With their 4-0 home win over Austria Wien today and Zenit St. Petersburg’s 1-1 draw with Porto, Atletico Madrid is guaranteed to win Group G and has secured qualification to the Champions League Round of 16. Atleti have won all four of their Group G matches and currently are second place in La Liga with only a single point separating them from Barcelona.
Confidence amongst Los Colchoneros’ supporters is at an all-time high with many feeling the club could reach a Champions League final and possibly surpass Barcelona and Real Madrid in the chase for a La Liga title. The last time a club outside of Madrid or Barcelona won the league was ten years ago when Valencia finished ahead of Barcelona. Since 2003-04, the Spanish giants have finished first or second to each other nine times. So what Atletico is doing has not been seen in La Liga for the better part of a decade.
A recent article in The Guardian mentioned the five reasons why everyone’s second team is Borussia Dortmund. Their corporate plan, style of play, and success of the German club cannot be argued with. But perhaps soccer fans should start paying more attention to what has been going on in Spain in recent years.
Over the past four seasons, while selling off major assets of the club, Atletico Madrid has won two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, and a Copa del Rey title. These are major European and domestic awards which would please most clubs…but Atletico hungers for more. To this point, the players and manager are treating every second of every match as if it were a cup final and have refused to rest on their laurels.
At the present time, the club as a whole could not be in better shape. Over the past few days the club’s front office has renewed the contracts of its core players which will see most of them remain at the club through 2016 or 2018. Atletico manager Diego Simeone recently commented on this: “It’s an economic commitment and it’s recognition of the players’ work. The fans are grateful that they’ll be able to see them [play at Atletico] for a long time to come. It creates structure, a plan, a present and a future.
The continuity Simeone speaks of is not only good for the supporters, it also strengthens team chemistry. Many of Atletico’s players (past and present) have been the topic of transfer rumors. They are one of many clubs who have had their players cherry-picked by “bigger” European sides over the years. By extending their current players’ contracts, the club has avoided any potential distractions within the squad. Instead of answering questions about interest from outside clubs, the manager and players can set their sights firmly on the league and European glory because they know no one is going anywhere in the near future.
Atletico Madrid is on the verge of being a European power for years to come. They have been Spain’s third-best supported club, behind Barca and Real, with home attendances of around 50,000. Atletico’s ultras create one of the loudest and intimidating atmospheres in Europe. And in two years, the Atletico board is planning to relocate the club to a new 73,000 seat stadium, which will increase revenue, as well as the decibel level.
The corporate side of the club is also doing well with a Daimler showroom built into the side of the Estadio Vicente Calderon, and a massive club shop doing strong business. As a result of the revenue earned from sold out stadiums, a prosperous club shop, corporate sponsorships and long European cup runs, the club is poised to succeed on the domestic and European scene.
Despite the club’s bright future, the manager has made sure that the players and supporters are focused on the present. When Diego Simeone was asked about Atletico’s growing popularity in Europe and the belief amongst its supporters that the club could win the league or even a Champions League title, he simply had this to say: “We’re doing everything we can to be competitive. We take each game as it comes, and that’s how we aim to achieve the goals many are dreaming of.”
It is hard not to appreciate what Atletico has accomplished to this point. Los Rojiblancos currently boast La Liga’s Manager of the Month and Player of the Month (Koke won the Player award this month while Diego Costa was presented with the honor in September). Simeone has transformed the club from an effective counter-attacking side into a side capable of controlling matches and killing off their opponents. It could be argued that they are currently the best ‘team’ in Spain.
There is cohesion between the starting eleven at Atletico that sometimes goes missing at Barcelona and Real Madrid. This could be down to the recent managerial changes at the Spanish giants. Both clubs have looked sloppy at times during the early season. Los Colchoneros have had the benefit of Diego Simeone’s leadership since December 2011.
Despite his recent accomplishments, Diego Simeone was left off the shortlist for FIFA’s 2013 Coach of the Year while managers such as Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger were included. Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo said he was “disappointed” his club’s manager had not made the shortlist. It’s safe to say that the president isn’t the only one at the club who feels that way. From the way they have performed game in and game out, the players appear to be fighting for their manager as well.
Atletico Madrid is not happy with what they have accomplished to this point and they are not getting caught up with the recognition they have received across Europe. Everyone at the club knows that it is still early days. Simeone had recently said this: “As I see it, Atletico are getting a lot of recognition in Europe – not only because of what the team is doing, but also because of the work of the coach. When I hear people talking about the team I feel part of it. Receiving outside appreciation makes us very happy, but we know that we have to keep working and playing as a team to continue in this vein.”
The manager and players are happy with their recent success…but they hunger for more.
Editor’s note: For more La Liga news, TV schedules, opinion and analysis, visit our La Liga page.