Part of the fun of watching La Liga is seeing fans of the Galacticos and Blaugranas argue about their respective teams, lead endless debates over the abilities of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and brag about the results of the latest El Clasicos.
But while Real and Barcelona have been running away from the cash-strapped league, having fun in their own little tournament, crushing opponents, challenging for every single competition they play in, they failed to notice the rise of modest Atletico.
They have been used to Valencia chasing them for a while until the shallowness of the squad started to show. Barcelona and Real share the first two spots, Valencia third, and fourth, well, que sera, sera.
Those who love the underdog, football hipsters and neutrals who crave a good story of players overcoming injuries to participate in finals or meagre clubs challenging for the title of champions, would have found Atletico interesting until this season.
In fact, football hipsters probably found themselves admiring Lille, Swansea and Borussia Dortmund (to some extent) who have been battling superpowers with pride and dignity and getting positive results, but never a team in La Liga.
All of a sudden, however, Atletico found themselves the topic of conversation. They struck a mega-deal with the Azerbaijani Ministry of Tourism, valued around 20 million a year, they stand second in La Liga, four points above the third placed arch-rivals Real Madrid, and they posses one of Europe’s best strikers in Radamel Falcao.
Yet they managed to skip the part where they go from a forgotten club, to the next big thing, to the big thing, (i.e. Borussia Dortmund): Atletico went from forgotten club to the big thing.
No other team outside Barcelona and Real Madrid has kept the second place for so long.
No Spanish team that is not Barcelona or Real would consider ignoring Europa League and letting their reserves play.
However, Atletico, who won the Europa league and found pride in it last year, are now letting young players represent them in the competition.
Atletico have always been known as the team that never fulfilled its potential; they were the team that couldn’t find the right coach, the team that would always lose their top class players, (Aguero, Forlan, Torres etc.) and could only compete for the Europa League.
Many still don’t believe in the rise of Atletico. In fact, lots are still waiting for their supposedly inevitable demise.
“Oh, give it a month or two” they say, “and they will crumble under pressure, they will never be second while Mourinho and Ronaldo are at Madrid.”
Interestingly enough, it is Madrid that are crumbling under pressure of trailing Barcelona in La Liga and the civil war that is taking place in the dressing room.
It is true that Atletico without Falcao are not the same (the 3-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao when he was absent is illustrative of this) and it is almost 99.9 per cent likely that he will leave Atletico in the summer, if reports are to be believed.
Yes, many do expect that to be the demise of Atletico, though these same people often forget that Atleti do attract top class strikers – they lost Aguero and Forlan, yet managed to land Falcao.
Funds expected from their likely appearance in the next Champions League, added to the new sponsorship deal, mean Atletico can be confident of replacing one big star with another without experiencing a downfall.
Though Atletico’s success is a big story this season, it is unknown if they can maintain it for seasons to come; becoming a team that will make it past round one of the Champions League and into the quarter finals, a team that will always attract world class strikers and a team that will take the level of competition of La Liga to a whole new altitude.
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