Atlético de Madrid was founded in 1903 by a group of students sharing a common ideal: noble sportsmanship in football competition. Now more than a hundred years later, they seem to be achieving that direction in the hands of Diego Pablo Simeone, the new protagonist of Spanish football.
Atlético Madrid certainly have been in both heaven and hell throughout their history. They’ve seen defeat more often than glory, they’ve survived managerial corruption and financial struggles and nowadays live in the shadow of two giants, leading the fight for football to win the battle over finance.
9 La Liga titles (the last one in 1996), 10 Copa del Rey, 2 UEFA Europa Leagues and 2 European Super Cups lead the team’s trophy record. Many of these triumphs were achieved under the management of the recently deceased Luis Aragonés, former coach of “La Roja” and manager of “Atleti” for almost 20 years. In June 2013 the club interviewed the legendary coach, who retired in 2009, and asked him about his most beautiful memories with the team. Aragonés did not hesitate to say how proud he would always be of the club’s fans; how in the 1999-2000 season, in response of the team’s relegation to the second league, the supporters decided it was time to back them up more than ever, filling the stadium at every match. This warmness and this pride of being a “colchonero” catapulted Atleti back to the Primera División in 2002. The official song of the club’s centenary in 2003 celebrates that great feat:
“To understand what is going on,
you have to have cried inside the Calderón,
which is my home.
What a way of going up and down the clouds!
we are the first, with and without money,
long live Atleti de Madrid! ”
The club is living a golden age in the hands of Diego Simeone “el Cholo”, himself a former player – a combative midfielder who played 134 games in two separate spells for Atlético. Nothing can be said against the extraordinary performance of this manager, leading the team towards one Europa League trophy in May 2012, triumphing 3-0 against Athletic Bilbao in the final in Bucharest. The UEFA Super Cup trophy followed in August 2012 after a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea. Simeone secured Atlético’s 10th Copa del Rey in a hard-fought final against Real Madrid in May 2013, and qualified for this season’s Champions League thanks to their third position in La Liga 2012-2013 – Atlético’s best finish in the last 17 years. This season they can already celebrate the best start to a season in the history of the team.
Is this man in black a visionary? Simeone has created an aggressive competitiveness that we rarely find in other teams of La Liga. They are always sent out to play with urgency and passion. Diego wants them to give everything and more, and so is himself doing so for the club. He looks comfort in the eyes and smashes it with his fury. It is sacrifice and hard work that feeds his hunger. He studies the rivals’ weaknesses in detail and has become the architect of one of the strongest defences of Europe. Supporters stay astonished match after match and are thrilled to see the Atléticos compete against the European big-beasts for the first time in more than 15 years.
Sunday’s 4-0 victory over fourth placed Real Sociedad coupled with defeat at the hands of Valencia for Barcelona and a draw for Real Madrid saw Atlético climb three points clear at the top of the Spanish league, and the talk amongst many in Spain is if the plucky “Colchoneros” can break Spanish football’s hegemony.
Diego Simeone however has no intention of generating false or unrealistic expectations as we can infer from his recent press declarations:
“My men have been giving an extraordinary performance until now, with fantastic figures, sometimes playing better, sometimes worse, but always with a great vision of teamwork. However I see that everybody wants Atlético to generate aspirations for a first position in the table and in case one day we move away that is going to mean a failure, I would not like that”, he stated. “Let’s leave the dreaming for the fans. We live in the reality, which is training and working, and not generating false expectations”
Simeone continued by saying that Real Madrid and Barcelona are more likely to win the Spanish title, due to the difference in the clubs’ budgets, and of course the great quality of their players.
Any fan of this game willing to see courageous football competition may want to take look at this team’s performance. It is an honour for Spanish football that a club other than Real Madrid and Barçelona can reach the top of the table without making 100 million euro transfers and maybe, just maybe, stay there.