A recent report by a renowned economist claimed that the La Liga was dying. Valencia and Villarreal have already been killed as discussed earlier. This season finally Valencia have slipped out from the 3rd position that had made their very own for last sometime. While the death claims maybe slightly premature, the La Liga is definitely on life support held on Simeone and Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have rendered all other clubs in the La Liga inherently noncompetitive as far as the title is concerned. In itself domination by two or three clubs is not bad. But when the EPL clubs like Swansea can poach players like Michu and no La Liga club comes forward to buy such a remarkable player, it beggars the question: How long can other clubs stay relevant in Europe? When a UEFA Cup winner cannot make a loan signing permamnet due to lack of funds it points at a much deeper malaise.
Valencia may recover in the long term but in the short term they are unlikely to do anything. In fact with the current debts and players one can only hope that Atletico Madrid will do well this year ans sustain their strong start to finish in the top 4.
European and La Liga challengers
Falcao and Simeone themselves dismissed the title winning claims and they were not far from the truth. But the fact remains that Atletico are the last La Liga club who maybe capable of fighting in Europe in the years to come.
Atletico Madrid have a large debt and unpaid taxes. They also have their UEFA winnings blocked due to non payment to debtors. But that is true of almost every club in Europe.
They have a big stadium, a loyal fanbase and a manager in Diego Simeone who has brought back the self belief.
Football is as much about skill as it is about self belief and desire to win. Atletico have always had much players of top quality but this has failed to translate into anything on the field. Atletico fans have almost come to revel in their own under performance and perhaps that attitude filtered down to players affecting their performances.
It was almost that Atletico expected to fail every time when it mattered. Winning is a habit and so is losing. When the fans forgive you and almost expect you to fail, then the players too tend to under perform.
Yet, in Diego Simeone they have a man who knows what winning is like. Simeone won the La Liga title with Atletico way back in 1995-96. That was the year when they had completed a famous double when they won the Copa Del Rey.
Simeone also won the UEFA cup in 1998 and played along one of the greatest strikers of all time, Luis Ronaldo. He also went on to win the Serie A with Lazio as well as the Italian cup.
Even as a manager Simeone has done very well. Simeone has already won the Argentinean league twice and has won the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup already last season.
In short, not only Simeone has won titles, he has won them with teams of relatively modest means. This is no mean feat and it may very well matter in years to come as Simeone may have to contend with bigger fish in next few years.
In his time Diego Simeone was a tough tackling, no nonsense midfielder and a leader on the pitch. He gave it as good as it got and never shrugged away from a challenge. His shrewdness was another characteristic, with the sending off of David Beckham ringing a bell when one things of this man’s kniving mentality.
As a manager Simeone is calm and collected and commands the respect of his troops. It is not a co-incidence that he has selected two players in the current Atletico as captains who are in his mould.
Atletico captain Gabi is also a tough defensive midfielder whose primary responsibility is to shore up the defense. He has formed a formidable partnership with Suarez and Tiago Mendes. While his displays may not be as good as those of Simeone, he certainly brings a certain leadership presence in the midfield which every football team requires.
A master in the market and a top notch tactician
Diego (the Brazilian playmaker) was signed on loan last year from Wolfsburg. He proved to be a remarkable signing as he was a key cog in the UEFA Cup triumph of last year. Yet due to financial constraints Atletico and Simeone were not able to make his signing permanent despite the player’s desire to stay.
Adrian Lopez was signed for free and he has proved to be a much better player than he was at Deportivo. It is to Simeone’s credit to turn a free signing in a much better player than he was earlier.
Several good players had been discarded under the previous regime of Quique Flores and consequently Atletico suffered on pitch. However, Simeone recognized the limitations of the previous regime and without making a huge overhaul, made the displays much better.
Diego was been given a much freer rein than earlier and this showed in his displays. Unlike his earlier coaches Diego had the full confidence of his coach and played almost all the matches he was available for.
Simeone also rehabilitated Tiago Mendes, whose qualities he recognized. Despite not scoring a single goal or notching up a single assist he was the vice-captain of the squad. His leadership qualities and his experience were vital in having a calming influence in the field.
Yet in Simeone’s system Ateltico’s shape is paramount. While Atletico are not afraid to express themselves, they maintain their shape as much as possible. This has added a great deal of coherence to their system and has translated into better performances.
The Falcao effect
Whenever one talks of Atletico, the name of Falcao inevitably comes into mind. Atletico surprised everyone by signing Falcao from Porto in 2011. Many saw it as a step down from Porto and were surprised at Falcao’s choice. Combined with a hefty fee of 40mil € rising to 47mil €, it was one of the most curious signings indeed.
Yet Falcao proved to be every penny’s worth, the highlight being the Europa League final and European Super Cup final where he single handedly destroyed the opposition.
The reason was that Simeone made a devastating counter attacking side in the mold of Real Madrid. Simeone built his team to get the best out of Falcao and consequently Atletico prospered.
The future ahead for Simeone and the La Liga
Despite everything said above, not everything is as rosy as it may seem. Atletico are almost resigned to losing Falcao. Perhaps they actually planned on losing him. Atletico president Marin’s remarks of buckling under, if a 60 mil € offer comes seems remarkably suspicious.
Yet losing Falcao might actually be a good thing for Atletico. They will have plenty of funds to invest elsewhere. They can reduce their debts and also get some of that UEFA money back. Plus the performances of late must have given them a renewed confidence that they too can compete at the biggest of stages. However, it is crucial that Atletico retain Diego Simeone.
Valencia are dead for the foreseeable future due to their crippling debts. Villarreal are rotting in Segunda division. Malaga will lose Isco for a paltry sum of € 21 mil and it is unlikely that they will compete at this level much longer unless their Qatari owners have a sudden change of heart. Sevilla too are about to disappear into obscurity.
Atletcio were once aiming to be the “third team” in the La Liga. Whether by luck or by choice, they are the last hope that the La Liga duopoly maybe broken in five years time. All the problems of Atletico are manageable and they only need to look at the Sevilla of old and the current Newcastle, to build on the idea that good recruitment policies can make the world of a difference.
Atletico are currently walking a tightrope. If they can walk this tightrope, they may very well emerge as genuine European regulars like Arsenal. They have the facilities and base to base to build upon. Plus the lack of a genuine challenge from other teams might actually work in their favour.
But for this they need Diego Simeone to be at the helm. Simeone can become one of those legendary figures who transforms the fortunes of a club. He is already a club hero. But from a hero, Simeone can turn into idol and an icon who not only saved his club, but saved an entire league.
Will Simeone be able to do it? There are very good chances that it may actually happen. For the sake of La Liga and its fans let us hope that it does happen.