Atleti: the frog that turned into a prince

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Atleti: the frog that turned into a prince

Post by kiakahaaotearoa on Thu 10 Apr 2014, 12:00 pm

Atletico is now the only unbeaten team left in the Champions League. How is a team that has nowhere near the budget of the remaining teams even in the last four? Especially when you realise that the squad hasn't changed that much since Simeone took over from Manzano in December 2011.

I have been an Atleti season pass holder since 2009. It's fair to say those first few years were lean years. There were a number of manager changes and though every now and then you would see Atleti rise above themselves and put on a great display against a top team - invariably Barcelona because Atletico couldn't get a win over their arch rivals Real Madrid for love nor money - but, on the whole, they consistently managed to serve up sub-standard mediocre fare that had their supporters twisted and contorted in agony and frustration by the end of the match. They were the culinary equivalent of petrol station food: you felt angry and ripped off but somehow you felt you had little choice in the matter and ended up repeating the nasty experience even though each time you vowed you would never repeat the experience.

Say what you like about the team, but the fans were unquestionably loyal. Like their similarly named rivals in the north - Athletic Bilbao - they had fans that created an atmosphere and made their presence heard even when their team was capitulating. I was drawn to that. Although rugby is my passion, I have always followed football ever since I was a child watching Big League soccer on Sundays in New Zealand. There's not much in the way of rugby selection in Madrid or Spain in general so with my Spanish friends, and an Irish friend (Munster fan) who is married to a Spanish woman, we decided to free ourselves from the wives and in their case children every fortnight or so and follow Atletico. Maybe you could see better quality games in the Bernabeu but the waiting list is long and the price exorbitant but for me the real drawcard for Atleti is the atmosphere in the stadium. Like bullfighting, the Real Madrid fans can be quite snooty and tend to only applaud great play. As a result, the atmosphere is more akin to that of a library many times and the crowd will turn on their players if they feel they are not playing well.

Atleti fans have suffered a lot. They have had their unfair share of bad luck but they have too brought bad luck upon themselves with their ineptness. In the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, the fans' patience with Manzano had run out. He made strange selections and stayed in the manager box and made no attempt to come out to communicate with the players. Chants of Manzana Out! would quickly sweep through the crowd. That was the atmosphere that Diego Simeone encountered when he took over the reins. There was great respect for him as a player but his record as a manager was a mixed bag. He was thought highly of in his native Argentina but didn't enjoy the same success he encountered with the likes of Boca Juniors in Europe.

Even though Atletico still stayed out of the Champions bracket, Atletico made the final of the UEFA cup in 2012 and beat their northern rivals convincingly. Atletico have been blessed with gifted strikers like Forlan, El Kun Arguëro, Torres, Falcao and now Costa but what Simeone did for his team was give them steel on defence and in the midfield. Players like Koke and Gabi have flowered under Simeone and he has instilled in them a good work ethic and a commitment to take one game at a time and give their all in that. Later came the Super Cup demolition of Chelsea, and you could argue this season has been built on their Copa del Rey final win over Real Madrid in their own stadium. That certainly helped their belief grow and this season sees them still at the top of the league with a semi-final berth in the Champions whose opponent we will find out tomorrow.

How can a squad that has nowhere near the same depth or resources as their rivals Barcelona or Real Madrid not only compete but get the better of in 2013-2014? Their confidence was shaken by the Real Madrid defeats in the Copa del Rey semis and they fell to Almeria and Osasuna but it also brought out the best in them against Real Madrid in the league and that result gave them a well timed confidence boost for the Champions League against firstly Milan and then Barcelona.

It felt incredible to be part of that atmosphere last night but I couldn't help but feel that this was just reward for all the loyal fans who stayed unfaltering in their support for Atelico de Madrid in the hard times. This fairytale season they are having is compensation for all the agony and frustration they endured. It seems that they are gaining fans across Europe as well. The clubs like Bayern who buy the best players, oil billionaires and sheiks financing bloated salaries and players you really question why they spent so much money on them and here is a club who is punching above their weight and doing it with limited resources. They don't have superstars (perhaps Courtois the possible exception but even he is a bit of an ugly duckling case) but what they have is heart and sacrifice and belief in themselves. It's been nice to see that transformation but one thing will never change whatever happens this season: their fans will love their team unquestionably.

kiakahaaotearoa

Posts : 8287
Join date : 2011-05-10
Location : Madrid

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Re: Atleti: the frog that turned into a prince

Post by monty junior on Thu 10 Apr 2014, 2:54 pm

Very jealous mate, I thought Athletico were fantastic and completely deserved their victory. Like Dortmund last year they will be many fans second team, I really hope they win the competition, can't stand the other three team's left, hoofball Chelsea, 2 million passes Bayern or gutless Real. A league and champions league double, hopefully  Cool 

monty junior

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Join date : 2011-04-18

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