In February 2011, Real Madrid’s fans unfurled a banner during a capital derby that was directed at their opponents Atletico. It read: “Wanted: worthy rival for decent derby.” It was a damning reference to the fact that, between 1999 and that day in 2011, Los Colchoneros had failed to beat their city rivals.
Los Merengues would get their wish and far more with the arrival of Diego Simeone in December 2011. Before the Argentine, it was safe to say the club were in a state of stagnation, where frustrated supporters aired their displeasure routinely, while no foundations could be laid by any Coach as there had been nine different trainers in 10 years at the Vicente Calderon.
Stagnation and fan disillusionment would soon end, however, as Simeone dramatically changed the fortunes of Atletico Madrid. Under him, the club have enjoyed one historic League triumph and become a real force in Europe. In the same season they claimed La Liga, they were just minutes away from winning the Champions League against Real Madrid, before Sergio Ramos intervened, a result Los Colchoneros will look to avenge this Saturday.
Importantly, where discord once reigned between Coach and fans, Cholo has now instilled a sense of identity. By building a special rapport with the supporters, it can be used to galvanise the players in big matches. Indeed, playing at the Calderon is tough for any of Atleti’s opponents.
The emergence of Atleti as a major force in Spain and Europe of late has far-reaching implications. Their ambition is notable, the club ready to take that next step, which will help consolidate their hard-earned position. Their plans of moving into a new stadium at the start of the 2017-18 season further sustains their long-term vision.
Off the pitch, Atleti have made great strides forward, which is a far cry from previous years. They've made good use of appointing ex-Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon as an advisor, while their tax debt, a sore that has plagued many Spanish top-flight clubs in the past, has more or less been dealt with. Four years ago, it amounted to €205m and now it’s merely €45m. In addition, moving into a new stadium will bring in extra matchday revenue, thereby bolstering the club’s finances.
Atleti have also benefitted from sponsorship deals, whether from Azerbaijan or Asia. Moreover, they have enjoyed sizeable investment from the Far East. In January 2015, Wang Jianlin, known as China’s richest man, bought a 20 percent stake in the club for €45m. Such a move had long-term ramifications as it would help bring exposure to a Chinese market, its interest in football rapidly growing.
Therefore, even if Los Colchoneros were to lose their key players or Simeone himself then it wouldn’t be disastrous. The steps taken by the club under Cholo’s tutelage, from where they once at, mean Atleti have a healthy future no matter what happens on Saturday.