Atletico Madrid Continue To Succeed Despite Losing Star Players
The summer transfer of Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid to AS Monaco has been well documented. The world class striker was sold to the French club for £52.8 million ($85.4 million).
Over the course of two seasons with the Spanish club, Falcao had scored 52 goals in 67 appearances and helped the club win the 2012 Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, and the Copa Del Rey. He scored a brace in the Europa League final, a hat-trick in the UEFA Super Cup final, and was a key figure as Atletico ended a 14-year (25 match) winless streak to Real Madrid in the El Derbi Madrileño.
Losing a player of this magnitude would devastate most clubs. But Atletico has never spent time crying over spilled milk. They continually accept the changes to their squad and develop continuation plans for the immediate future. Atletico’s blueprint for success has been to utilize the strength of their youth academy, while identifying talent at other clubs and reinvesting monies earned from transfer fees.
Atletico Madrid is currently in second place in La Liga, and five points clear of their bitter local rivals, Real Madrid. They have won nine times in ten matches. And along the way, they walked into the Santiago Bernabeu for the second time in less than four months and beat Real Madrid, 1-0. Their only loss of the season was a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Espanyol, which was the direct result of an unfortunate own goal.
During this Sunday’s 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis, Atletico Madrid introduced 18-year-old Óliver Torres to the starting lineup. The young midfielder had only made a handful of substitution appearances prior to the match. But he wasted no time in introducing himself as a starter when he scored the first goal of the match in thirteen seconds.
If Los Rojiblancos’ recent history holds true, the 18-year-old will be the target of top European clubs over the next few months.
Eleven years ago, Atletico Madrid had just earned promotion from the Segunda División (the second tier of Spanish football) to La Liga. That season they would finish in eleventh place in the Primera División, and would introduce an 18-year-old striker to the world, Fernando Torres. El Nino would finish that season with 13 goals in 29 appearances.
The young Spanish striker had already caught the eye of Roman Abramovich, who had just become the owner of Chelsea Football Club. The Russian billionaire made a £28 million bid ($45.3 million) for the player but had it rejected by the Atletico Madrid board. The club was in no hurry to cash in on the player.
Over the course of six seasons, Torres would score 82 goals for the club. It wasn’t until July 2007 that Atletico would finally accept an offer from Liverpool for the striker.
The loss of a player with Torres’s quality would be huge for most clubs. But prior to the start of the 2006-07 season, Atletico Madrid had covered its bases by signing an exciting 18-year-old striker, Sergio Aguero. And a month before the July 2007 transfer of Torres, the club signed Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan from Villarreal.
Atletico Madrid is always thinking about its next move.
Prior to the start of the 2007-08 season, (aside from Forlan), Atletico brought in reinforcements in the form of Luis Garcia and Simão. These players (as well as the returning Maxi Rodríguez) led the club to a fourth place finish in La Liga, which allowed them to qualify for European football for the first time in ten years.
The following season, Forlan and Aguero formed a strong partnership as the club again finished fourth place in the league and advanced to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Diego Forlan won the Pichichi trophy as the Spanish league’s top scorer and the foundation of the club appeared to be solid.
Unfortunately, a combination of inconsistent play and a managerial change led to Atletico struggling through the 2009-10 La Liga season. Quique Flores was hired to replace Abel Resino in October 2009. Resino had been only been at the position for eight months after the controversial sacking of Javier Aguirre in February 2009.
At the time of the Flores hiring, Atletico had just crashed out of the Champions League and were second from bottom in the league. The club would end up finishing a disappointing ninth in La Liga.
But after being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, the club entered the 2009-10 Europa League and proceeded to win the whole thing. Atletico beat Liverpool in the semi-final and Fulham in the final. Diego Forlan scored a brace, including the extra-time winner in the 116th minute, as Atletico Madrid won 2–1. It was the first time in close to 50 years that Atletico Madrid had claimed a European title.
That season the club also promoted David de Gea, a Spanish U-21 goalkeeper, as cover for their “number one”. The Madrid-born shot stopper was a product of Atletico’s academy where he had worked his up as a 10-year old. And when Atletico’s starting keeper went down with an injury, de Gea was called to action.
He would eventually finish the 2009–10 season as the number one goalkeeper. Along the way, he won two Man of the Match awards, and appeared in eight games during the club’s victorious UEFA Europa League campaign, including the final.
In 2010-11, Atletico Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup by beating Champions League winner, Inter Milan. Sergio Aguero scored a goal in that match and played in what would be his final season at the club. He and de Gea would leave Madrid for the Premier League during the 2011 summer window.
Again, Atletico had not allowed players to leave without replacements in mind.
In August 2011, utilizing the money from the Sergio Aguero/David de Gea transfers, Los Rojiblancos purchased Colombian striker Radamel Falcao from Porto and brought in 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois as cover in goal.
The rest is history.
Atletico Madrid is not a club that allows itself to be gutted by outgoing transfers. It has a long, proud history in Spanish football and a loyal base of supporters who fill 55,000 seats in Vicente Calderón. Atletico has won nine La Liga titles, ten Copa Del Rey Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and two Europa League Cups.
Over the past decade, the club has done a tremendous job of adapting to the shifting global market. Despite player transfers, the club has maintained a level of success while acquiring and developing some of the marquee names in European and World football.
Atletico’s best decision over the summer was to hold on to 25-year-old Brazilian striker, Diego Costa. Costa is a former street footballer who was purchased from the Portuguese club, S.C. Braga. He spent his early time with Atletico on-loan before being brought up as a backup to Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero in 2010. Since then, the Brazilian has scored 27 goals in 69 appearances at the club.
Despite interest from Liverpool over the summer, Atleti decided to hold on to the player who has been a solid goal scorer over the past few years. To this point, it has proven another wise decision by the club as Costa currently has 11 goals in 10 matches.
After selling Falcao in May, Atletico took a chance and acquired David Villa from Barcelona for a cut-price transfer fee in July . Some might consider the injury-prone Villa as a risky acquisition; others may think it’s a shrewd move by the club.
Villa introduced himself to Atletico in August by scoring a goal in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Atletico would go on to lose the cup to Barcelona on away goals. After ten games this season, Villa has four goals and two assists. He has faced some early criticism from the Spanish press. But he quieted his detractors this weekend by scoring a brace against Real Betis.
Perhaps Atletico Madrid has made another wise decision.
So, who will be next to leave? And who will be next to come in? How will the club continue to succeed? If the past is any indication, Atletico already have a plan in motion.