By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
For most clubs, losing a star striker is a huge drama. For Atletico Madrid, it is merely a minor inconvenience.
Countless times over the last three decades, Atletico have seen their finest forward move on to pastures new. But on each occasion almost without fail, they have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and gone on to sign a player of similar quality, sometimes superior. Indeed, while other clubs strive and struggle to find a suitable frontman, the Colchoneros can seemingly always identify a special striker.
Although outside the top two in Spain for most of that time (except for their title triumphs in 1996 and 2014 and second-place finishes in 1985 and 1991), Atletico's forward line has consistently been blessed with the best, from Hugo Sanchez to Christian Vieri, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan to Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa. Very few sides in world football can boast such an array of attacking talent in their history.
Sanchez may be better known for his time at Real Madrid, where he went on to become one of the world's finest forwards, but it was at Atletico where the Mexican made his name in Europe in four special seasons before crossing the capital divide.
Atletico's alert scouts spotted Sanchez starring for Mexico City club Pumas and the Spanish side enjoyed the prolific Pentapichichi for four seasons between 1981 and 1985.
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The Olympic gold medallist joined Atleti in 1993 and formed a prolific partnership with Lubo Penev as the club sealed an impressive league and cup double in 1995-96 under Radomir Antic.
The Bulgarian's 32 goals in his sole season at Atleti were crucial to that success, while Kiko became a club legend, although he went on to struggle with injury in the latter years of his time at the Vicente Calderon.
The Spain striker was later joined by Christian Vieri and then Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, each of whom only spent one year at the club. The Italian arrived off the back of one strong season at Juventus but cemented his reputation at Atletico as he netted an incredibly impressive 29 goals in just 32 games. The Dutchman, meanwhile, managed 35 in 47 - although that was not enough to save his side from relegation to Segunda for the first time in their history, in 2000.
By that time, though, Atleti had a young striker of their own who was beginning to make waves: Fernando Torres. Between 2000 and 2007, El Nino hit 91 goals for the capital club as they returned to the top flight and regained their place among the elite in Spain. Torres was then joined in his final season in Madrid by the precocious Sergio Aguero, a young Argentine tipped for big things in his early days at Independiente. As with Sanchez, Atleti stole a march on their rivals to snap up El Kun as an 18-year-old - and they were vindicated as he went on to score over 100 goals for the club in five full campaigns in Spain.
Torres moved to Liverpool in 2007 after a sole season alongside Aguero and he was replaced by another of the world's top strikers: Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan had been brilliant at Villarreal and was proven in La Liga, yet Europe's biggest clubs had appeared reluctant to sign the South American after the indifferent spell at Manchester United earlier on in his career. Atletico, as so often before, knew better. More mature and now a great goalscorer, Forlan went on to form a memorable tandem with Aguero as the pair fired the Spanish side to Europa League and Uefa Super Cup success in 2010, as well as reaching the final of the Copa del Rey.
The duo's departure a year later appeared disastrous, yet Atleti did not panic as they went out and bought another star striker: Falcao. The Colombian had been tipped for great things but neither Chelsea nor Real Madrid seemed entirely convinced. Atletico were and the South American went on to become one of the world's finest in his time at the Calderon, scoring 70 times in just 91 competitive games for the capital club.
Falcao promptly packed his bags and moved to Monaco following his second season with los Rojiblancos, but coach Diego Simeone signed David Villa in a cut-price deal from Barcelona. The Colombian's real replacement, however, was already at the club.
Diego Costa stepped up in spectacular style following Falcao's exit and netted 36 goals in what turned out to be his last season at the Calderon, with Villa playing off the Brazil-born forward in more of a support striker role. And far from being weakened by the loss of their finest footballer, the club went on to enjoy the best season in their entire history as they won La Liga and reached the Champions League final in Lisbon.
Costa has since joined Chelsea, while Villa moved to New York and Falcao is now at Manchester United. But Simeone signed Mario Mandzukic from Bayern Munich in the summer and the Croat's winner against Madrid last month gave his new side yet another trophy: the Supercopa de Espana.
Simeone has high hopes for the new man and belief in Atleti's tried and tested policy of identifying world-class forwards.
"Top strikers have come and gone at Atletico," he told Goal in his role as Sony ambassador in the World Cup. "The club have always seemed to be able to minimise the impact when big players leave. Fernando Torres left, Diego Forlan left, Sergio Aguero left, Radamel Falcao left and now Costa and David Villa have moved on – and the team has remained competitive."
"Atletico have always done well in that respect. When Aguero left, many saw it as a big blow, but Falcao came in and the team won trophies. Then Falcao left and people said we wouldn’t be able to compete, but we kept growing with Costa. Now Mandzukic is here. Let's hope he's another in Atletico's long line of great strikers."
Given the club's remarkable record when it comes to buying brilliant forwards, it would be no surprise.
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