Real Madrid enjoy their trophy despite the surrealism of the Club World Cup
Real Madrid's 2-0 victory over San Lorenzo in the Club World Cup was a fitting end to what has been a superb 2014 for coach Carlo Ancelotti and his almost-all-conquering team. It's also a boon to club president Florentino Perez and the marketing team at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. While the tournament remains a bit of an artificial oddity in the football calendar, there was plenty for Blancos fans and pundits to revel in after goals from Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale secured the trophy.
Eleven-year-old Moroccan prince Moulay Hassan had a prominent role during the pre- and postgame ceremonies at Le Grande Stade de Marrakech. His presence made it a bit harder to take seriously a tournament that remains a not-quite-successful attempt by FIFA to bask in some of the reflected glory of the club game.
The media buildup was also bizarre. It included Madrid defender Sergio Ramos being asked to comment on the views of Pope Francis and "Lord of the Rings" star Viggo Mortensen writing a preview article in Marca. As few people outside of hard-core fans of Argentine football knew much about the San Lorenzo players, such celebrity supporters were needed to help build a sense of occasion.
Madrid really had to win in Morocco; anything else would have been an embarrassment. Europe's overwhelming financial strength means that the Champions League holders should always be much, much stronger than even the winners of South America's Copa Libertadores.
Rough calculations suggest that the combined annual salaries of everyone in the other six squads -- 120 people, more or less -- add up to less than Madrid's superstar Cristiano Ronaldo receives in commercial endorsements each year. San Lorenzo's annual budget of 6.5 million euros ($8 million) a year was the second-highest of the participating clubs, but is tiny compared to the 541 million euros ($661 million) Madrid spend per annum.
Despite the obvious disparity, adding a trophy has been taken very seriously in Spain, and Ancelotti made sure his players were fully focused and professional in their work (unlike Premier League club Chelsea, who were embarrassed by Brazilian side Corinthians in 2012).
Most immediately, it means that the team's phenomenal run of 23 straight victories in all competitions has resulted in some silverware. It also means that Madrid had won four trophies -- the Copa Del Rey, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup -- for the first time, no mean feat given the Bernabeu outfit's storied history.
Winning this competition for the first time in 11 years is also a big deal for a club that bases both its self-image and business model on being the biggest and the best at everything. This trophy surely will be mentioned the next time Perez references Madrid's global brand and ever-increasing revenues from marketing and merchandising. Hours after the game, visitors to the club's online shop could buy an official kit with the Club World Cup Champions 2014 Badge added for seven euros.
There also will be more lucrative ways of cashing in on being club world champions. One surprise from the tournament, for example, was how many fans Madrid have in Morocco. Speaking before the final, Ramos said he felt like he was at home with supporters cheering them on both in streets and at games. Bale and Toni Kroos were among players sent to the shiny, new official club store in Marrakech during the week; Perez also met with a select group of 400 local Moroccan fans before the match to thank them for their support. "We feel like we're at home," he said. "We are in the hearts of the Moroccan people."
The final display was not quite the spectacle those home fans -- or Perez and the marketing men -- might have liked. San Lorenzo's aggressive approach succeeded in disrupting Madrid's midfield rhythm, and there was little aesthetically pleasing football. The goals were another Ramos header from a set-piece and a weak Bale shot that squirmed under goalkeeper Sebastian Torrico.
Ronaldo had a subdued game, never looking like he'd score. Afterward he seemed more annoyed than excited about receiving the silver ball as the tournament's second-best player; he then appeared to snub Michel Platini because of presumed annoyance at the UEFA president having pushed a Germany player for this year's Ballon d'Or trophy.
All in all, the spectacle did not match Barcelona's 4-0 win over Santos in the 2009 final, when Pep Guardiola's side decorated the occasion with a superb display of total football. Not that the Madrid-backing media was playing things down on Sunday morning. Marca's cover screamed "The Best in the World" and called it "an incontestable triumph which marks an era." Meanwhile, the AS front page said "World Champions" and promised fans a giant souvenir poster on Monday.
With Ronaldo for once left in the shade, much of the coverage focused on the roles of Ramos and Ancelotti. The centre-back admitted to playing the game with a torn thigh muscle, yet he basked in the glory of scoring yet another key goal -- he tallied in both the semi-final and final as Madrid won last year's Champions League trophy, and now again in this competition.
There was also widespread acclamation for Ancelotti, who has equalled current Bayern Munich coach Guardiola and ex-Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson in guiding teams to a record eight international club trophies. The Italian's achievement in organising and motivating his expensively assembled team, while dealing with the egos and rivalries of so many galacticos, is nothing short of phenomenal. The role of English assistant coach Paul Clement, who does a lot of the tactical work on the training ground, should also be highlighted. The pair's complementary qualities make for an outstanding team.
When all the hype and marketing jargon are stripped away, Madrid have been the best team in world football in 2014. During the calendar year they've won 51 of their 63 games played, scoring 178 goals and conceding just 41. As self-proclaimed "mad-Madridista" Tomas Roncero gleefully pointed out in AS, this means the current Blancos team have now scored more goals and won more games than even the best of Pep's Barca sides managed in any 12-month period. This matters for Madrid fans, who did not enjoy those recent years in the shade.
Ultimately, such one-upmanship may be more for the pundits and the fans. On Saturday night the ever-balanced Ancelotti said everyone associated with Madrid should enjoy the moment and then settle down again to work in January.
"We are very happy to end the year with this trophy, but we need to keep going as the season does not end here," he said. "We want 2015 to be like 2014."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan