26 February 2012

Spotlight on Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid are one of the most successful teams in Spain, having won both the La Liga and Cup titles 9 times, including the double in 1996. After an all too familiar frustrating start to this season, the team have really upped their game since the arrival of Simeone at Christmas.

The Athletic Madrid club was founded in 1903 by two Basque emigrants and for nearly 20 years they served as a feeder club for Athletic Bilbao. They became independent in 1921 and were one of the founders of the first Spanish League Championship. After the Civil War, they changed their name to Athletic Aviacio de Madrid after merging with an air force team, before becoming Atletico Madrid in 1947. The immediate post-war years saw them take four league titles and they also won two in the 60s and two more the following decade. Their most successful period in recent history came under Radomir Antic, when they won the double in 1996 whilst European success came with an Intertoto Cup in 2007 and the Europa League and European Super Cup in 2010, to add to 1961’s Cup Winners Cup. The low point came in 1999- 00 when despite reaching the Cup final they were relegated and did not get back into the top flight until 2002 . The 2010 European success under Quique Sanchez Flores couldn’t be built on though, and after finishing seventh last season, the manager was replaced by Gregorio Manzano, who was then himself sacked after a poor run in December 2011 and replaced by Diego Simeone.

The Club’s history over the last thirty years or so has been overshadowed by the figure of Jesus Gil, a businessman and politician who ran the club between 1987 and 2003. Gil i Gil’s direct style meant he rarely suffered managers who didn’t bring instant success and figures of the calibre of Menotti, Clemente, Ron Atkinson, Alfio Basile, Maturana and even club legend Luis Aragones were hired and fired in quick succession by the club chairman. Maybe Gil’s biggest misstep though, was to scrap the club’s youth academy in 1992, forcing a promising young striker named Raul to cross the city and join rivals Real Madrid – the rest is
history.

Atletico’s games with Barça have become a guarantee of goals and excitement over the last few seasons, with an average of over 4 goals a game over the last 20 years and to more than 5 under Guardiola, when Barça have lost twice in Madrid: 4-3 and 2-1, as well as winning 1-2 last season, whilst winning 6-1, 5-2, 3-0 and 5-0 at the Camp Nou.

Since Diego Simeone took over at the helm at Christmas, Atletico have been transformed, with four league draws and three wins and conceding only one goal- last week at Sporting, as well as beating Lazio 4-1 on aggregate to make the last 16 of the Europa League. Leo Messi’s record of 17 goals in 13 games against Atletico makes it tempting to focus on Madrid’s Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, who may well be kept busy by the Argentinean,
but undoubtedly the man of the moment for Simeone’s team is Radamel Falcao, signed in the summer from Porto for a club record €40 million. The Colombian, who was a sensational success for the 2011 Europa League winners, scoring 17 times in 14 games, has already chalked up two hat tricks for Atletico this season and bagged 14 goals in his 20 league appearances so far. His pace and two footed ability, combined with a real aerial threat make him a very complete forward and somebody the Barça defence will need to keep a very tight rein on. (via FCBarcelona.com)