While every year Real Madrid and Barcelona are fighting to win the title, the Champions’ league spots are consolation for the remaining teams in La Liga. In a cash strapped Spanish economy and with the clubs in heavy debt, the money earned by qualifying for the most prestigious club tournament in Europe is more than necessary to steer the clubs in a positive direction.
While Valencia, under Unai Emery, made sure to make the automatic CL spot their own every year, this year, it remains to be seen if they can still put it off. Malaga after heavy investment did come up and claimed the playoff spot but after selling their biggest stars this year, another qualification is far from likely. Athletic Bilbao, though being brilliant in patches last year, cannot hold up their sensational plays throughout the year and now that they have lost Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente, are also imbalanced.
Which brings us to Atletico Madrid. While Athletic Bilbao were busy demonstrating their prowess against Manchester United, Atlético silently made their way to the Europa League final in which they beat the Basque side so comprehensively that people began to wonder if Bilbao was all fluke. It is also a remarkable achievement because exactly a year ago, Atletico Madrid had financial, managerial, player and owner problems. That is quite a list! And the credit for turning all this around should go to one man – Diego Simeone.
Diego Simeone was the 49th coach of Atletico Madrid since 1987. And the list includes Arrigo Sachi, Luis Aragones, Claudio Ranieri and César Luis Menotti. While the mid 90′s saw a great Atletico side which included Simeone himself, the club was relegated in 2000. Then Luis Aragones, the hero of the team in his playing days revived them back and helped them find their feet. From them on, Atletico Madrid have held on as a mid table team, fighting for European spots and their dream finally came through when they made it to the Champions League under Quique Flores. Though they did get knocked out, they won the Europa League in style.
This Europa League triumph was supposed to help the club move forward but in reality it regressed. Their talisman, Diego Forlan, fell out with the coach and moved out. The team was left in shambles. The debt situation was getting more and more serious. Atletico Madrid then decided to ship out its star players like Sergio Aguero and David de Gea to make up for some important revenue. While this was all happening, many predicted that this could well signal the drop of Atletico into further darkness. With the fans feeling disconnected from the team and the club failing to make steady progress on any front, Atletico Madrid took a gamble. A damn good gamble!
Diego Simeone’s credentials as a coach weren’t particularly pleasing before he took up the Atlético job. But, one thing was certain. he was loved by the fans and he loved the club. The management, to appease the fans, appointed ‘El Cholo‘ and then went ahead to sign Radamel Falcao for an astonishing €40 million. The transfer fee was not astonishing but Atletico Madrid making such a huge signing with their perilous finances was. And this risk has paid off.
With Falcao, in came Diego and Thibaut Courtois on loan and Diego Simeone finally began to stitch his team. The results improved, the fans came back to the stadium and Atlético were once again a serious force in the La Liga. Even with talented players like Diego and Falcao, the team was hardly flashy. They were more organized, disciplined and hardworking. In short, they were a damn good team. The season ended in the best way possible to the club with a Europa League triumph for the second time in three years and saving the owners and the management from further stick.
Make no mistake, these Europa League triumphs in no way can shadow the murky workings of the club. Atletico Madrid owe an outstanding €155m to the taxman and are in more than €500m debt. Though Real Madrid and Barcelona are also having the same amount of debt, Atletico Madrid’s revenues are no way remotely close to those of the Big Two which makes their position more precarious. While the owners quash rumors of their club being on the cusp of bankruptcy, everybody knows that it is not the case. A more detailed and brilliant analysis of Atletico Madrid’s finances can be read here.
The new season has also started with a bang. With an excellent victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup, Atletico Madrid have managed to grab quite a few eyeballs and ruffle some feathers in Europe. Their star, Radamel Falcao, though rumored to move to various clubs has stayed put and it is now the responsibility of the Colombian to carry this team forward in their quest for CL qualification. And Falcao isn’t staying put for long. Next year, he is expected to leave citing higher ambitions and the club also needs to sell him to make money to help its dwindling finances.
Atletico Madrid needed Falcao for one more year and they have got him. And amid avid interest from Chelsea for their rising star, Oliver Torres, they have retained him too. This season is very crucial for the club to turn a new chapter in their history. Finally, they have found some stability and a coach who believes in giving back to the club in every way possible. Atletico Madrid are once again dangerous and their UEFA Super Cup triumph has certainly raised expectations among its supporters.