Atletico Madrid; not easy to explain

Perennial followers of La Liga will be familiar with the ups and downs of Atlético Madrid.  Coaches have came and went, and we are all familiar with the late  Jesus Gil.  Hardly a model of consistency, Atlético now look settled..and good.  IBWM welcomes Thomas Wood to tell us more.

A new season, both in football and weather heralds the beginning of a renewed battle in La Liga. Inevitably this fight will be contested between heavyweights; Barcelona and challengers Real Madrid. Last season the title was settled by the 2 clasico’s between these sides, leaving a gap of 25 points from 2nd placed Real to 3rd placed Valencia. As for recent UEFA Supercup winners Atlético Madrid? Los Colchoneros finished 49 points adrift of Real Madrid, a gap greater than their total points tally.

With Valencia losing both David Villa and David Silva to big money moves, they are substantially weaker. The arrival of Soldado from Getafe should be interesting, but he has big shoes to fill. Over in sunny Andalucia, the Sevillistas have recently been knocked out of the money go round that is the Champions League at the hands of relative minnows Braga. Although they managed to hold on to wantaway striker Luis Fabiano, the defeat and the manner in which it occurred is cause for concern. The loss of Squillaci to Arsenal means new €5m signing Alexis from Valencia will be tasked with a tough job. As highlighted by Sid Lowe on the Guardian’s podcast, Sevilla need the Champions League to continue to operate their existing model, so this will be a test for the inexperienced coach Antonio Alvarez. Although popular among the Sevilla fans having played over 300 matches for the club in the 70s and 80s, he will find himself on shaky ground should the club fail to rediscover their form.

Meanwhile at the Vicente Calderon things are looking rosy for Atlético. Following their triumph over Fulham in the Europa League, they added the European Supercup with an excellent 2-0 win over Inter Milan. Diego Forlan was one of the standout players of the World Cup, winning the Golden Ball for his efforts and he looks to continue his form into this season. Sergio Aguero was strongly linked with a move from Spain to Chelsea throughout the second half of last season, yet the club retained the talented Argentinian. Add to that the season-long loan of Portuguese midfielder Tiago (another player who had a good World Cup), and the arrival of the excellent Uruguayan centre back Godin from Villarreal for €8m and suddenly Atlético have a very strong spine. Perhaps the most exciting signing is Brazilian left back Felipe Luis from Depor for an estimated €12m, a fast attacking player who is also able to play on the wing. However, Luis may find his chances limited as he competes with club captain Antonio Lopez in defence, and vice-captain Simao in midfield.

The only departure of note is Jurado, who contributed nine goals last season but never succeeded in nailing down a starting berth and has since moved to Schalke. The re-signing of Tiago should amply fill this void.

Having spent €28.7m and recouped €22.5m, Atlético president Enrique Cerezo must be smiling, and with construction on a new stadium due to begin in November, combined with the inevitable increase in attendance for the 2010/11 season, this “should” be the platform from which Atlético coach Quique Flores is able to launch the next phase of the Colchoneros’ history.

“Kun” Aguero is optimistic; “If we can fight for the league, we will, but our aim is the Champions League”. New signing Godin agrees, “Everyone is talking about a league of two, but the season is very long... Hopefully we will fight for the top of the table”.

This tale would not be complete without a word of warning; this is Atlético madrid after all. With their tendency to achieve glory one week and inconsistency the next, anything is possible with this club, and that is perhaps what makes theirs the most intriguing story of all.

If anything can capture the mood currently surrounding this club, it’s the contrast between these two ads. The first is a couple of years old, and features a father and son in the car. As they pull up to a set of traffic lights, the boy asks his father “Daddy, why are we Atleti fans?”. The father pauses, looks up, thinks a bit, then pauses again before looking pensively in the mirror at his son. As it fades to black it ends with the words, “it is not easy to explain, but it’s something very, very big”.

A second ad was released only a few weeks ago.  In it, a psychologist explains the symptoms commonly associated with a return to work, “bad moods... and anti-depressants”, he then goes on to to explain that this year there are a surprising number of people looking forward to going back to work. Cue a montage of a man arriving at a meeting in his Atleti shirt, a mechanic at the garage in another oversized rojiblanco shirt, a builder at a building site and finally a bartender at a café much to the chagrin of his friends. When this second ad fades to black, the words on the screen read “For some, the return to school will be much easier”.

Whatever happens, things will not be the same for Atlético and their fans. Through the weight of their increased expectations, or the improved confidence of the squad to their opponents who will no longer underestimate them it is set to be an exciting year for Los Colchoneros.

Thomas has previously written for The Guardian in the UK.  If you would like to read more from him, please visit Heaven's 11.