Atletico’s stadium limbo

Atletico Madrid’s move to the north of the Spanish capital, to a new 60,000 capacity ground commonly known as La Peineta, has become a joke and a bad one at that. What was supposed to be a straight forward move has become a problematical affair with no sign of the complications easing up. And whilst La Peineta sits only 14km away from the Vicente Calderon, the move has never looked so distant for the club.

Club Atletico de Madrid is a club heavily in debt, even if an exact figure on the debt is hard to come by. It was announced recently that Spanish football clubs owe close to €800m in unpaid taxes and the spotlight was once again on Atletico, who are know to owe over €200m of the debt due to the Spanish taxman. One thing in Atletico’s favour, however, is the fact that their ground is located in a very valuable area.

When Madrid announced in 2008 that they were planning to enter the race to host the Olympics in 2016, Atletico’s shareholders saw an opportunity. A deal was struck with Atletico and the Mayor of Madrid which would see the club receive a big bag of money and a brand spanking new ground. The city council would buy the Vicente Calderon and then they would knock it down and redevelop the area. Atletico fans were not consulted about the move and voiced their disapproval at home games. But, the club needed to move and with debts building up the opportunity couldn’t come fast enough. The only problem was that Madrid lost to Rio in the contest to host the Olympics and suddenly everything went quiet as the city council became tight on cash.

Last year La Peineta was back in the headlines. The club’s majority shareholder announced back in March that work was due to start, which it did, but only at a minimal level. By July, the club announced that they had received planning permission and that leading construction company FFC would be carrying out the work but still nobody really believed it. Meanwhile, the Vicente Calderon continued to fall into disrepair with the club ignoring all non-essential work. Then, in December, a huge gala event was organized which was attended by the Press and players and the plans for the new ground were shown. The plan was to have the team open the 2015-16 season there with one shareholder admitting that he would love Fernando Torres to be part of the first game there. But as is always the case at Atletico, everything isn’t straight-forward.

A supporters group known as Senales de Humo launched a court case against the redevelopment of the Vicente Calderon in January. They launched it on various grounds and were successful on one of them. In each area of Madrid there is a limit on the height that a building can be. In the area of the Vicente Calderon the limit is three storeys and a penthouse. One idea the city council had for the purchased land was to redevelop the area into a Metropolis. If they could only build a total of four storeys then the project would not be profitable and so, once again, the project was thrown into doubt, as the redevelopment of the Vicente Calderon and the area surrounding it was key to the deal struck between Atletico and the city council. Atletico and the city council said it was only a minor problem that could be resolved easily but Senales de Humo and other Atletico fans celebrated what they saw as a major victory.

With the Spanish property bubble well and truly burst, one would believe that the project runs the risk of being shelved. But, Atletico’s President Enrique Cerezo claimed recently that work was on schedule even though very little had started. It has also been announced that Madrid will once again enter the race to host the Olympics, this time for 2020, and that Atletico have offered the use of La Peineta. However, even with this new spectre of hope, the only certainty surrounding the club’s prospective new stadium is that it will be a saga that will continue to drag itself out.