Barcelona fans clapped for them at the Nou Camp, Real Madrid players hugged them at Lisbon’s Stadium of Light, Carlo Ancelotti refused to celebrate big and Diego Simeone reciprocated every emotion. Football is classy when opponents respect and managers don’t get into ugly celebrations (the sort a top coach did at Anfield recently, when millions of Liverpudlian hearts were breaking).
They won La Liga after 18 years fighting 38 weeks, tooth and nail, in the toughest league of the world. They made Barcelona & Chelsea’s season look miserable. They were seconds away from winning their first Champions League title. Diego Costa limped out of both the deciders, but Atletico kept waging the battle on. And so, while Real Madrid won two trophies, Bayern Munich won four; Atletico Madrid will standup and be counted for team of the season 2013-2014.
Simeone was the only person fighting officials at Lisbon. No press bothered to detail the argument if time given was more than allotted injury time. Had a giant English club been denied victory by extra seconds, the footballing world would have been simmering till now. But Atletico made no noise and they don’t have the star or money power. They carried aching limbs, refereeing decisions, ill luck and pride with equal aplomb. But you don’t cry for them.
Barring Tiago, Gabi and David Villa, each of their first fifteen players are now linked to bigger clubs, bigger money. Tiago’s midfield compatriots – Koke, Turan, Garcia, Mario Suarez – each have multiple clubs tracking them. The men Tiago shielded – Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Filipe Luis – are being heavily seeked too. The exodus is likely to be much bigger than what Borussia Dortmund faces every year. The squad is likely to be unrecognisable in two months time – the price they may pay for bigger success.
There are West Hams, Evertons, Hamburgs, Dortmunds, Valencias, Sevilles, Portos of the world who provide constant fodder to the big money bags. And then there was Simeone’s unit – one which shook the footballing world and won hearts of fans, rivals, coaches and media. A team which outshone their rich city counterparts for majority of the season. But you don’t cry for them.
Atletico now need to go back to the roots, to the bylanes of South America. They recently signed Angel Correa from San Lorenzo on a five year deal. A teenage footballer who has been shinning, playing from multiple positions. A raw talent who will need months of nurturing, coaching, confidence, preferred playing position, adjustments, diet charts and first team playing, before, one day he will be poached by a bigger club. This is the club which has given the world the best striker of the year, year after year – Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa…
Diego Simeone, unarguably, is coach of this season. Tiago recently said about Cholo “We follow him like god, if he asks us to go and jump from the bridge, we jump”. It took the Argentinian two and half years of blood, sweat, tears to create this belief. So strong that it led to a hard on the knuckles, quick counter attack, extremely disciplined, humble unit – and five trophies in two years. All that work could go undone now. Once the world cup starts, their exploits may look further distant. But you don’t cry for them.