Atlético Madrid: Rise of the Underdog in Spanish Football
The powerful duopoly Real Madrid and FC Barcelona make up has been reigning for most of the existence of Spanish football, and in the 71 years since the end of the county’s atrocious civil war the league has been won a combined 55 times between these two teams. Several overs have won the league over the years, such as Athletic Bilbao or Valencia, but the club that seems to be on the verge of becoming title contenders once again is Atlético Madrid.
Atleti’s recent success- that doesn’t exactly materialize into silverware- stems directly from their manager, Diego Simeone, and the rest of his staff. Simeone’s style of play as a footballer was described by one of his coaches as “passionate and with adrenaline”, which translates today onto his managerial style and his attitude on the touchline. Such a display of energy by the Argentine is often transmitted to his players, with whom he works on individually to maximize each of their respective characteristics.
On the football pitch itself, el Cholo has a very clear style of play that to many may seem boring, but proves to be effective: he insists on his four defenders to keep a clean sheet no matter what, his four midfielders must work tirelessly to both thwart and start attacks and he relies on his two strikers to be lethal and to take advantage whenever possible. All of this is the blueprint for the perfect counter-attacking side that must also be built with a high intensity press and a never-ending sense of unity as a team, where hard work is rewarded.
Ever since the Argentine’s appointment in December 2011, the club has gone through one of its most successful periods. That very first season saw Simeone win the Europa League for the second time in Atleti’s history, and from then it was only upwards: a Spanish & European Supercup, a La Liga title and a famous Copa del Rey win, as well as two infamous Champions League finals which they lost to their city rivals.
Such achievements are only a dream for most managers, especially when you take in to account that Atleti aren’t part of the “big two” in Spain. Although the hype surrounding Barcelona is on everyone’s mind, Simeone’s men are still eligible to win a treble- even though they got knocked out the Champions League- despite the impossibility of Barça dropping points and being eliminated from the cup.
All in all, La Liga isn’t as two-sided as many people would have you believe. However, it’s undeniable the power that the two main teams have, but I for one wouldn’t be surprised if Atleti caught up with Barcelona, and by signing Diego Costa and Vitolo there is a strong chance that Simeone’s team could flourish even more and give way to a battle for the season’s trophies. Or maybe Barça will snatch everything up. Who knows?