"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
So begins Charles Dickens' 'A Tale of Two Cities'. The Champions League final is another such tale.
A tale of Madrid and Lisbon, the former cleaved cleanly in two along tribal lines, with both halves transported just 313 miles south west to the latter, which lies snugly on the Portuguese coast and this year hosts football's grandest club match. It is a tale that will conclude in ecstasy for the winners, disaster for the losers.
This year, Madrid enjoyed the distinction of becoming the first metropolis to provide both European Cup finalists. Though a temporary and rather uneasy truce broke out last weekend when those from the more salubrious Real neighbourhood lent their support to the traditionally downtrodden Atleti as they remarkably, unbelievably, won La Liga with a draw away at Barcelona – the bitter Espana v Catalunya feud trumping all local concerns – Madrid has been prised apart once again for this match; white on one half, red-and-white on the other.
In Puerta del Sol, the heart of the city, huge pictures of both clubs' shirts hang from historic structures; in Cibeles, which houses the fountain Real fans will congregate around should they win, rival banners decorate government buildings.
Atleti already had the privilege of partying around their Neptuno fountain after beating Barca. But there is one recurring message that has grasped the city, emblazoned on everything from t-shirts to banners: 'Por La Decima' -for the tenth.
It is a slogan that has become a mantra; Real Madrid's dream of winning a 10th European Cup, now 12 years in length, has metastasised into an obsession. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been cleared to start on Saturday night by Carlo Ancelotti, says recent history weighs on those in white, acting as a motivating force.
"It is a moment that all Madridistas are dreaming about - the 'Decima'. It is a trophy we have been looking to win for many years. Real Madrid have wanted it for a long time. Since the first day we came here, we've felt that positive pressure to win the Champions League.”
But in the 12 years since Zinedine Zidane majestically pounced upon a ball falling from the Glasgow night, pirouetted and volleyed it into the top corner, disappointment has been heaped upon disappointment.
An estimated £830 million has been spent and 11 coaches discarded. It has taken Carlo Ancelotti, a veteran of two European Cup wins as a player and two more as a coach with Milan, to bring his more harmonious style of management to the Madrid madhouse and steer them into the final courtesy of a thrilling evisceration of Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the semi-final.
Now they are finally here again, those previous failures stalk them.
In his press conference, Casillas, a veteran of the wins in 2000 and 2002, gave an insight into the tortured soul of Real Madrid – when it comes to Europe at least.
"[In 2002], we were getting too used to it,” he said. “Now, we've had to wait so long. When you are winning lots of trophies maybe you do not value what you are winning. Now we see what it costs. 12 years later we are back here, we have missed it."
For Atletico the equation is rather less grand: they are searching for their first European Cup; whereas Real are contesting their 13th final, Atleti have only previously been in one, losing to Bayern Munich in 1974.
But this is an Atleti team infused with belief, it surges through their veins, and their confidence, borne of their remarkable successes under Diego Simeone, was made apparent when Raul Garcia told the press at the Estadio da Luz: “If we continue doing what we have until now I don't think we should have any problems winning the final.”
Spanish title winners probably have the right to adopt such a bullish stance, but it was still rather jarring to hear an Atleti player talk in such tones: last year's Copa del Rey final victory was their first in any competition against Real since 1999.
But such is the transformative effect their wonderfully inspiring coach has had, their deep-rooted inferiority complex has been annihilated.
Tiago, once of Chelsea, put it most memorably: “He is like a God to us. What he says comes true. We follow him. If he asks us to jump from a bridge, we jump. We are very proud to have him as a coach.”
Simeone, who has now won the Europa League, Copa del Rey, European Super Cup and La Liga with Atleti, was equally effusive in praise of his players: “This group has empowered the coaching team and words are never enough when you are thanking people.
"I have always thanked them for their efforts. The best thing a coach can have is for players to convey a feeling through their play, and they are showing passion, commitment, unity and devotion. That puts them on a level beyond that of an athlete.”
Simeone speaks enthusiastically when discussing the human qualities of his players; he was rather more guarded when continually pressed on whether Arda Turan and Diego Costa would feature having sustained injuries in the final Liga game against Barcelona.
Both took part in open training, though Costa in particular did not look as sprightly as Atleti's doctors may have wished.
Still, Simeone was reluctant to attribute too much importance to Costa and Turan's absence, should they indeed be short. “They are just names,” he said. “They are important players within the team of course, but there are other players who will know they are playing if those two don't.”
Ancelotti hit upon a similar theme, with Pepe and Karim Benzema both battling injury: “This is not going to be a match where individuals count as much as the two teams. it will be a face-off between two teams and the strongest team will win.”
The strongest team, and the strongest side of the city. Up in the stands there will be 34,000 Madrilenos watching this civil dispute play out on a European stage.
The best of times or the worst of times? Whatever Simeone says, Costa's fitness may prove decisive in determining which Madrid landmark is draped in club colours deep into Saturday night.
Tom Adams in Lisbon - @tomEurosport
- Sports & Recreation
- Real Madrid
- European Cup
- Carlo Ancelotti
- Diego Simeone