Atletico's challenge is to sustain their success

The La Liga winners defied all odds to win the league and end the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but a bigger test awaits them...
By Shikharr Chandra

It was a fairytale ending for the Atletico Madrid supporters who saw their team come out of shadows of their neighbours and clinch the La Liga title for the first time in 18 years. The side from the capital became the first outfit since Rafa Benitez's Valencia back in 2003-04 season to end the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona domestically. The club now has a chance to take their success one step further when they face arch rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League final this Saturday at Lisbon.

Atletico’s story would be part of folklore for decades to come. How Diego Simeone transformed the club's fortunes when he took over and how in three years he can add every possible trophy within their grasp, despite not having the luxury of most European superpowers is astonishing.

When the season kicked off, the limelight was on Gareth Bale's record transfer to Real Madrid from Tottenham. A deal that was worth approximately €100m which made the Welshman the most expensive player in world football.

Such has been the domination of Real Madrid over the years who have not shied away from paying whatever it takes to get their man. A world record deal for Cristiano Ronaldo, or spending almost €150m on Kaka and Ronaldo in the same window, or breaking the bank for Zinedine Zidane, Madrid have always had the luxury of buying whoever they want to without even breaking a sweat, unlike their neighbours.

Atletico on the other hand have always been a 'selling club'. While Bale made his entry to the La Liga, Atletico saw Radamel Falcao leave for AS Monaco. The transfer of Fernando Torres to Liverpool sparked rage among the supporters but it was a decision the Spaniard took himself in order to help his boyhood club. Players over the years have seen the club as a platform for building themselves and then moving abroad in order to gain success, which was the case with Sergio Aguero and maybe Diego Costa in the near future as well.

Most teams despite having decent talents in their squad haven’t able to match the La Liga’s twin giants. The major reason for that has been the financial imbalance.

Unlike the Premier League, where the TV rights are sold in a package and even the relegated Cardiff City manage to make close to €50m in a season. In the Spanish League, both Real Madrid and Barcelona earn close to a massive €140m from TV rights every season that is approximately seven times more than the other clubs in the league.

The reason being that TV rights are sold on an individual basis rather than a collectively as seen in the Premier League. Although the Spanish FA have decided to start TV revenue caps from the following season as per the Spanish sports law, but the entire process might take more than two seasons to bear fruit. 

Even with the entry of the revenue cap, both Madrid and Barcelona will not make lesser money than they are making now.

Real Madrid made a €35m profit last season as compared to almost €50m of that of Barcelona. While TV rights have helped their case, the fan following from around the world and merchandise sale of the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo only accentuates it further.

Compare this to Atletico, and they are not even close. Atletico have to pay almost €20m every season in order to clear off their debts that have accumulated. But this has been majorly because of their own faults such as third party ownerships of players or a jail sentence to late Jesus Gil who was the majority shareholder at the club. They allegedly stopped paying taxes for almost two seasons when they got relegated back in 2000 and the amount now has accumulated to almost €500m.

Another major reason that the big two sides in the league are able to generate such massive revenue is from their match day earnings. While Real Madrid and Barcelona earn almost €120m every season, the likes of Atletico only make one fourth of it (as calculated back in 2011). The other clubs such as Levante and Malaga earn less than 12 times compared to the top two.

In Deloitte’s Football Money League, it was revealed that Real Madrid and Barcelona remained unchanged from their spot in the first and second position of revenue making with a massive €518m and €429m respectively.

The only other Spanish club to make the top 20 of that list was Atletico Madrid with €120m. Such is the massive difference between the sides in Spain.

"The two giants have earned €1,500 million more than the next club in the last ten years.” said the Sevilla president when discussing about the financial status in the league.
"There is only a €400m difference,”  said Simeone when asked about how far his side were from the top two sides in the league.

It only highlights how difficult it is for the rest of the pack in La Liga to maintain or even hope for success.

Atletico Madrid's story is a fairytale which might  go onto became an even better one should the club win this weekend. However the bigger test for Simeone and the club now is whether they can hold on to these players and build upon their success.    

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