A LOOK AT LA LIGA
Who would ever have thought that Atletico Madrid would be the model of stability and the club that all La Liga rivals' envy?
As the 'Big Two' struggle to balance books and form a team for the forthcoming season in a fog of uncertainty, Atletico float in a sea of calm.
Diego Simeone has recently signed a contract to extend the stay which began in 2011 to 2024. No coach in world football is more assured of his position. No coach has a stronger control of a club.
For those who have followed Spanish football for decades, this is the most incredible of turnarounds. He's approaching his 11th season in charge. In the 10 years before he took charge, Atletico changed managers 13 times. In the nineties I make it 21 changes of leader.
It is a summer of turmoil at most clubs. Whilst Barcelona are trying to shed players and Real Madrid can't afford to recruit, Atletico are the only club to have splashed out heavily on a new recruit. Rodrigo de Paul arrives for €35million from Udinese to compliment a team which deservedly won the league.
As the Camp Nou requires development and the Bernabéu undergoes improvement work, the Wanda Stadium is one of the best modern stadia in the world and was rightly awarded the Champions League final in 2019. Back in the day, there was a motorway which ran underneath a stand at the old Vicente Calderón; now, there is no improvisation as they play at a magnificent auditorium.
On the pitch, there is balance and certainty. Neither Carlo Ancelotti nor Ronald Koeman have a clue who will still be available for them on the season's opening day, yet Simeone has the luxury of picking from the same group of players as last season.
The only uncertainty is whether Saúl Ñíguez sticks around. He's been an important player in the past decade for the club. But there is a feeling that he may have plateaued as he's lost his place in the Spain national team. Atletico may benefit by moving him on, especially if they can trade him for Antoine Griezmann. They'd swap a player who is unfulfilled for one who would be delighted to be released from a difficult time at Barcelona.
Atletico use their imagination in the transfer market. Last summer, they weren't noticeably weakened by selling Thomas Partey to Arsenal, yet they were strengthened by signing Luis Suárez and Yannick Carrasco. Suárez, unwanted elsewhere, ignited the club as a 21-goal top-scorer. Carrasco returned from football obscurity in China to bring some unexpected artistry to the team.
The other stand-out player was Marcos Llorente. Unfulfilled at Real Madrid as a squad player, he found a purpose and position across the capital as an energetic supporting striker.
I'm surprised that the bookies don't make Atletico favourites to win La Liga in 2022. When you weigh everything up, they are by far the most prepared club in Spain and one of the most feared in Europe.