By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
What is the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico? That was the question put to Atleti coach Diego Simeone ahead of the sides' Copa del Rey final meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu in May. His answer? Not substance, style, history, tradition, ideology or design. No - the main distinction, the Argentine argued, was "€400 million" in budget.
Atletico had not beaten Madrid since 1999 and, given the vast gulf in terms of finances, few fancied Simeone's side to upset their city rivals in the Copa showpiece at the Bernabeu - of all places. "Madrid are better than us," the Argentine admitted prior to that match. And he repeated the same line straight afterwards as well - even though Atleti overturned the eternal enemy with a 2-1 win on the night.
Fast forward several months and Atletico - having sold their star striker Radamel Falcao in the summer - have won their opening six Liga matches to keep pace with leaders Barcelona at the top of the table. And the Rojiblancos also gave the Catalans a fright over two legs in the Spanish Supercopa, which Gerardo Martino's men won only on away goals following a 1-1 draw in Madrid and a goalless game at Camp Nou.
But despite all of that, Simeone's speech has remained the same. And ahead of Saturday's latest Madrid meeting, the message was repeated once again: "Madrid are better than us and we will have to be at 110 per cent," he said. "They have an enormous economic power and hierarchy with their players."
|€100m (Gareth Bale, 2013)||RECORD SIGNING
||€40m (Radamel Falcao, 2011)|
|1st overall||RICH-LIST RANK (DELOITTE)
||23rd (fourth in Spain)|
|€163m (€100m made in sales)||SUMMER SPENDING||€29m (€68m made in sales)|
Atletico are no paupers, of course, but the capital's second side are way behind their noble neighbours on the financial ladder - and Simeone was not exaggerating when he claimed the difference was €400m.
Atletico's budget for the current campaign is estimated at approximately €123m, while Madrid's stands at around €515m. Indeed, Real's riches are greater than that of any club in the world, with income in excess of €500m according to Deloitte's annual list, on which Atleti sit in 23rd overall - and fourth in Spain.
Club coffers at the Vicente Calderon have been boosted by silverware in recent seasons and qualification for the Champions League this term but, while Madrid splashed €100m on Gareth Bale in the summer, Atleti were forced to sell record signing Falcao to Monaco for €60m. They may have recouped €68m in total but Madrid bought three players for more than Atleti's total summer outlay of €29m: Bale (€100m), Asier Illarramendi (€38m) and Isco (€30m). In total, Real's squad is estimated to be worth around €500m, while Atleti's is valued at approximately €87m.
And then there's the wage bill: los Blancos pay out around €190m in salaries to their players each year, almost three times more than the Colchoneros' equivalent spend of just €65m.
Put simply, a look at the financial figures would suggest Atletico have no right to beat Madrid this weekend, just like they had no right to defeat Jose Mourinho's men in last term's Copa del Rey final or overcome Chelsea in the Uefa Super Cup at the season start in 2012-13. But what this team lacks in budget is made up for in fight. "Madrid are better than us," Simeone reiterated on Friday. "But we will look to transmit the image of an intense team."
Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, claimed Atletico are a reflection of their coach in his time as a footballer: full of passion, drive and tenacity, as well as technical ability. "Atleti are like Simeone was as a player," the Italian explained. "Tactically perfect, very focused and with a lot of character."
It was an accurate appraisal and, despite the €400m 'difference', those qualities could just prove priceless in the derby on Saturday.
Follow Ben Hayward on