BY ADITYA BAJAJ | Follow @adityabajaj
Real Madrid are worthy European champions because they were the best and it’s as simple as that.
They were the best this season because first they sailed past defending champions and tournament favourites Bayern Munich in the semi-finals and when it came down to playing a club that until the finals had arguably performed better than their city rivals throughout the season, they made it count on the biggest stage in club football.
Sometimes teams win out of luck, sometimes purely because of the gulf of class between them and their opponents. But Real were well matched by Atletico in Lisbon, and it was their determination, grit and perseverance to finally bring home the ‘big ears’ that helped them win this one. Their belief that they could do it until the very last minute was key, and they did it on a night when the world’s best player in their eleven virtually didn’t show up until the score line was irrelevant.
After €930 million spent on buying 59 players since their last triumph in Europe in 2002, the Los Blancos finally won ‘La Decima’ and the decade of agony that surrounded the club and its supporters has finally perished.
But amidst all the clamour and the well-deserved praise from around the world that’s going to come their way for days to come, there lies this slight fear that an important message may get lost in the celebration of the most glamorous team in world football.
A message that was only conferred on us a week ago, when Spain was conquered for the first time by a club outside of the Barcelona - Real Madrid axis since 2004. That it happened at Camp Nou, the very site of the club that has won six of the past ten La Liga titles and were defending champions, made it even stronger and more special.
The notion that money alone cannot win you titles was laid bare and clear by Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone, who even received a standing ovation from the thousands of Catalan fans when they finally broke the La Liga duopoly to clinch an improbable league title.
If only they had hung on for another two minutes in Lisbon, there wouldn’t have been a better icing on the cake. And what better way to do it again their fiercest rivals and also the richest club in the world. It’s a tragedy that wasn’t the case though.
When Diego Simeone took over the helms of the club back in December of 2011, Atletico were 10th in the league and had just been eliminated in the Copa Del Rey by Albacete who were in the third-tier of Spanish football.
They eventually finished fifth that season, and by the end of the campaign were Europa league champions. The ascent continued as they finished third in his second year in charge but the first major coup was the Copa Del Rey that was won against Madrid (who else), not to forget the Uefa Super Cup against Chelsea early that season.
The only way to judge a manager is by letting him manage the same team left behind by his predecessor and what Diego has done with more or less the same group is simply incredible to say the least.
|United we Stand | Atletico under Diego Simeone have re-established the faith in team spirit|
In just two and half years since taking over Simeone has made this cash strapped club win everything that is on offer for Spanish clubs. Not to forget the fact that he had to replace Radamel Falcao with the 32-year old David Villa.
His boys were two minutes away from clinching the biggest prize in European football, but that was not to be.
As sad as that may seem, what’s important here is the fact that the kind of instant success that eluded the traditionally rich and the Nouveau riche of European football despite all the rash spending, has been achieved by Atletico under Simeone in just over two seasons.
Borussia Dortmund – a team that comes close to the kind of philosophy that drives Atletico on the field – tried to break the shackles last season but were overwhelmed by a much superior Bayern Munich. In Lisbon, Atletico had the best chance to go one better but Carlo Ancelotti, Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale made sure Europe was once again conquered by one of the elites.
Just like Dortmund, Atletico are sure to decimate this summer but the Germans are in a much better situation than the Spaniards. If Klopp lost Mario Gotze and has had to say goodbye to Robert Lewandowski, Simeone will surely bid farewell to two of his best players in Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois who look destined to head to London.
Moreover David Villa, Tiago Mendes, Jose Sosa and Diego Ribas are out of contract this summer and that poses a bigger problem. In need of more funds, others like Luis Felipe and Koke will be prime targets this summer.
Simeone and Atletico are to rebuild an entire side that was the best in Europe for all but the last 32 minutes of the season. With all the cash windfall from the Champions League, the club’s financial situation is so bad that it may not suffice.
Real Madrid will certainly get more of these opportunities in the future, but Atletico might not. How one wishes, that the Los Blancos had kept the ‘La Decima’ for the next season or so. Atletico established the importance of a good manager capable of uniting a group of players and inspiring them to sacrifice for the shirt.
The Champions League crown was important to strengthen that belief as with so many clubs incapable of competing with the rich boys, the need to 'build' a team and not 'buy' one grows stronger day by day.
Once again, Real Madrid are worthy winners and their feat will be applauded deservedly for years to come. ‘La Decima’ is truly unprecedented and special and catapults the club onto a different space altogether.
But once again, in the midst of all the celebration the Spanish champions and their feat this season shouldn’t be forgotten.
Surely, no one remembers the runners-up but Atletico are special and for that they rightfully deserve some space in all the commotion.
After winning the La Liga, and defeating the likes of Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea en route to Lisbon a lapse of concentration in the final two minutes of the last big hurdle to greatness shouldn’t take anything away from this special unit.
It wasn’t their night, but it certainly has been their season.
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