Saturday May 24 2014

Here come Atletico Madrid

Simeone has transformed Atletico Madrid

Simeone has transformed Atletico Madrid into a strong force. Agencies photo 

By Moses Banturaki

Because of the economics and politics of European football the income distribution between big and small clubs is totally disproportionate.
The big clubs are big because they have more fans and that serves both as collateral for television money and a market base for merchandise.
So they grow richer and cannibalize those without similar means because well, they can afford to.

This tends to completely skew the distribution of income further because the net effect is that the big clubs sustain their on-field success by attracting and hogging all the talent available on the market.

This has been the case for the last two or so decades and will most probably continue to be so for the foreseeable future even if the Uefa Financial Fair Play chaps would have us believe otherwise.

But from time to time, a relatively small club steps up and challenges the status quo. And in this era of marked inequalities in club incomes, that takes some doing. And like Michael Caley wrote in The Washington Post last Tuesday “when a smaller club makes a run at European titles, it is a big deal”. And this is what Atletico Madrid has gone and done. The comparatively shoe string budget they operate on was not going to get them Gareth Bale or Neymar.

Still, they have entrusted the extremely vibrant Diego Simeone, a man who looks like he will soon need a pace-setter, to put together a team on a third of the wages available at Madrid or Barcelona.

So this is how they have ended up with men like David Villa, Thiago Mendes, Koke, goal keeper Thibout Courtois, and the two Diegos, Costa and Godin.
This glorious blend of experience and raw skill has punched above their weight in all instances and with a consistency that makes them deserved champions.

A lot has been said about their tactics and the truth is that they have been happy to cede possession and stay narrow in ways not dissimilar to Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in 2010.

And we all know the anguish that accompanied Inter Milans’ suffocation of Barcelona in the famous volcano- cloud semi of 2010 and how that threatened to split football right down the middle with puritans on one side and Mourinho on the other!

But as football cycles go, there is a lot to admire about a team like Atletico Madrid that dares to play differently.
It is always nice to know there are alternative ways and philosophies and if the second leg victory over Chelsea in the CL semifinal is anything to go by, they aren’t shabby either. And to be really frank, I was getting fed up with possession hogging football that has been all the talk for the last three to five years.

It well may be that this is a one-off and we shall very soon return to the hegemony of Barcelona and Real shortly.

But let me just say, I find it hard to gather sympathy for a team that has spent close to a billion dollars in pursuit of ‘La Decima’. So instead, I will root for the underdog if only because an Atletico Madrid double would represent the most romantic run ever since Cinderella had to contend with a deadline.