Atletico Madrid players and fans living the dream
Captain Gabi describes these as the best days of their lives. Theirs and the club’s
Gabi leads the celebrations as a dejected Neymar makes his way off after Barcelona’s defeat to Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on Wednesday night.
Round and round the Vicente Calderon the song went, Atletico Madrid’s anthem bellowed out by 50,000 voices. “Porque siempre la aficion se estremece con pasion”, ran the line: because the fans always shake with passion. And they were shaking. “Atleti, Atleti, Atletico de Madrid!” The chant switched to “may the Calderon jump” and they jumped. Then as the players headed down the tunnel, it switched once more: “Luis Aragones, Luis Aragones!”
A few minutes later, the players were back by popular demand, some half-undressed. No one had gone home. They did a lap of honour and as they passed the Barcelona supporters the clapping continued. The defeated knew this was a unique moment too.
Atletico’s captain, Gabi, had described these as the best days of their lives. Theirs and the club’s. “Apart from Villa, for all of us it is a unique feeling to have reached the semi-final,” Gabi said. Atletico had reached the last four of the European Cup for the first time in 40 years, back when Aragones played. He scored in the 1974 final against Bayern, becoming coach the year after the defeat in a replay.
“With these fans it’s impossible to lose,” said the midfielder Koke. “They played,” Gabi said. If so, that is yet another of Diego Simeone’s successes: the cracks at the Calderon were chasms when he took over, now the communion is complete. So, thanks to the suffering and the scale of their success, is the enjoyment.
For the players, too. Few represented that better than Adrian. The striker had not even been in the squad for five of Atletico’s six games. But the coach built him up and he was brilliant. “When Costa got injured there was no other player in my head than Adrian,” Simeone said. “I’m very happy for him.”
Atletico’s annual budget is €120m, compared with €580m up the road at the Bernabeu. They are not poor exactly, but their most expensive player is the €12m Filipe Luis, signed four years ago, before belts were properly tightened. This is not really a team of stars.
A free signing from Sao Paulo, Joao Miranda, now looks like an astonishing bit of business. Villa came for an initial fee of €2m; he was delighted to have the chance to restart a career that appeared to be stagnating at the Camp Nou.
Diego Costa, remember, had the apparently impossible task of replacing last season’s top scorer, Radamel Falcao. This is the first season of his career when he went into the summer knowing where he would be playing; five times he had been loaned out.
His best scoring total was 10 but he has been La Liga’s outstanding player this season, scorer of 25 league goals, seven in five in the Champions League, fought over by two international teams: Spain and Brazil.
In the case of the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, his value has risen immediately. Atletico want to avoid Chelsea because, as their president, Enrique Cerezo, told Al Primer Toque radio show, there is a clause in his contract that means that Atletico would have to pay a penalty for him to play against the club that owns him. Reports suggested it was “prohibitive”, some placing the figure at €6m. It says much that it is probably worth paying.
Simeone was asked about Costa’s future and the interest from Stamford Bridge. “But surely he’s not going to find a club like this one?” his inquisitor said.
The Atletico manager smiled. “I like your question,” he replied. “We can envy other teams’ economic power but when it comes to competing we don’t envy anyone anywhere.”
“This is one of those days you remember for ever,” said Villa, winner of a European Cup with Barcelona when he scored in the final. “This is a club that has been through bad times, which means that success feels better here.”