Atletico Madrid’s mentality has shifted since Diego Simeone took over in 2011. Gonzalo Moreno / Getty Images
Atletico Madrid’s mentality has shifted since Diego Simeone took over in 2011. Gonzalo Moreno / Getty Images

Atletico Madrid’s changed approach is reaping dividends


Andy Mitten

The suited elderly gent by the players’ entrance at Atletico Madrid’s training ground has something to say.

“This is a great team we have here,” he said. “The coach, Simeone, is doing very well.

“His team plays as he wants. It will be tough, but we can be champions again.”

The suave gent is a fan, he is also Atletico Madrid’s most famous player.

Adelardo, Atletico’s club’s record appearance holder with 401 league games between 1959-1976, when he was 36, is a regular at training.

All the players know who he is. He may not have the profile of the Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano, but then Atletico do not match Real’s status.

Adelardo, the captain of the team which won the 1962 Uefa Cup Winner’s Cup and reached the 1974 European Cup final, was very, very good.

“We played Bayern Munich in the final in Brussels,” he recalled. “0-0 after 90 minutes.

“Then Luis Aragones scored in extra time. We were about to be European champions.”

Adelardo shakes his head. Georg Schwarzenbeck, the Bayern Munich defender, hit a speculative long-range shot in the 120th minute. It went in and forced a replay two days later, which Bayern won 4-0.

Bayern Munich refused to enter the Intercontinental cup that year. “My highlight was winning the Intercontinental Cup, we beat Independiente over two games,” recalls Adelardo.

The defeat to Munich summed up Atletico Madrid. “Pupas” they called them. “Pupas” means unlucky, an apt adjective given all the club has gone through.

Even the son who asks his father “Why do we support Atleti?” in a much aired TV advert is not afforded an answer. Because there is not one. They just do.

Former player Fernando Torres said their fans were “a prisoner to a feeling.”

“Everyone said Atleti had the players to be a good team, but not a great one,” recalls former striker Diego Forlan.

“It’s true that we had to be 100 per cent perfect to win a game. If we were only 99 per cent, we’d lose.

“There was too much negativity about in the psyche of the supporters and that fed into the players. We’d get a good away win and then the fans were convinced that we’d lose an easy home game a few days later because that’s what Atleti did.

“And you know what? We did lose because some players believed the fatalism. They were used to failure. I tried to be positive, tried to help change the mentality and we had some success.”

Forlan played with the likes of Sergio Aguero, David de Gea, Simao and Jose Antonio Reyes. They won trophies.

“Great players,” he says. “They didn’t care about the pupas thing or what the journalists said.

“They were winners and we won trophies. Our generation broke the mystique.”

They did. They won the 2010 Europa League final, with Forlan scoring both goals. They lifted the Uefa Super Cup in Monaco.

The psyche of the club was changing, but those memories of failure went back a long way.

The final change came when Diego Simeone took charge in December 2011. Tenth when he arrived, they finished fifth.

They also won the Europa League again, and the Uefa Super Cup when Radamel Falcao destroyed Chelsea. Fans idolise him. Players value Simeone’s communication skills.

“He has these small, concise conversations with the team, one-minute conversations, every two, three days to try to get into our heads, always focusing on the present, never the future,” says full-back Filipe Luis.

Atletico started last season well, then faded, but their 76-point total was unmatched by any third-placed team in 15 years.

It was still 24 points behind 100-point champions Barcelona and nine behind Real Madrid. Atleti lost all four league games to the big two last season.

That changed this year. In May, Atletico met Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey – at the Bernabeu stadium, too.

Implausibly, they won. They beat their neighbours again in the league this season at the Bernabeu and they held Barcelona home and away in the Super Cup.

“We should have won,” says striker David Villa, who arrived from Barcelona in the close season and has formed an excellent partnership with Diego Costa, the Primera Liga’s player of the season so far.

Fifteen games into this season Atletico are joint top with Barca on 40 points.

They have won 13 of their games and are three points ahead of Real Madrid. In the Uefa Champions League, they were the first team to qualify for the knockout stage.

Their current captain Gabi once called supporting Atleti “a suffering”. Not any more. “Because what’s happening now is incredible,” he says.

It will be difficult hard for Atletico to wrestle the league from Barca or Madrid, both of whom have revenues four times as high, but they are showing no signs of slowing down.

Adelardo recognises their quality and the rest of football is now starting to take notice, too.

sports@thenational.ae

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Match info

Manchester City 3 (Jesus 22', 50', Sterling 69')
Everton 1 (Calvert-Lewin 65')

SPECS

Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbo
Power: 630hp
Torque: 850Nm
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic
Price: From Dh599,000
On sale: Now

Super Bowl LIII schedule

What Super Bowl LIII

Who is playing New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams

Where Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, United States

When Sunday (start time is 3.30am on Monday UAE time)

 

THE BIO

Favourite place to go to in the UAE: The desert sand dunes, just after some rain

Who inspires you: Anybody with new and smart ideas, challenging questions, an open mind and a positive attitude

Where would you like to retire: Most probably in my home country, Hungary, but with frequent returns to the UAE

Favorite book: A book by Transilvanian author, Albert Wass, entitled ‘Sword and Reap’ (Kard es Kasza) - not really known internationally

Favourite subjects in school: Mathematics and science

Get Out

Director: Jordan Peele

Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford

Four stars

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable
Amitav Ghosh, University of Chicago Press

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

Explainer: Tanween Design Programme

Non-profit arts studio Tashkeel launched this annual initiative with the intention of supporting budding designers in the UAE. This year, three talents were chosen from hundreds of applicants to be a part of the sixth creative development programme. These are architect Abdulla Al Mulla, interior designer Lana El Samman and graphic designer Yara Habib.

The trio have been guided by experts from the industry over the course of nine months, as they developed their own products that merge their unique styles with traditional elements of Emirati design. This includes laboratory sessions, experimental and collaborative practice, investigation of new business models and evaluation.

It is led by British contemporary design project specialist Helen Voce and mentor Kevin Badni, and offers participants access to experts from across the world, including the likes of UK designer Gareth Neal and multidisciplinary designer and entrepreneur, Sheikh Salem Al Qassimi.

The final pieces are being revealed in a worldwide limited-edition release on the first day of Downtown Designs at Dubai Design Week 2019. Tashkeel will be at stand E31 at the exhibition.

Lisa Ball-Lechgar, deputy director of Tashkeel, said: “The diversity and calibre of the applicants this year … is reflective of the dynamic change that the UAE art and design industry is witnessing, with young creators resolute in making their bold design ideas a reality.”

THE SPECS

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Power: 258hp at 5,000-6,500rpm

Torque: 400Nm from 1,550-4,400rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.4L/100km

Price, base: from D215,000 (Dh230,000 as tested)

On sale: now

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices


Abtal

Keep up with all the Middle East and North Africa athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics

      By signing up, I agree to The National's privacy policy
      Abtal