While Atletico defender Filipe Luis termed his side ‘underdogs’ ahead of their Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich in Madrid, Diego Simeone’s men have proven in recent years that they are anything but.
Five major trophies since the charismatic Argentine took over the job in 2011 speaks volumes in itself.
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But Simeone’s biggest achievement is not in the fact that he guided Atletico to various titles but rather that he challenged the biggest clubs in the world, both domestically and in Europe.
Simeone challenged the status quo in Spain in just his second full season in charge when he guided Atletico to their first La Liga crown in 18 years and, in the same season, knocked out European giants AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea to secure their place in the Champions League final — certainly not an easy task.
Their run epitomised everything that is great about the Beautiful Game; that even the best can be brought down to earth by sheer willpower and the passion to succeed.
This season, Atletico are en route to another successful campaign and while there still is time to adjudge their campaign as a success, they have once again managed to turn heads — they are in the semi-finals of the Champions League and only trail Barcelona on head-to-head in the La Liga.
The fact that Atletico have just a fraction of the resources available to them in comparison to Europe’s super-clubs — an annual revenue of €187m in comparison to Real Madrid’s €577m or Bayern Munich’s €474m, their progress in the world of football is exemplary.
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While Real, Barcelona and Bayern, among other clubs, have the financial strength to buy the best talent in the world, Atletico have to develop their own superstars. And looking at their history, Atletico have managed to literally churn out world-class footballers in the past decade, with names such as Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Fernando Torres, Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann only a few of the plethora of footballers to have made their careers at the Vicente Calderon.
“No one in this group ever thinks about himself, it’s all about the team. That’s our biggest strength,” added Brazilian star Luis and he is absolutely right.
While Atletico have the ability to turn players into superstars, the way they work as a unit is their biggest strength.
Even against Barcelona they defended and attacked as one, stifling Lionel Messi and co. In doing so they managed to tame arguably the greatest ever attacking front-three to ever have graced the world of football.
And the fact they did all this ever so comfortably makes the achievement even greater.
While Bayern themselves boast a star-studded line-up where all eleven that play on the pitch are world-class superstars, the Bavarian giants are aware of the threat Los Rojiblancos pose, especially at the Calderon.
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“We know it’s going to be a very difficult match at the Vicente Calderon. In terms of atmosphere it’s one of the best arenas in the whole of Europe. We have to focus on our play there, we mustn’t lose control if we’re to achieve a good result for the return,” said Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara, while teammate Javi Martinez admitted he wanted to face any team other than Atletico in the semi-final.
“Atletico are the team against which I least wanted to play. They’re hard to beat, for me personally they’re the toughest semi-final opponents,” said Martinez.
This contest certainly has a ‘David v Goliath’ feel to it but do not be fooled by it.
Atletico are no longer the underdogs who have made a lucky run into the semi-final; they are the real deal. They are here to stay.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2016.
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