A strange calm settled over me on Saturday night that had nothing to do with alcohol. After a week of nervous distraction, there was nothing left of the Champion’s League final and I was oddly at peace with the outcome. My team had lost and lost quite badly; humbled and humiliated by players that had looked eminently beatable. Yet there was something in the result that was also predictable, as if the world had maintained a certain logical consistency. It affirmed truths that at the worst of times can feel universal.

You can phrase it in ways that spin it positively, that “the best players make their own luck” and “fortune favours the brave”, yet there is another way to view Real Madrid’s cynical deconstruction of Liverpool that makes a lie of the old adages that were always ridiculously naive. “Cheaters never prosper” was clearly coined by somebody who never watched Madrid play. Sophocles said “I would prefer even to fail with honour than win by cheating” but Sophocles had never seen Sergio Ramos go down like he’d been sniped from a Book Depository Building.

None of that is to say that Madrid are the only team to exhibit this will-to-win-at-any-cost. They are just the greatest exponents of a philosophy that, with few exceptions, all winning teams shamelessly exhibit. At times it feels like football has its own logic that requires an ability to win dirty in order to win big. Liverpool themselves have certainly resorted to “gamesmanship” in the past. During their most successful years, they boasted of players who understood the virtues of a high tackle. Graeme Souness and Tommy Smith redefined what was meant to be football hard men. The same is true of other championship-winning sides. The genius of Sir Alex Fergusson wasn’t just that he knew how to construct a team with Eric Cantona’s flair and David Beckham’s glamour but also had that mean, rancorous core in the form of Roy Keane.

Saturday’s result wasn’t just a failure of one team’s style of fast flowing football over another team’s experience. On show were competing philosophies about the nature of competition. It was a match that seemed to express a broader truth about the world and the result defied us to believe things that have repeatedly been proven to be untrue: that youthful enthusiasm can beat cynical strategy; that the cooperative teamwork is more powerful than selfish individualism; and that the richest team in the world can be beaten by a clever “Moneyball” approach to recruitment.

It meant that it was never just about football. It was a proxy for struggles we see elsewhere. Can the youth and passion of the #NeverAgain movement really defeat the money and political power of the NRA? Will the Republicans ever find their identity in the face of Donald Trump’s celebrity? Can third world countries every escape exploitation by the super rich?

Cynicism was the only winner on Saturday. When Sergio Ramos wrestled Mo Salah to the ground, both players linked their arms but it was Salah who was turned to fall on his shoulder. Ramos perfectly executed a technique that all martial artists are taught, which is to trap your opponent’s arm, trip them, and fall on the immobilised joint with your full weight. It looked deliberate but might well have been accidental.

Yet what is remarkable about Ramos is the number of “accidents” in which he has been fated to be involved. “Ramos is quite clever, isn’t he,” asked Liverpool’s left back, Andy Robinson, after the match and indeed Ramos is.

These are incidents that turn matches but at the risk of a red card, so a measure of how many matches Ramos has tried to turn are the number of cards he’s won. Therein lies a tale. In the annals of football, Ramos only lies behind Gerardo Bedoya (46) and Cyril Rool (27) with 24 red cards in his career, 19 of which have given him the record in La Liga. Gareth Bale might have given a masterclass in the art of football but Ramos conducted a lesson in the martial art of football, including the way he shoulder barged Loris Karius in the face just moments before Karius blundered when he didn’t appear to see Karim Benzema in the periphery of his vision.

Make no mistake. Madrid are a remarkable team, filled with true football geniuses. Bale’s first goal was worthy of winning any football tournament and it would be churlish to deny that. Yet the manner by which they turned the match around was equally impressive. In the opening half hour, Liverpool had the beating of Madrid. They had more and better chances and even if Madrid dominated possession, it was that ineffective possession that rarely crosses the half-way line. The story of that half hour was how Salah was finding space and looked hungry to stake his claim for this year’s Ballon d’Or…

And then, remarkably, surprisingly, amazingly, staggeringly, and completely against the run of play, Salah got injured. Real Madrid’s captain – the man considered the modern game’s greatest exponent of the dark arts, with the Spanish record for dirty play – somehow managed to change the dynamics of the match by “accidentally” breaking/dislocating (diagnosis still incoming) his chief antagonist’s shoulder.

Luck or guile? Does sport really teach us fair play or does it teach us something else? Something infinitely darker? Does it inform our cynicism and expectations that life is rarely fair?

Because if sport is meant to be mirror life, then it mirrors a life grasped by those that are least willing to abide by the rules. The lessons of past World Cups is rarely that the team that won the Fair Play award also won the cup. England go into this year’s championships hoping to repeat the success of 1966 but the more recent memories are of Ronaldo’s wink after his play acting helped get Wayne Rooney a red card at the 2006 World Cup or Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal that changed the dynamics of the Quarter Final against Argentina in 1986. Russia and Qatar, meanwhile, have been accused of bribery in winning their respective World Cup bids. And their punishment? Holding the World Cup in Russia this year and in Qatar in 2022.

Chris Froome won the Giro d’Italia on Sunday despite an ongoing investigation into whether he has been using performance-enhancing drugs. What would be the shame if he had? Judging from Lance Armstrong, the answer is very little. Armstrong admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs in all seven of his Tour de France wins but continues a successful media career with his nearly four million followers on Twitter.

Meanwhile, more broadly, Donald Trump had help from Russia in order to win the presidency. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, last week made the point that some of us have been making for a long time: that the slim nature of Trump’s victory, especially in the swing states, means that it is more likely (and not less) that social media campaigns changed the result. Yet even if this is true, Trump is still President. It is he and not Hillary Clinton who has been directing American policy for the past five hundred days.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, Vote Leave campaign has been caught flouting election spending rules. In May, they were fined £70,000 for multiple violations. That doesn’t even take into account the murky business of Cambridge Analytica and whether data was misused to influence voters. It doesn’t even begin to address the influence of Russia.

Except, none of this ultimately matters. The result stands and, no matter how many rules were broken, Brexit will still go ahead. To the winner go the spoils or, if you prefer, history is written by the victors.

Or in the words of Bill Shankly: “if you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”

None of this is to advocate cheating but to recognise that none of this is out of the ordinary. It is, rather, very much in the realm of the ordinary and it is an ordinary that, to our shame, we do very little to change. People will talk about Real Madrid’s greatness but perhaps that’s simply the wrong metric. We should instead be talking about “fitness”. They are the best fit to be champions for this of all ages. From Financial Fair Play regulations to their habit of tapping up players, there’s not an area of the game where Madrid play clean. It’s routinely described as “the psychology of winners” but, if that’s true, then what exactly is “winning”? And might that be football’s ultimate lesson? That football is finally mirroring the very worst of what we’ve become.