Wanda Metropolitano's journey to become host of the Uefa Champions League final

Based on the site of an original stadium that was seen as a white elephant, Atletico Madrid's home will now host Liverpool v Tottenham

Soccer Football - Champions League Final - Preview - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - May 28, 2019   General view of signage of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur crests being erected outside the stadium    REUTERS/Sergio Perez
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The t-shirts on sale 15 years ago in Barcelona’s Carrer Verdi would not have gone down well in Madrid. Emblazoned ‘Madrid 3016’, they were a joke at the expense of another failed Olympic bid for the Spanish capital.

When Spain boomed in the noughties, Madrid bid for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Those bids were praised, yet all three failed as London, Rio and Tokyo triumphed.

Madrid had seen the how Barcelona’s staging of the 1992 Olympics has rejuvenated the fortunes of a once dirty port city. Madrid was bigger and on the up, even building an Olympic stadium in anticipation of being awarded the games.

Known locally as ‘La Peineta’ since it looked like an ornamental comb, the stadium opened in 1994 – again as part of an unsuccessful bid to stage the 1997 world athletics championships.

It had one vast, exposed 20,000 seater main stand that was clearly visible as planes came into land at Madrid’s nearby Barajas airport to the north east of the city.

Soccer Football - Champions League Final - Preview - Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain - May 29, 2019 Children play with a ball outside the stadium. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Madrid is hosting the Uefa Champions League final for the first time since 2010 at the Wanda Metropolitano. Reuters

Known formally as Estadio de la Comunidad de Madrid before the hopeful name change, it was a huge white elephant, though it staged the 1996 Spanish Super Cup between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in front of 15,000.

It was closed in 2004 but was signed over to Atletico Madrid in 2013, to be rebuilt for their new stadium. The old main stand was kept, the athletics track dug out and the pitch lowered as the stadium was rebuilt and covered, with 67,000 seats.

Cruz y Ortiz the Spanish architects responsible for Amsterdam’s new Rijksmuseum, were in charge.

Renamed Wanda Metropolitano in part after a sponsor and in part after one of Atletico’s former grounds, it was opened in 2017.

On Saturday it stages the Champions League final, for the first time in Spain’s capital since 2010 when it was staged at the bigger and better situated Santiago Bernabeu.

The move has been a success for Atletico, one which is helping them continue to push city neighbours Real Madrid, who they have finished above for the last two years, and Barca.

Atletico weren’t close to this level when the stadium was agreed. They didn’t qualify for the Champions League between 1996 and 2009 and were known at ‘pupas’, the team who couldn’t hold their nerve.

They also had their own, much loved, 54,000 seater Vicente Calderon which, despite being three quarters uncovered, had one of the best atmospheres in Spain.

The Calderon had only opened in 1966 in a working class area by the Manzanares river south west of central Madrid.

That area was full of Atletico fans, the antithesis of the Real Madrid’s privileged location on Madrid’s finest avenue to the north of the centre.

But the Calderon was fading. What was once seen as a ground-breaking build since the M30 motorway ran beneath the main stand was outmoded by the noughties

Fans were reluctant to move though and campaigns were held to stay and save the Calderon. Fans pointed out that Atletico's fan base was stronger in the south of Madrid, not 10 kilometres north east in a charmless neighbourhood by another motorway where their new home would be.

It was fruitless. The land which the Calderon stood on by the river was profitable enough to be sold and cover the costs of the new stadium with some help from the local council and the club.

Opinions changed when the stadium neared completion. It is a beautiful red cavern with four vast tiers of seating under the white canopy.

Opened by Atletico fan King Felipe in September 2017, it worked from the start. Their average crowds jumped from 44,725 in 2016-17 to 55,571 after the move. The cheapest season tickets being €295 (Dh1,200) helped.

Under manager Diego Simeone, Atletico are in a sweet spot and the budget available to the team has leapt from €160m in 2016 to €400m in three years.

The club has a whole is in good shape, too. In March 2019, 60,739 watched a women’s game between Atletico and Barça – a world record.

It will take time to feel as homely as Calderon, but it is not as windy or exposed, though the giant red and white Atletico flag outside the adjacent metro station might give a different impression.

The stadium address takes the name of legendary coach Luis Aragones and Atletico players who have played more than 100 games have their names on a walk of legends.

The stadium was also finished on time, which is more than Valencia’s new ground, in theory equally impressive but half built and untouched in a decade as the club stay in their historic Mestalla home.

The Metropolitano seats 67,000 but it feels much bigger since the club prioritised comfort and spaciousness and ahead of more seats.

Given their record is reaching recent Champions League finals with Real Madrid winning four of the previous five and twice defeating Atletico there, a Madrid team playing a final in their home city looked likely.

Instead, two English teams will compete in the final for the first time since 2008.

Workers have been putting the finishes touches to gardens around the stadium this week.

The roof lighting can be changed to suit the victor, but with Liverpool in red and Spurs in white, it won’t be needed this time.