Atletico de Madrid are in the midst of an identity crisis and their current struggles are a result of their overachieving, writes Anaamaya Mishra.
Atletico de Madrid are struggling. They look lethargic, performances appear to be weak-willed and poor results have followed. Angel Correa’s strike in the recent 1-0 win over Granada was just their second goal in six appearances following on from their Spanish Supercopa trip to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, one of those goals came in an embarrassing 2-1 loss against third-tier side Cultural y Leonesa in the Copa del Rey – a loss which means Atleti look set to finish this season trophyless.
The club, in recent years, have been a cut above the rest in terms of recruitment and their doggedness in front of any opposition, especially against those who are superior to them – either in quality or prestige.
It’s not hard to see why either; Diego Simeone, since his appointment as Atletico manager in December 2011, has only seen the club climb in an upward trajectory under his tenure. The Argentine has not particularly been perverse in acting as the twelfth man for the team whilst all but impeding the bounds of his technical area. An avid patron of the Machiavellian concept that the ‘end justifies the means’, Simeone’s devotion to his principles to act with a steely resolve is now a trademark of the club and its style of play. Atleti’s achievements in recent history are a testament to the Coach’s tenacious and animated nature on and off the pitch.
For all his eccentricities, Simeone has a method to his madness. Atletico’s almost snobbish and unbearable persona in front of their opposition, wherein they shatter their hopes and dare them to do something about it – is somewhat inclined to the temperament and behaviour of their 49-year old boss. An indication, perhaps, that no one has instilled and poured their identity into a club in recent years to such an extent as ‘Cholo’ Simeone.
So, it only makes sense that if we were to give a Coach the benefit of the doubt, it would be the former Argentina international. He simply warrants it, even in an age where patience wears thin twice as quickly as it did ten years ago.
Last season’s La Liga runners-up were dealt a huge blow in the backend of last season as an extraordinary exodus ensued. The departures of Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, Juanfran et al signified the end of an era; a natural passing-by of the old guard who paved the path for Atleti’s elevated status in Europe. And while they were paid handsomely for undergoing a period of extreme and abrupt duress, it has had a substantial impact on the club both – on and off the pitch.
Los Rojiblancos have had a torrid time in La Liga. After a solid start to the season in the new-look squad, they briefly found themselves languishing down in sixth following a recent Madrid derby defeat. They have since climbed back to fourth but are just two points above Valencia, in seventh. A measly tally of 24 goals in as many matches means that the Madrid-based club are one of the lowest goalscoring teams in the division, with only five teams having a worse record – all of whom are battling to break out of the ominous relegation spots.
The archetypal shrewd operators in business might just turn out to be a misnomer for Los Colchoneros. Since the start of the 2017/18 season, the club have spent a total of €391.5m on attacking players and have yet to find a consistent goalscoring outlet to complement either Joao Felix or Alvaro Morata. The failed pursuit of Edinson Cavani makes matters worse for the club; hamstrung Atletico have very little options going forward despite making sizable investments in their attack, with Vitolo and Correa expected to start as a front-two in the absence of most of their first-team options.
Professor Ortega’s famed ruthlessness in training and moulding the greatest of gladiators in common sight might have finally taken a toll on the players. A total of 16 muscle injuries since the start of the season (seven since December), including the recent blows to Morata and Kieran Trippier is an indictment of the disappointing season they have yet faced in their stalest of campaigns.
Or does the blame fall on the Coach? Recent results suggest that Simeone’s tried and trusted method has contributed to the team’s detriment. The Argentine, in danger of being called out for his tactical ineptitude, has stifled the creativity of his wingers and strikers, forcing them to act like their predecessors who were the harbingers of all the glory and joy they’ve experienced in recent years.
Despite Simeone’s persistence in reminding the fans that they are in a ‘period of transition’, the Atletico faithful have grown accustomed to a certain kind of success. And therein lies the biggest of obstacles Atletico Madrid have faced in recent years, they are in the midst of an identity crisis.
No longer can they fall back on their identities as the plucky underdogs punching above their weight in order to obtain success. An expenditure of €243.5m in the summer suggests otherwise. Their glorious stadium built on the back of their status as one of the ‘European Elites’, suggests otherwise.