Atletico back in the big time

May 12, 2008

Atletico celebrateThey did it the hard way but Atletico finally managed to battle their way into the Champions League – well the qualifying round at least – after a 12 year absence.

Typically Sunday’s 1-0 win over Deportivo Coruna came with the usual dose of nail-biting, wincing and stomach churning that have made the Calderon such a stressful place to be in recent seasons.

Although the dependable Diego Forlan put Atletico ahead on the stroke of halftime, the team looked to be suffering a severe bout of stage fright in the final quarter and nearly threw it away as they watched the Galicians lay siege to their goal.

So it was with a mixture of joy and relief that Atletico secured their first top four finish since they did the double back in 1996.

It is about time too as the club’s claims to be one of the “equipos grandes” had begun to wear dangerously thin following a stream of morale-sapping disappointments and false dawns.

Atletico have always been one of La Liga’s big spenders but they have developed the unfortunate knack of buying expensive and selling cheap, recruiting sought-after players who then sink without trace while watching their discards turn into world beaters at other clubs.

This season seemed set up for the usual disappointment, what with the sale of iconic striker Fernando Torres to Liverpool and a massive outlay on new players such as Forlan, Jose Antonio Reyes, Simao Sabrosa, Raul Garcia and Luis Garcia. The club then appeared to have shot themselves in the foot when they decided to sell Maniche mid-season after he fell out with coach Javier Aguirre.

But for once, other results went Atletico’s way as their immediate rivals failed to take advantage of their slip-ups. They also had the good fortune to have one Sergio Aguero in their ranks. Shielded by Aguirre in his first season at the club, the 19-year-old Argentine came into his own following the departure of Torres and thrived alongside the selfless Forlan.

Aguero has racked up 18 goals this season, while Forlan has weighed in with another 16, so that despite losing their direction in midfield following Maniche’s exit and having one of the shakiest defences in the league, Atletico held on to ensure their return to the big time.

Some of the club’s success-starved fans used Sunday’s win as an excuse to celebrate at the Neptuno fountain in the centre of Madrid, but the more experienced of the Calderon faithful kept their feet on the ground.

“Just wait until we lose in the Champions League qualifiers and don’t even end up playing in Europe next season. That will be typical Atletico,” one fan said to me when I saw him this morning.

Simon Baskett, Madrid

PHOTO: Atletico players celebrate the win against Deportivo Coruna, May 11. REUTERS/Susana Vera

2 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

It would be just like Atleti to suffer this long – get the momentary exhilaration of making the Champions League, only to get knocked out in August in the qualifying rounds – they’re not called ‘el pupas’ for nothing. I hope they do well, but, like the fan you spoke to, I wouldn’t put any money on it…

It just goes to show that the sale of Torres last summer was not such a bad thing. Wise investment and shrewd signings from Aguirre have proven that Torres was not indespensible.

Atletico can surely kick on from here and with a few more additions to their improving squad, they should be a force in the Champions League and I fully expect them to be looking at closing the gap on Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga next season!