Everyone’s Second Team: Why Atletico Madrid Deserve Our Support
By Caleb Cousens
This year we have been lucky enough to witness a season of special moments thanks to the exploits of Atletico Madrid and Liverpool FC. Neither team were taken seriously at the start of the season, yet both have rocketed to the top of their respective domestic leagues playing their own unique brands of football. I will let someone else wax eloquent about Brendan Rogers and the Anfield faithful, for now let’s head to the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
This is the year of the underdog, and as such, it’s not a bad time to get behind Diego Simeone’s swashbuckling side that has been kicking ass and taking names. Atleti have shattered the illusion of La Liga’s duopoly, beginning with a Copa del Rey at the end of last season that set the tone for what would come. It was the first time that the lesser known Madrid side had beaten the big white machine in 25 matches spanning 14 years. They started this season as they finished, by beating Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, and have proceeded to remain undefeated against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in La Liga this entire year.
In the Champions League their success seems even less likely. Atletico Madrid have one of the smallest squads in Europe, but have managed to thrive both domestically and in Europe, beating the crème of the crop from Russia, Portugal, Italy and Spain on their way to the Semi-Finals.
That said, why should you support Atletico Madrid?
Because they need to win:
The sad fact of the matter is that off the pitch, this team has been sorely mismanaged and has struggled financially for years. They are playing and beating clubs with budgets of over 500 million euros, while having access to just 120 million on a yearly basis. Atletico Madrid pay over 17 million euros each year (over 14% of the club’s yearly budget) to pay interest on past loans and back taxes, handicapping the club.
Cadena Ser have reported that Atleti still have debts of over 500 million euros, explaining why this season’s European campaign is so important to the club’s future success. Thus far their fairy-tale Champions League run has earned them approximately 30 million euros, with a further 10 million to come if they can complete this season at the pinnacle of world football. This can help them pay off some of the debt and keep the majority of the squad intact for next season.
Because they have done what they have without Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao
The unfortunate reality of their financial situation has meant that Atletico Madrid have become the very definition of a “selling club”. In the last three seasons, the club has been forced to sell two of the best forwards in world football. In 2012, Sergio “Kun” Aguero followed friend and former Atleti player Fernando Torres to the Premier League, joining Manchester City for 45 million euros. Less than two seasons later, Colmbian goal-machine Radamel Falcao joined AS Monaco for a staggering 60 million euros.
The fact that they have maintained their level of success while selling their best player almost every season is staggering. Especially when one considers how quickly Real Madrid and Barcelona reload their rosters on a yearly basis.This summer Atletico lost Falcao while Neymar and Gareth Bale joined Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. As mentioned above, further European success could stem the tide and allow the club to keep their stars and their star manager. Already the vultures are circling, eyeing talents like Diego Costa, Koke, Arda Turan and others as potential summer additions.
Because they understand the value of developing young talent
As a result of their dire financial situation, Atletico have been forced to focus on their academy system, one which has thankfully produced quality talents. Most famous for the development of Spanish superstar Fernando Torres, the current crop of youngsters coming through the ranks might just allow the club to sell some of their leaders while still maintaining the quality they have grown accustomed to since 2011.
A 19 year old with a ludicrous amount of talent to his name, Oliver Torres has split his season between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal, where he is now on loan till the end of the season. He has already featured in the Champions League; his play has been likened to Xavi for how he can control the tempo of a game, and the way he can send his teammates through in the attacking third. He has starred for his country at the U19, U20 and U21 levels, including playing a key role for Spain when they won the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2012. If he doesn’t feature more next season, look for Europe’s elite clubs to be after Torres’ services.
Javi is a talented right-back that is regarded as one of the top prospects in the academy. He began his career with Real Madrid with his brother, Victor, but when Real released Victor, Javi left the club with him and joined their rivals Atlético Madrid only forty-eight hours later. The 19 year old impressed in his appearances earlier this season but injuries have stunted his growth. He is currently on the sidelines with a neck injury from a clash with Cristiano Ronaldo, but the future of this burgeoning talent is bright.
Saúl comes from a family with a rich footballing tradition. Both of his older brothers, Jonathan and Aaron, were developed at Valencia’s cantera and have had fruitful careers thus far, currently playing for Guadalajara and Almeria respectively. Saúl’s father, José Antonio Ñíguez (aka Boria), had a successful career and, to this day, remains one of the most loved players in the history of Spanish club, Elche. Saul has been with Rayo Vallecano on loan all season where he has played 26 games and managed to score his first goal in La Liga.
Because of Diego Simeone
Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and now Diego Simeone sit in the pantheon of the world’s best football managers. The former Argentine international took charge of an Atleti team in crisis in December of 2011, and transformed an underachieving side into a group of world-beaters, winning the UEFA Europa League by taking down Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the final. He and his team then beat Chelsea that same summer to win the UEFA Super Cup. After losing star-man Falcao he still managed to take the club to their best finish in La Liga since 1996, finishing third and qualifying for the Champions League. In less than three seasons he has taken a mid-table La Liga club to the pinnacle of Europe and beyond, and has done so with a fraction of the resources that his peers have. Diego Simeone is not scared of anyone, and neither is his team.
Because there is no one else left
Borussia Dortmund almost overturned their first leg deficit to beat Real Madrid to the Champions League semi-finals but unfortunately, Madrid proved too strong. Atletico Madrid are up against three billion-dollar clubs (Chelsea are officially valued at 901 million, but what difference does 99 million make, Mr. Abramovich?) in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea have three of the top ten highest team salaries in sport, but nevertheless, no one is ruling Los Colchoneros out at this stage. They have the best defensive record of any team left in the competition and are the only team still undefeated in the tournament. They play with heart and intensity and they are coming for Chelsea.
If you’re an unattached neutral, Atletico could certainly use your support.
This was a guest article by Caleb Cousens, a youth football expert who writes at Football Cantera. You can follow Caleb on Twitter at @CalebCousens. Comments below please.