Real Madrid's third straight Champions League title cements place in history
KIEV, Ukraine -- Perhaps it is the nature of Real Madrid that, even in triumph, it is easier to look for flaws and shortcomings than to simply give credit where it is due.
Zinedine Zidane and his players created history by defeating Liverpool in the Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine; Zidane by joining Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti in the club of three-time-winning managers; and his players by not only delivering a third successive European Cup, but also extending Real's record haul to 13.
But just like it was a year ago, after Juventus were beaten in Cardiff by Zidane's men, there is almost a rush to avoid putting this Real team on the pedestal many clubs before them have occupied for achieving far less.
Pep Guardiola's Barcelona were rightly lauded for changing the face of football with their 2009 and 2011 Champions League victories -- both against Manchester United -- but that supreme Barca team of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta could not retain the European Cup, let alone win it three times in a row.
Maybe Guardiola's Barcelona appealed to the romantics more than Real can ever do. With the tiki-taka revolution and Barca's "Mes que un club" badge of honour, they were an easier team to love than Real.
In this final, all of the romance surrounded Liverpool and their attempt to recreate their glorious European history with Jurgen Klopp's fantasy football, led by Mohamed Salah's goals. But at the end of it all, just like in Cardiff and Milan the year before, Real turned up and won when it mattered.
Three in a row and No. 13, but still there is little love for Zidane's team. Guardiola was hailed as a tactical genius for winning two Champions Leagues, but Zidane is just Zidane, a man regarded as a coach who simply finds a way to win at the same time as managing a collection of massive egos in his squad.
Both sound like being damned with faint praise, but Zidane's success has come from being able to combine both the winning and managing of egos at the world's most ego-driven club. They don't go in for Barcelona-style poetry at the Santiago Bernabeu, they just want to win with a collection of superstar players, and Zidane has nailed it three years running in the Champions League.
"To lift three Champions League trophies with this club, this team, is magnificent," Zidane said after the game. "We don't quite realise what we have achieved yet.
"We are going to enjoy the moment. I have had a little bit of time to think about what this means, and this is the status of this club. It is a legendary club, one that has won 13 Champions Leagues, and I am happy to be a part of its history, too."
Real is such a Goliath of a club that this team is not even the greatest in its history, with the first five seasons of the European Cup ending with the Spanish giants as the winners, so three in a row still falls short of that mark.
But the great Ajax and Bayern Munich teams of the 1970s, which both won three successive European Cups, continue to be regarded as two of the competition's greatest sides, with Liverpool's four in seven years between 1977 and 1984 earning them similar respect. The AC Milan team of the late 1980s and early 1990s are also held up as an iconic group, led by the Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten. Then come Guardiola's Barca.
It feels as though Zidane and his players are still fighting to earn that respect, and even love.
Winning in Kiev against Liverpool might cement that, but with Cristiano Ronado and Gareth Bale both talking openly about the prospect of leaving the club within moments of the final whistle, the egos are already threatening to overshadow the achievement.
And then there is Sergio Ramos, the serial winner, defensive rock and captain, whose cynical challenge on Salah -- which left the Liverpool forward with a suspected dislocated shoulder -- added to the sense of Real being a team that is easier to dislike than love.
Ramos is what Real are all about, though: winning.
Whatever it takes, they will do it. Whether that is on the pitch or in the transfer market, Real usually get what they want, by fair means or foul.
But despite all of the negativity, they still deserve praise and credit for their dominance of the Champions League in recent seasons -- it is not just three in a row, but also four in five years.
Luka Modric, the midfielder whose talents deserve comparison to Xavi and Iniesta, summed it up perfectly after the game by talking about Real now establishing a dynasty.
"It is something unbelievable, something historic," Modric said. "I don't know if anyone will repeat this in the future. Twice was amazing, this is historic.
"We watched a movie yesterday about basketball teams like the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers and Boston Celtics and how they won it three or four times in a row and they called it a dynasty.
"They can call us a dynasty. It seems so easy to come here and win it, but it's so much hard work day in and day out. I don't think anyone will repeat this."
And that, ultimately, might be the key to respect and recognition for this Real team. They will probably get it only once the glory days are over and people remember just how dominant they have been.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_