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Where are they now? Real Madrid's 1998 Champions League winners

Real Madrid 1998 Champions League

Long before La Decima, this Real Madrid team captured the club's first European Cup in 32 years. So what happened to the class of '98?

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After three Champions League titles in four years, some people are sick of Real Madrid’s success in Europe. Los Merengues appear in the semi-finals like clockwork – eight years in a row, now – and with a bit of luck, brilliance or otherworldly forces, seem to get their hands on that trophy.

Yet, for over 30 years, Real Madrid fans suffered through an epic drought. Despite Hugo Sanchez's goalscoring in the '80s and their freewheeling Ye-Ye generation in the '70s, fans waited a long time for that elusive seventh title; three decades, more or less. It was a stretch so long that many wondered whether Madrid’s golden age of Puskas and Di Stefano would ever be repeated.

Then, in 1998, Madrid defeated Juventus 1-0 in Amsterdam. These are the men that made it happen...

Coach: Jupp Heynckes

Madrid’s coach at the time was not some sexy philosopher like Pep Guardiola, nor an imposing shouter like Alex Ferguson or Fabio Capello. Rather, he was a nice, quiet German who avoided dressing room drama by simply playing the best players in form, and insisting on a proper balance between defence and attack. He was no nonsense, but sensical about it.

Of course, Heynckes was fired for his troubles. His refusal to play four strikers and insistence on defending made him a pariah after only one year. Such is the thanks Madrid coaches receive: a pink slip for a European Cup.  

But, don’t despair. This nice quiet German went on to coach Bundesliga power Bayern Munich. In 2013, on the eve of retirement, his team won the Treble. All the more impressive, Bayern shellacked tournament favourites Barcelona (and, by extension, Lionel Messi) both home and away.

And now, five years later, Heynckes is about to retire again and his Munich team are in the semi-finals of the Champions League. And guess who they're playing? 

Goalkeeper: Bodo Illgner

German netminder Illgner had the poor luck of preceding a legend like Iker Casillas. His five solid years tending the goal for Madrid have largely been forgotten, even though – in addition to winning the Champions League – he also lifted the World Cup with West Germany.

Illgner was a cool and composed leader from the back. He seldom ran off his line to foil counters or snag crosses, but always positioned himself well and was never shy about palming a stinging shot wide for a corner if necessary.

He retired shortly after being supplanted by a teenage Casillas, and worked as a pundit for Sky and BeIN Sports. As punishment for mortal sins in a prior life, he must argue with Ruud Gullit in front of a camera.

Right-back: Christian Panucci

The Italian defender, like Illgner, preceded a legend in Michel Salgado – thus, he’s seldom remembered.

Still, Panucci enjoyed three productive years in Madrid, including this Champions League success, before bouncing around clubs and then landing at Roma, where he finally found some love and made over 200 appearances in eight years.

Since retiring in 2010, Panucci has climbed the coaching ranks. He was assistant of the Russian national team for two years, then managed Livorno for two seasons. He's currently manager of Albania, a post he's held since July of last year. The team was in a rough group for Russia 2018, with Italy and Spain, but Panucci remained upbeat throughout and has an eye on the 2020 European Championship.   

Centre-back: Fernando Hierro

Hierro is Spanish for 'iron', and he was Madrid’s unbendable man of steel at the back. He played 14 years for Madrid, and also appeared in later Champions League finals. Despite his height at 6ft 2in, he was nimble on his feet and difficult to get around. Like Sergio Ramos, he was also a threat going forward and packed a fearsome shot: the stopper stroked home many a sweetly curled free-kick.

Since retiring, Hierro has tried his hand at club management with mixed results. He was Malaga's director of football for one year in 2011 – perhaps their best season, as the club finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League. However, he quit after one year.

Hierro was an assistant coach at Real Madrid from 2014-16, but left to manage resurrected lower division club Real Oviedo. When they failed to gain promotion, he resigned.

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