Champions League Final 2014: Real Madrid coach Paul Clement sets rare English benchmark among Europe's elite

 

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It's been nearly 30 years since an English coach led a team into a European Cup final. On Saturday at the Estadio da Luz there will at least be one on the bench as Paul Clement takes his place alongside Carlo Ancelotti for Real Madrid.

From 1977 to 1985, leading up to the ban on English clubs from European competition following the Heysel tragedy, there was only one season there wasn't a Bob Paisley, a Brian Clough, a Tony Barton or a Joe Fagan on the bench for the biggest club game of the season and in 1986 Terry Venables watched his Barcelona side lose to Steaua Bucharest.

Now, however, Clement, who also worked with Ancelotti at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, is an English rarity, plying his trade at the very top.

"It's amazing. I never thought it would go this way but when opportunity arose, I took it," he says at Real's Valdebebas training ground. "At Chelsea we were close to a final before when we lost to Barça on the away goal. At that point you think it will never happen, but here we are and it's wonderful."

He is learning from a manager he believes is massively underrated. "It's Carlo's seventh final. He gives us exactly what everyone needs in a high-pressure situation like this – he's been there and done that, many times over," Clement says.

"If you pick two or three of the best coaches in the world, Carlo has to be one of those but he's a very humble guy. There is no ego. He sees himself on the same level as the players and that opens up communication."

Clement's detailed analysis of opponents is one of the reasons why he has remained in team Carlo beyond their group dismissal from Chelsea. Does he see a way to undo Atletico Madrid, the only side in the competition who have not lost a single game?

"They defend deep but when they get the ball they are effective at moving it forward," Clement says. They don't just punt it, they play combinations and work their way down the field so there will be periods when they have the ball and there is space behind, not as much as against Barcelona or Bayern but it will happen."

Real's cause is not helped by the absence of Xabi Alonso through suspension, especially as he would also have taken a penalty should the game go to spot-kicks. He was Madrid's only scorer three years ago in the semi-final against Bayern when Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka missed and Sergio Ramos blazed over the bar.

Clement admits all eventualities are being prepared for. "We will practise penalties all week. You have to practise everything that happens: set plays, attacking, defending, transition. It's impossible to recreate the pressure, but it's getting the players the chance to feel comfortable with a situation just through repetition."

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