Record Champions League winners Real Madrid claimed a 13th trophy in 2018, becoming the first side in the modern-day tournament to win three in a row. While the 3-1 win over Liverpool had its heroes – Gareth Bale – and its anti-heroes – take a bow, Sergio Ramos – a European treble will probably never be repeated.
Until his departure to Juventus in 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo was the poster boy for this era-defining Real side. The year before, Ronaldo had scored the vital spot kick to down city rivals Atlético in the Champions League final. The tie was a repeat of the same Madrileño combination of 2014, with Ronaldo again triumphant then.
Under former Real star Zinedine Zidane, the Merengues failed to defend their league title, having a first league domestic crown in five years in 2017, brushing aside previously dominant Barcelona.
For outsiders, Real represent the spend-what-may approach to success. In his first term as club president, current incumbent Florentino Pérez paid astronomical sums for the likes of Zidane, Luis Figo and David Beckham: the Galácticos. Zidane memorably hit the winner when Real won the Champions League in 2002, but silverware was otherwise remarkably scant. Pérez returned in 2009, and immediately reintroduced his open-chequebook policy, paying a world-record €94 million for Cristiano Ronaldo. This sum was soon eclipsed when Gareth Bale joined for €100 million in 2013.
The Real legend who presented Ronaldo with his new shirt on signing day was Alfredo di Stéfano, the figurehead of the club’s golden era of the 1950s. Di Stéfano, whose scoring records would later fall to Ronaldo, spearheaded Real’s five-year monopoly of the newly introduced European Cup, a reign that established the club as footballing royalty.
King Alfonso XIII had decreed Madrid FC ‘Real’ (‘Royal’) in 1920. Madrid FC had been formed from university teams Football Club Sky, New Foot-Ball de Madrid and Club Español de Madrid.
Real played at the Chamartín, near the station of the same name, and won two early league titles. The Spanish Civil War was less kind, the balance redressed under Spanish dictator Franco. Post-war chairman, Francoist Santiago Bernabéu, transformed Real, building a new Chamartin, later renamed after him, and bringing in Argentine di Stéfano. Along with speedy winger Francisco Gento, Real won the inaugural European Cup of 1956, their opponents Stade de Reims selling their star Raymond Kopa to Bernabéu.
This was Real in their pomp, the team in all-white under captain Miguel Muñoz putting Fiorentina to the sword in the 1957 final. In 1958, Bernabéu snapped up Hungarian exile Ferenc Puskás, who shared all seven goals with Di Stéfano in the landmark European Cup victory of 1960, Real’s fifth. The Magyar got all three in the equally epic final of 1962, but it wasn’t enough – Real’s reign was over, in Europe at least.
The ‘yé-yé’ generation of Pirri and Amancio helped Real to a sixth European Cup in 1966, a decade or so before Bernabeu died, and before the arrival of the ‘Vulture Squad’. This Spanish quintet featuring Emilio Butragueño and Michel were key to the five straight league titles of the 1980s.
European silverware was limited to two consecutive UEFA Cups until the arrival of Fernando Hierro and locally born striker Raúl. With foreigners Roberto Carlos and Pedja Mijatovic, Real’s 32-year title wait for Europe’s premier trophy ended in 1998. This feat was repeated in 2000, with Steve McManaman and young goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Incoming president Florentino Pérez had built his campaign on the transfer of Figo from Barcelona, the first of the Galácticos – Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham – who would turn Real into a multi-million euro circus. With it came just one Champions League trophy, in 2002 – decided by an outstanding Zidane volley. La Liga became a two-horse race.
The return of Pérez in 2009 saw further astronomical signings, notably Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká (£60 million). With the arrival of José Mourinho, a real buzz returned to the Bernabéu. Despite the record league victory of 2012 (most points, most goals), and 60 goals from Ronaldo, Real again failed in Europe. Mourinho was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, a popular choice – and, in 2014, the second coach to win the Champions League three times.
Starved of Europe’s premier crown for 12 years, that night in Lisbon, Ancelotti’s Real lined up against city rivals Atlético. Trailing the recently crowned domestic champions 1-0 in stoppage time, Real equalised thanks to a vital header by stalwart defender Sergio Ramos. Bale had missed several chances beforehand, but nodded in a second goal in extra-time. Ronaldo then sent the tie and the title beyond reach.
Two years later, the same teams met in Milan, the margins even tighter as the Champions League title went to the Merengues on penalties. In 2017, after a bright start by Juventus, Real simply powered past the Italians on the hour. There was simply too much quality in the side – Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Isco would grace any top European team.
While that night was Ronaldo’s, 2018 belonged to Bale. His jaw-dropping bicycle kick to put Real two goals ahead over Liverpool was probably the finest goal ever seen in Europe’s grandstand fixture, rivalled only by his manager’s in a Madrid shirt in 2002.
Ironically, apart from the career-ending blunders of Liverpool keeper Loris Karius, the talk afterwards was of Bale and Ronaldo’s future at the club. Having persuaded Sergio Ramos to stay at the Bernabéu by making him captain in 2015, Pérez failed to keep Ronaldo at the Bernabéu before the 2018-19 campaign.
Coupled with the replacement of coach Zidane by Julen Lopetegui, the result was near disaster. A 5-1 defeat to Barça left Real in ninth place, and near unprecedented shame. Zidane then returned, ten months and two managerial changes later, to steady the ship.
New €100 million signing Eden Hazard will therefore grace the group stage of the Champions League in a Real shirt in 2019-20 – but Ramos, Modrić and Marcelo are now well into their thirties.
It was Santiago Bernabéu himself who built the new Chamartín, close to the original stadium damaged in the Spanish Civil War and opened in 1947. The original capacity of 75,000 was expanded to 125,000 in 1954, on the eve of Real’s European Cup hegemony. Renamed Bernabéu shortly afterwards, this wedding-cake arena was the perfect stage for Di Stéfano, Gento and Puskás.
The hosting of the World Cup in 1982 reduced capacity to 90,000, most covered by a new roof. Further improvements and increased safety measures brought the current capacity to 85,500, including 4,000 VIP seats.
Set on Madrid’s main boulevard running north-south, the Bernabéu features Towers A-D on each corner. The best bars outside are on and off La Concha Espina, alongside the Realcafé and the notorious home end, the Fondo Sur. Walking round Tower A, on Padre Damián, you find the players’ entrance, club shop, and away fans’ access by Tower D, near gate 47/49. This far end on Rafael Salgado is the Fondo Norte, with restaurants opposite, leading to Tower C and Bernabéu stadium tours.
The stadium has its own metro stop, Estadio Bernabéu, on line 10, metro entrances on Paseo de la Castellana itself. Bus No.120 links with Mar de Cristal metro line 8, handy for Barajas Airport.
Real’s Ultras Sur congregate in the Fondo Sur behind one goal. The most expensive seats are in the Anfiteatro Preferencia and the Tribuna Preferencia. Visiting fans are allocated a far corner of the Fondo Norte. Ticket booths are dotted around the ground, some offering limited advance tickets a couple of days before kick-off.
On the club website, tickets are offered to the general public about a week before kick-off. Prices start at €30 in the fourth tier behind each goal, Norte and Sur, rising to an average of €70 nearer the pitch. Prices along the sidelines, Est and Oeste, average €100.
There are also hospitality packages from €225.
The Real store (daily 10.30am-8.30pm), brand-shared with adidas, is found at Gate 55 on c/Padre Damián, near Tower D. Look out for the 3D model of the Bernabéu, the Real Madrid sliding gnome and the branded minibar set. A Bale No.11 shirt will set you back €100. There’s another store at c/Carmen 3 (Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-7pm).
Tour & museum
At Real Madrid, it’s tour and museum together only (€25, €18 under-14s, €6 audio guides). Opening times for the summer of 2019 are Mon-Sat 9.30am to 7pm, Sun 10am-6.30pm. You get to see the home dressing room, bask in a panoramic view of this wedding cake of a stadium, sit in the presidential box like Florentino Pérez and walk down the tunnel like Luka Modrić.
In the museum, players past and present come to life on an 11-metre screen. The interactive features even stretch to placing you on the team bus and making the journey from the training ground to the hallowed stadium. This is also one of the few trophy rooms with a serious wow factor – 13 European Cups/Champions League trophies, as many as Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich put together.
From Bernabéu metro, the streets of Concha Espina and, at right-angles halfway down, Marcellino Santa María, contain a dozen or more pre-match outlets. At Concha Espina 4, Brios is a civilised terrace spot for a drink or dish; on Santa María, El 7 Blanco displays posters of Raúl.
At the bottom, on Gutiérrez Solana, Casa Puebla (‘Since 1899’) is a tiled Castilian classic. On the opposite side of the stadium on Rafael Salgado, restaurant José Luis is of similar vintage, close to La Bodega, a friendly corner bar with the gall to sell Estrella beer from Barcelona.
The Bernabéu has four official outlets, all with panoramic views of the action: upscale grill restaurant La Esquina (gate 46; by Tony Roma’s chain grill eaterie); multi-roomed Puerta 57 (gate 57; closed Sun eve), with its main Cibeles bar serving Madrileño specialities for all-comers, and adjoining, reservation-only Salón Madrid overlooking the pitch; the two-floor Real Café halfway down Concha Espina, the upstairs eaterie with a view; and the Asian-influenced Zen market (gate 20) near Tower B, where private booths survey the action.