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.