A LOOK AT LA LIGA
Longest serving manager, purpose-built stadium, crazed fans and a loyal squad of players, Atlético Madrid must now be regarded as the model for all football clubs to follow.
Diego Simeone has delivered his sixth major title in seven seasons and there isn't a club in Europe that has greater harmony between players, supporters and the manager. How things have changed!
There are those along the Costa who will shudder at the mention of Jesús Gil, once the politically incorrect mayor of Marbella who doubled up as the commander of La Liga's craziest club.
In the town hall he installed a bust of Franco's head; at the Calderón stadium he was frequently calling for the head of his coaches. It's hard to calculate but I make it 36 changes of manager in his sixteen years at the club. He closed the academy and in doing so handed one of the country's greatest ever players, Raúl, to his arch rivals! We could never have predicted the day when Atleti would be the organisation everyone eyed with envy.
At their lowest point they dipped into the second division. This led to a teenager named Fernando Torres getting his opportunity. 'El Niño' was established as captain before his twentieth birthday and he's the favourite player of supporters stretching over two decades.
Amazingly Torres had never won a trophy in the red and white stripes until this season. The set, which includes a World Cup winner's medal, alongside European Champion with club (Chelsea) and country, was completed with the Europa Cup medal on Wednesday night.
Now he can head off to the sunset, possibly a Chinese or American sunset, with his career completed. He summed it up recently: “When I made my debut with Atlético I had achieved what I wanted to. All the rest was a gift.”
When he started his career Atlético was a madhouse; he leaves it behind as a prototype institution. The fact that Simeone threw him on shows that the manager does have sentiment. The fact it was in the 90th minute and the game was well won shows that it was calculated.
Torres isn't the only player departing, though. Antoine Griezmann is expected to head to Barcelona. He kept his word to stay an extra season after the club were handicapped by a transfer ban last summer. I'm sure he'll excel but don't rule out a return to Atlético before his career curtails; Torres returned and Diego Costa always had the club in his DNA.
You'd think that by losing two players of such high calibre, Atlético would suffer; but that is the secret of Simeone - it is a constant rebuild.
The foundation is the best goalkeeper in Spain, Jan Oblak, and one of the best defenders in the world, Diego Godín, backed up by a constant flow of talent. There is never a transition at Atlético, the team is continually getting refreshed.
On the Europa League winning team photo are Thomas Partey, Saúl Ñíguez, Lucas Hernández, José Giménez and Ángel Correa - all are under the age of twenty-five.
The preparation has been done already. This goes back to my opening line, nobody at Atletico Madrid can be accused of sitting back and smoking a big fat cigar of satisfaction anymore.