While so much attention has been placed on Barcelona’s academy system, one of the most overlooked stories of the past decade has been the incredible line of world-class strikers that have come through the Atletico Madrid system. Not all of them started their careers at the Spanish club, but the Spanish club has definitely made a difference in their careers, giving them the encouragement and experience necessary to take the next step up.
Here are four of the greats to come out of Atleti:
Fernando Torres “El Niño” 2001-2007
Torres started his soccer career at Atletico Madrid, progressing through their youth system to the first team. In 2001, under legendary Luis Aragones — Atletico’s top scorer of all time and four-time club manager — Fernando Torres earned his La Liga debut. Torres scored 75 goals in 174 La Liga appearances for Atletico Madrid.
It was his speed and technical proficiency that made him a desirable striker in the eyes of many. At Atletico, Torres proved that he was capable of world class skill. And in 2007 was on his way to Liverpool.
At Liverpool he became the fastest player in the club’s history to score 50 league goals. It was during his time at Liverpool that Torres became one of the best forwards in the game. In 2008, he was selected for FIFA World Player of the Year, eventually coming in third place only behind Ronaldo and Messi. Torres was also named in the FIFPro World XI for two successive seasons.
After a prolific goal scoring record at Liverpool, Torres joined Chelsea for a record breaking fee of £50million, which made him the most expensive Spanish player in history.
Sergio “Kun” Aguero 2006-2011
Aguero, at age 18, moved to Atletico from Argentinian side Independiente in 2006 for €23 million. At his new club, he quickly made a name for himself, becoming arguably Atletico’s most important player after Torres’s departure.
Atletico president Enrique Cerezo was very fond of Aguero’s talent, and in 2008 said:
”Every era has its best soccer player and hopefully Aguero is the best of this. He is going through a very good time and when he has the ball at his feet there is the feeling that something will happen, and always good. Does that sound like anyone familiar?”
Aguero has proved his class scoring 101 times in 234 appearances for Atletico, winning the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2010. In 2011, Aguero asked for a transfer and joined Manchester City for €44 million where he made an immediate impact leading his team to win the EPL title for the first time in 44 years.
Aguero, without a doubt, is one of the highest-rated forwards in the world.
Radamel Falcao 2011-2012
In 2011, at age 25, Falcao joined Atletico Madrid from Porto for €40 million. During his first season at Atletico, Falcao helped the team win the UEFA Europa League. Falcao was the top scorer of the tournament with 12 goals. This made him top scorer in the Europa League for two years in a row, and the first player in history to win two consecutive Europa League titles with two different teams.
At Atletico Madrid, Falcao continued to impress and set records, scoring a total of 36 goals in his first season, which was the highest in club’s history.
As if he already had not impressed enough, in 2012 at the UEFA Super Cup final against Chelsea, Falcao wrote his name in the history books by becoming the first player to ever score a hat trick in a UEFA Super Cup final (in its current format).
Before leaving Atletico for AC Monaco – for a fee of €60 million, Falcao helped Atletico defeat their city rivals Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final, which also marked their first defeat of Real in 14 years.
Falcao has been compared to Brazilian Ronaldo, and at age of 28 is still agile, strong, powerful and a natural finisher, and could still be one of the best in the world.
Diego Costa 2007, 2010-Present
Before becoming the most wanted player in the world, Diego Costa was not even wanted by his current club. He originally joined Atletico from Barga in 2007, but was soon loaned to numerous clubs before eventually being sold to Valladolid. However, in 2010, he would return to Atletico as a backup for Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan.
It took Costa a few years to earn a starting position under Diego Simeone. Costa’s temper and disciplinary issues on the field did not deter his coach from starting him. After all, one cannot ignore Costa’s power and precision that beats most rivals, and his ability to get the shot away and carve out opportunities.
Costa is the face of Atletico Madrid, and is destined to star for Spain this summer. He is currently leading his team with 27 goals in La Liga, and 7 in the Champions League. He is the type of player that could thrive anywhere, and it’s just a matter of time before he leaves Atletico.
When Diego Costa leaves Atletico Madrid, will there be another one to succeed him? Will Atletico continue to provide the world-class strikers? Share your opinion in the comments section below.