This article titled “Mo Salah’s tears and agony a cruel end to his season of joy with Liverpool” was written by Barney Ronay at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 26th May 2018 22.50 UTC
And fade to white. By the end of a messy, thrilling, occasionally grisly Champions League final in Kiev the most unexpected note was that Liverpool’s fearless run to this stage should end with regrets and a quiver of what might have been.
It seemed even crueller still that the final image of Mo Salah’s joyful season should be the sight of the Premier League player of the year leaving the pitch in tears with half an hour gone. But then there are reasons why Real Madrid win these games, why the same faces keep on being framed by the cameras year after year lifting that intoxicatingly shiny trophy. Or in other words: Mo, meet Sergio.
Madrid were the story here: three-times champions, with victory capped by an overhead kick from Gareth Bale of such devastating grace that even the Liverpool end offered him a ripple of bruised applause as Madrid lined up for the restart.
Yet there will be a sense through red-tinted spectacles of having been cheated by fate, by misfortune and by Sergio Ramos.
Make no mistake Liverpool had their moments to take this game by the scruff, most obviously in the opening quarter when they went for the full, blitz attack, drawing stumbles and stutters and hoofed clearances as those princely white shirts looked a little giddy. Liverpool can do this to you, swarming in with the body shots, taking your breath, making the pitch spin. Something had to give. It did. The wrong thing.
Nobody will ever really know what Ramos intended as he grabbed Mo Salah’s arm and tumbled to the ground. No foul was awarded, even with Salah lying in agony holding his shoulder. Probably this was simply an innocent coming-together. In slow motion it looked like an expert secret service judo move, the kind of thing you spend three years learning to pull off in a camp in the Swiss Alps, along with the blow dart to the neck and the sword-stick umbrella jab.
Ramos might say he was giving some back in kind, reacting to Liverpool’s own concussive style. Either way Salah was done, soldiering on for a few moments before going down in distress clutching a dislocated shoulder. Ramos, svengali of white-shirted bastardism, loves these games. Here he seized another by the throat and squeezed at the vital moment.
Instantly the weather inside the stadium changed. The excellent Sadio Mané was switched from the left where he had been traumatising Dani Carvajal. The red shirts seemed winded – and within six minutes of half-time Madrid were in front, Loris Karius producing a gut-wrenching error, placing the ball on the end of Karim Benzema’s foot in front of an open goal from a simple throw-out.
Liverpool did not let it drop. Four minutes later they were level, Mané nipping in at a corner to poke the ball past Keylor Navas, drawing a vast cheer at that end and another note in the pure pleasure that has soundtracked this run to Kiev and which will remain even now the dominant note of a lost May weekend in Ukraine.
What is black and white and red all over? Kiev of course. Or at least it was for one sun-drenched afternoon as Liverpool’s travelling support added a great sweaty replica-shirted smear of red to the washed out greens and blues and greys.
They came in vans and coaches and cars. They came via Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Throughout the day they packed Shevchenko park with a bobbing, burping, chanting mass of sun-flushed flesh and filled the side-street bars with a travel-frazzled sense of Soviet-tinged dolce vita.
As the minutes ticked down to kick-off there was a familiar feeling of ravenousness and an impatience around the pre-match hoopla, capped by the massed kitchen foil-clad dancers of the great Dua Lipa, who eventually appeared bouncing gamely on top of a blue and yellow birthday cake stage.
Even with Salah off, this game was still there. Mané hit the post. Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled manfully with Marcelo, sniping inside like a horribly malevolent giant tarantula. But without that glaze of genius, the switch of gear that Salah brings, Madrid were able to purr forward.
Still it took another painful howler from Karius to kill the game as he let a Bale shot spill through the most brittle of pasta-wristed punches. This was a professional tragedy for a footballer in the biggest match of his life, on a stage to which he will surely never return.
But it was also not entirely surprising. Jürgen Klopp persuaded Karius to sign for Liverpool in the first place, then made him his number one. At the end of which, and when it really matters, Karius has made a pair of match-killing howlers. Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Kiev and beyond, the sun continues to rise, dogs still bite postmen, brown bears still seek out the treeline when nature calls. A new goalkeeper looked like an essential summer signing even before tonight.
The intersection of luck and design is always a difficult area in sport. Here Liverpool could only bring on a half-fit Adam Lallana for Salah. Madrid could call on Bale, Salah’s equivalent as a player but able to lurk potently on the bench.
Liverpool will leave Kiev a little bruised but also with a sense that their one real shot at this game, that full-throttle Plan A, was derailed in the coldest fashion by a more seasoned, powerfully stocked team of champions.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010