Between 2008 – 2012, the Spanish international side were one of the greatest international sides the world has seen. Certainly the most successful, becoming the first team to win 3 major international competitions in a row. It seemed we could be set for a decade of dominance internationally. While the Spanish side would have disappointing tournaments in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and be knocked out in the last 16 by Italy in the 2016 Euros, the last decade at club level has certainly belonged to the Spanish in Europe.
6 Champions Leagues and 6 Europa Leagues were lifted between 4 Spanish clubs last decade. There were two all Spanish Champions League Finals (both Madrid derbies), and an all Spanish Europa League Final. Early in the decade Alex Ferguson called Barcelona “the best team” his team had ever played against. Real Madrid became the first side to retain the Champions League since it’s rebranding, winning it 3 years in a row.
In the newly christened Europa League, Sevilla won the tournament a record 3 years in a row, earning them the record for most wins of the competition overall. Despite not lifting the trophy, Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao captured the imagination of many fans on route to the Europa League final in 2012, dispatching of Manchester United along the way.
The most intriguing Spanish club of the 2010’s, despite not achieving total domination, was however, Atletico Madrid. They lifted the Europa League 3 times, and won a Copa del Rey. More significantly, they broke up the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, and came agonizingly close to winning the Champions League on two occasions.
Atletico Madrid Record During The 00’s
|La Liga||Copa del Rey||Champions League|
|11||7th||Quarter Final||Failed To Qualify|
|12||5th||Last 32||Failed To Qualify|
|13||3rd||Champions||Failed To Qualify|
|15||3rd||Quarter Final||Quarter Final|
|18||2nd||Quarter Final||Group Stage|
|19||2nd||Last 16||Last 16|
Supercopa de Espana: 2014
Europa League: 2010, 2012, 2018
UEFA Super Cup: 2010 2012, 2018
Known as Los Rojiblancos (simply meaning; The Red and Whites), Club Atlético de Madrid were founded in 1903. They celebrate their 117th birthday next Sunday. They were founded by Basque students living in Madrid. Originally they were seen as a youth side to feed their team, Athletic Bilbao. Ironically, Atletico would defeat Bilbao in the Europa League final in 2012, the only ever meeting in European competition between the sides. Both sides originally played in blue and white, before switching to red and white, Atletico however did keep their blue shorts.
The club had successful early years, and were invited to join the new Spanish top league, La Liga. They were relegated after two seasons, but returned to the league soon after. The club was merged with Aviacon Nacional, and would become known as Athletic Aviacon de Madrid for a period. They were then renamed Atletico Aviacion de Madrid after Francisco banned the use of foreign names. In 1947, the club became know simply as Club Atletico de Madrid.
Atletico experienced sporadic success, winning La Liga 9 times last century, along with 9 European Cups. They would get their first taste of European success in 1962, winning the European Cup Winners Cup. They would lift the Intercontinental Cup in 1974, beating Argentine side Independiente, after European Cup winners Bayern Munich declined to take part. They were the only team to win the Intercontinental Cup without winning their continental competition.
Relegation and Rebuilding
Many will remember the 1999 – 2000 La Liga season for Deportivo La Coruna’s stunning title victory, their only success to date. It was also notable for Atletico Madrid getting relegated for only the second time n their history. Trouble in the boardroom seemed to impact the players, as they slid down the table through managerial changes. They reached the Copa del Rey final, but they were beaten, and ultimately went down.
Atletic missed out on promotion in their first season in the Segunda Division, finishing 4th with the top 3 going up. They went up the next year as champions, under Luis Aragones in his 4th spell in charge of the team. He gave a certain Fernando Torres his debut in La Liga.
After being promoted, they rarely flirted with relegation again, and in 2008, they qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 1996/97. Throughout the 2000’s they brought through names such as Sergio Aguero and David DeGea.
A New Decade
With Quique Sancez Flores at the helm, Atletico found some success. They finished a disappointing 9th in La Liga in 2010, but would beat Fulham in the final of the Europa League. They would go on to beat Internazionale in the Super Cup.
The next season was poor, but they would once again lift the Europa League in 2012. 2013 proved to be a break through year, as they lifted the Copa del Rey, and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 3 seasons.
And the next year would be possibly their greatest success of all.
Breaking the Duopoly
One of the things that is interesting about the Atletico Madrid side is that they were a romantic’s favorites that didn’t play romantic football. In the 2013/14 season, they played a compact 1-4-4-2, with the strikers dropping into midfield. It was pure functional dirty football, but the result was magic.
Atletico found themselves in the top 3 of La Liga for the whole season. But from rounds 1 – 28, they were only top once. It seemed like it would be Barcelona to take the crown for the majority of the season. But once Atletico went top with ten rounds to go, they stayed there.
Atleti only lost four games all season, all away from home. Against the big guns, they drew twice with Barcelona, and picked up 4 points against Real Madrid, including an away win. That game epitomized Atleticos League season. Costa scored early, and Atletico hung on for the guts of the game, with plenty of yellow cards brandished. They were an incredibly difficult team to beat.
The run-in acted as bit of a rough patch, with Atleti failing to win any of their final 3 games. The went to Barcelona, who could still win the title, and got the 1 – 1 draw they needed, courtesy of a Godin header. Godin was one of their fearless leaders, who played 34 times in that league campaign, and 56 times in all competitions. The Uruguayan was awarded player of the month in both of the final two seasons. This was a team built on defense, with Filipe Luis and Juanfran as fullbacks, typically with Miranda or Toby Alderweireld accompanying Godin. The team wasn’t short of leaders in midfield, with the versatile Koke, captain Gabi, and Raul Garcia. Up front, the signing of David Villa injected experience and goals into the team, but it was his partner Diego Costa who led the line with 36 appearances. Costa was their top scorer, with 21 more goals than the joint second Garcia and Villa. Koke had the joint most assists in the league, and Thibaut Courtois won the award for best goalkeeper.
This season saw La Liga come down to the final game for only the 3rd time. Atletico’s arch rivals Real Madrid had been knocked off the top of the table courtesy of a Messi hatrick, and Atletico remained 1st for every round after beating Real Betis, who would be relegated that season. Atleti went 1 – 0 down at the Camp Nou but Godin’s 2nd half header, and a staunch defensive display handed Atletico their 10th league title. It was the first time since 2004 that a team outside of Real Madrid or Barcelona had won the league. People will always remember Leicester winning the Premier League, but before there was Leicester, there was Atletico.
The same season Atletico became contenders for an unlikely double. Coming through a group of Zenit Saint Petersburg, Porto, and Austria Wien unbeaten, they would beat Milan, Barcelona, and Chelsea on their way to the final. There they would meet their arch rivals Real Madrid.
Real went in as favorites, having beaten Atleti 5 – 0 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey semifinal. The crucial moment occurred 9 minutes in, when Costa, who had been a doubt, was brought off. Atleti were down a key player and a substitute. Still, Godin popped up with a header and Atletico took the lead in the 36th minute. From there they would throw everyone behind the ball.
It looked for all the world like Atletico would hang on, Real seemed out of ideas. It would all go wrong when Luka Modric sent in a corner, and Sergio Ramos headed home. The 93rd minute equalizer was essentially the winning of the game. Real dominated extratime, scoring three more in the second extra time period. The last was a penalty from Ronaldo, who celebrated by shirtlessly sliding to the corner. Atletico had absolutely nothing left after that 93rd minute goal.
Two years later it was another cruel defeat. Atletico made the final after topping their group of Benfica, Galatasaray, and Astana. They beat PSV on penalties in the last 16, cameback against Barcelona in the Quarter-Finals, and beat Bayern Munich in the semi-finals. They would once again face Real Madrid in the final.
There were some new names involved. Costa and Courtois had left. Now in goals was Slovenian Jan Oblak. Upfront there was a new star in Antoine Griezmann, with a returning Fernando Torres. This time Real took the lead early, and it was once again Sergio Ramos.
From there Atletico were probably the better team, Griezmann missed a penalty before Carrasco equalized. Extratime was cagey, the game went to penalties. It was 3 – 3, then Juanfran hit the post. Ronaldo would once again get the last word with a penalty. Another cruel defeat. Real Madrid would go on to win the following two seasons Champions Leagues.
Atletico Madrid have remained a strong team in Europe. They would win the Europa League in 2018, and win the SuperCup the next season. They got a measure of revenge against Real Madrid, finally beating them in a European final. The Champions League final was at their home stadium that same season, but they failed to get there. Once again it was Ronaldo who denied them, this time for Juventus. Atleti had led 2 – 0 from the first leg, but a Ronaldo hattrick in Turin doomed them to a Round of 16 exit.
If the Champions League does finish this season Atleti will be one of the favorites. They came so close on two occasions, and perhaps if they hadn’t have been playing Real Madrid they would have won. The knocked out last seasons champions Liverpool, maybe this season they can go all the way. Simeone has built a team that can pull off a defensive masterclass, broke a duopoly, and got to the absolute brink of superstardom.