive mistakes that ultimately cost City.
Their own historical relationship with this competition ensured that they would not be intimidated by the occasion or Real’s sense of destiny.
The treble may have been a bit short – but a treble of cups would place this current Kop class among the best teams of all time.
The problem was that Real wasn’t reading the script – and neither was anyone else.
In hindsight, their name was on the trophy – perhaps as early as the loss to FC Sherrif Tiraspol in the group stage when Real tasted their own medicine as Sebastian Thill scored an 89th-minute winner.
On Saturday there was no need for the drama of the previous rounds – although their victory owed much to the brilliance of Thibaut Courtois, who voiced his own grievances over a lack of personal respect for him.
From the moment Vinicius Junior struck in the 59th minute, it felt like Liverpool had lost confidence.
Ancelotti’s counter-attacking game plan had worked – and he had complete faith in his players to see the high-risk strategy of letting Liverpool come to them.
He is a serial winner, managing a team of serial winners.
Should we ever doubt?
Watching them claw their way to the trophy was a white ride – one instant classic after another to knock out the French champions, European champions and English champions before taking on Liverpool.
Yet somehow they arrived in Paris as underdogs.
They left as kings of Europe. Still.