In their Champions League campaign this season, after qualifying, Atletico Madrid played at home against Apoel Nicosia, Porto and Chelsea and they didn’t win a match. In the Europa League, which they qualified for because they finished in third place in their group, they have won only two matches.
Somehow on Wednesday the 12th of May Atletico Madrid will be playing Fulham in the Europa League final.
In financial difficulty – the debt is close to 300 million Euros – and with a wage structure that means the deficit is increasing. In La Liga they are languishing in mid-table and nowhere near a Champions League spot. If they lose the Europa League final there will not even be any of that next time around. The players that the manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, tends to consider his first choice are Aguero, Forlan, Assuncao, Simao, Perea and Ujafalusi. All of them bar Aguero are at least thirty years old. Aguero’s age hardly matters because he will be leaving in the summer anyway. His replacement is likely to have to meet a couple of criteria: a cheap transfer fee with low wages.
Yet somehow on Wednesday the 19th of May Atletico Madrid will be playing Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final.
Yes, in spite of everything Atletico Madrid are on course for a double despite not winning anything since the Segunda Division in 2002. Or more pertinently La Liga in 1996. Atletico Madrid are arguably the third biggest team in Spain but they are starving for success. They do have a loyal fan base but it is ageing. A brief stroll or conversation in Madrid will reveal that the support for the second team of the city is slowly diminishing. The youth don’t want stories of heartbreak. They want Cristiano Ronaldo. It is a similar story in North London. No longer is the loyalty of a classroom of children equally divided between Tottenham and Arsenal. Arsenal and Chelsea tend to reign. There is a correlation between the length of time since the clubs last major success and the amount of fans a club has. What success is will always be relative, of course, but the thought remains. Fulham will probably be happy enough to just compete in the final and the adventure will have already won them new fans. Atletico Madrid need to win. Another heartbreak story and the kids will really not be listening. With enormous debt, an ageing squad, the star player leaving and anxiety all around Atletico Madrid are playing for more than just a cup double this May. They are playing for their future.