Ronaldo, Bale click ominously into gear
CARDIFF, Wales -- In the Cardiff City Stadium's postmatch media area, Cristiano Ronaldo conducted proceedings as he had done on the pitch -- with directness and brutal economy. He insisted on stopping for journalists as his press handler attempted to usher him onto the waiting team bus -- "it's for the English," he said -- and exactly two-and-a-half minutes of to-the-point answers later, he swiftly said his farewells and was gone.
Any Sevilla player participating in the UEFA Super Cup might have had a sense of deja vu. While there was considerable heroism in Ronaldo's World Cup efforts for Portugal, refusing to give up against physical odds stacked overwhelmingly against him, this was more what we're used to. It was Real Madrid's talisman at his untenable best.
"It means a lot," Ronaldo said. "It was a very important trophy, so we started out on the right foot. We played good, better than Sevilla, I scored two goals coming back from my injuries, so it was a perfect night for me, and my teammates helped me a lot to score the goals."
Yes, there are teammates. More specifically, there was Gareth Bale, enjoying a triumphant homecoming to the city of his birth less than three months after his crucial goal clinched the Champions League, El Real's fabled decima. Cheered to the rafters when his name was announced in the lineups before kickoff, he looked as powerful as those training photos displayed considerable extra muscle for the new season suggested.
"He played amazingly," said Ronaldo. "He looked strong, he looked fast and he's an important player for us. I'm really happy for his performance tonight. He had a fantastic season last year. He showed his quality week by week so it doesn't surprise me, and it's fantastic to have Gaz with us and for him to be part of the success of Real Madrid."
More ominously for opponents, the combination between Bale and Ronaldo is growing further. The former's sublime cross for the latter's opening goal was a delicious teaser of the havoc they could wreak together. "I'm glad to play with him," Ronaldo acknowledged, "because he understands me, I understand him and he makes fantastic passes. I love it." When Bale emerged some 15 minutes later, still wearing his winners' medal around his neck, he was far more understated, still the polite respondent of his Southampton and Tottenham days. Yet there is more of the Ronaldo about him than might immediately seem apparent. Off the field, while remaining relatively unobtrusive, there has always been decisiveness within his words.
Certainly, he shares Ronaldo's burning sense of ambition. The Portuguese's desire, of course, has never been in question. When asked whether Real can break the sequence of no team in the Champions League era ever retaining the trophy, he cut off the enquirer with his response. "Madrid are going to be the first team," he shot back. "I hope so."
Ronaldo was a touch more coy about exactly how good his sleek-looking new side can become, despite Toni Kroos' mind-blowing debut and some promising interventions from James Rodriguez. "I can't give you the answer [now]," he said. "just at the end of the season. We have potential to be the best, but you never know. I believe that these players that Real Madrid have bought, Kroos, James and [Keylor] Navas, are going to give more support to the team and more quality. I'm very happy with the quality that we have in the squad. We're going to try and win all the trophies. Let's see what we can do next Tuesday against Atletico Madrid. "
One expects that La Liga's champions can mount more of a challenge to them in the Spanish Supercopa than the Europa League winners Sevilla did here. They were hopelessly outclassed for the majority of a night on which their magnificent fans never stopped singing. Perhaps it was inevitable. Prominent Spanish journalist Ruben Uria had pointed out on Twitter before the match the financial gulf between the sides, with Los Blancos' XI costing 440 million euros (349 million pounds) and Sevilla's less than 30 million euros (23.8 million pounds). In fact, Portugal internationals Pepe and Fabio Coentrao had each individually cost the Bernabeu club more the Andalusians paid for their entire starting lineup.
"All the same, we're a bit disappointed," new signing Grzegorz Krychowiak told ESPN FC afterwards. "Before the match, we wanted to do something here. I think we had the means to do it, but unfortunately it wasn't the case. We lost against a great Real Madrid team, and their victory was well deserved."
It was an uphill start for the Poland midfielder, deployed to keep the back door shut but gently enticed forward by the gaping Ivan Rakitic-shaped hole down which most of Sevilla's efforts drained. "The main problem was when we got the ball back," lamented Krychowiak. "We had trouble putting two or three passes together, and lost the ball too quickly. Maybe we tried a few too many difficult passes, when one or two touches would have done. When we work like that as a team, it's easier to keep the ball, but that wasn't how it worked out. Against this type of team, it's not possible to play like that for 90 minutes."
It was hard work, especially with the immaculate Kroos making it look so easy in the other direction. Sevilla have work to do, both in terms of tactics and recruitment -- Alberto Moreno, who said some tearful goodbyes on the pitch at the end, will follow Rakitic out the door, as he joins Liverpool. Yet they have hope of building on last year's exploits.
"I hope to progress by coming here," said Krychowiak. "This year, the club's objective is to fight to get into the Champions League, so it's something very different to what I was aiming for last year [with Reims]."
It is also something very different to what Carlo Ancelotti's men are aiming for. It is still early, but Real Madrid already appear destined for a different galaxy than their domestic rivals.
Andy Brassell is a freelance European football writer and broadcaster for the BBC, The Independent, ESPN, The Blizzard, Four Four Two, Talksport and others.