There was lavish praise going around at Real Madrid after the Spanish giants were crowned kings of Europe for the 11th time on Saturday following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Atletico Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane heaped compliments on Cristiano Ronaldo who appeared to struggle through the final while the coach himself was hailed as inspirational and a team-maker by captain Sergio Ramos.
Ronaldo was subdued for long spells but fired home the winning penalty to give Real a 5-3 success in the shootout following a 1-1 draw after extra time and then performed his shirtless celebration, proudly showing off his muscular torso.
“He wasn’t injured. He gave us the win, he was fine, he fought hard and he ran a lot like everyone in the team,” Zidane told reporters. “He has always helped his team mates.”
Ronaldo scored 16 times in the Champions League campaign to finish as top scorer in the competition for the fourth season in a row, albeit a goal short of the record he set two seasons ago.
He has won the Champions League three times, twice with Real and once with Manchester United, but still one fewer than his great rival, Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
“We’re really happy, finals are always hard,” said Ronaldo. “The side was great and sacrificed a lot. It’s impressive. I knew I was going to score the winning penalty; I was confident.”
Former Real playmaker Zidane, who became the seventh person to win the Champions League as a player and coach, said work, and more work, was the secret of Real’s success.
“We worked so much,” said the Frenchman, the first coach from his country to win the trophy. “I believe a lot in work, work is the most important thing and everyone has done a good job.”
Zizou, the unifier
Ramos has been one of the stars of Real’s latest two triumphs, having scored a late equaliser that pushed the 2014 final into extra-time before hitting the opener on Saturday.
But for the man-of-the-match, Zidane’s cool-headedness and leadership skills have helped tighten relations in a Real dressing room that, earlier this season, was not quite as cohesive.
“Zizou (Zidane) is very humble but determined. His arrival was really important for us because he has a great relationship with the players. We’ll be celebrating this with him!” said Ramos.
Zidane was handed the head coach’s position when Rafael Benitez was sacked by Real in January.
And Ramos suggested the Frenchman’s promotion was the turning point of the season.
“With Rafael we had some good times, but when Zizou came the dressing room was more unified,” added Ramos.
“Zidane brought a positive attitude with him.”
Having been the assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when the Italian coaching great steered Real to the 10th -- ‘La Decima’ -- title in Lisbon two years ago, Zidane joins an elite few who have lifted the trophy as a player and a coach.
“I’ve won the Champions League as a player, as an assistant and now as a head coach. I’m so proud to be part of this great club. It’s the club of my life, the one that made me who I am,” said Zidane.
A game of chance
Penalties were just a game of chance, Ronaldo said. “The penalties are always a lottery, you never know what’s going to happen, but we showed that our team had more experience and we showed that we scored all penalties -- it was unbelievable, a fantastic night,” Ronaldo told BT Sport after the shootout triumph.
Many players ended the game suffering with cramp.
“It’s difficult, it’s the end of the season, people are not fit any more so we have to rest now and do it for European Championship,” said Ronaldo.
Wales winger Gareth Bale overcame cramp to score his spot-kick for Real.
“I can’t feel a lot to be honest, I’m cramping up. What an amazing feeling,” he said.
“It was difficult, in extra-time a lot of people were getting cramp. We showed resilience and what we’re made of.
“I had cramp afterwards, thank god it wasn’t before. It’s an amazing feeling, I can’t describe what it feels like.
“The boys gave everything. The club, the fans have been amazing on this journey -- we deserve it.”