They beat the Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven, Spanish champions Barcelona and German champions Bayern Munich, most useful to fall on the remaining hurdle to their bitter move-metropolis competitors Real Madrid in Milan. I had included all of those knockout games, besides the final, while their ‘success’ ran out. It’s something they joked about after I went the following campaign again. That’s the issue about Atleti – who will attain a fifth Champions League region-very last in six years if they convert a 2-zero gain into victory in their ultimate-16 2nd-leg tie at Juventus on Tuesday – they may be such a clean club to love. They are indeed one of my favoured groups to cowl in the Champions League and the cauldron of the vintage Vicente Calderon on the ones massive European nights become my primary venue. It changed into impossible no longer to increase a tender spot for them. That says loads, coming from a person who spent seasons working for Real Madrid TV! Back then (2008-2010), Atleti could only dream of accomplishing such heights. They had been via far the junior club in comparison to their greater illustrious rival, each in phrases of everyday fulfilment and stature. Putting it crudely, “El Derbi Madrileno” became a natural three factors for Real.
The transformation to a proper European pressure isn’t always something I could have envisaged. Winning the Europa League underneath Quique Sanchez Flores in 2010 become the begin, however, it is under membership legend Diego Simeone the following year that the rebirth honestly commenced. From their landmark first derby victory in 14 years – beating Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey very last on the Bernabeu in 2013 – to winning La Liga in 2014, a similarly Europa Leagues, attaining Champions League finals and starting a new stadium, this is a membership who’ve earned their vicinity a few of the continental elite. A mark of ways some distance they have got risen is summed up by way of Atleti’s public enemy number one: Sergio Ramos. Infamous for his audacious goading of the enthusiasts after their two Champions League final defeats, even the Real Madrid captain admitted to me once that he has grown to appreciate the membership as a real adversary. Spending time around Atletico, you locate there are a genuine warmth and openness on the club. The head of press instructed us that they had cautiously studied how different large golf equipment operated and decided they wanted to behaviour themselves otherwise. That ethos is apparent to see. From the hierarchy to Simeone, to the gamers, there may be no room for vanity – be that from the always amiable membership hero Fernando Torres, goalkeeper Jan Oblak or defender Filipe Luis, to the former captain Gabi in suits of laughter at my Spanish accent. This becomes a great group of down-to-earth people. I discovered Simeone himself interesting. A passionate, coronary heart-on-your-sleeve man or woman, hard around the rims, a piece bloodless at the start – or even suspicious – however, his warmth have become obvious pretty fast. It becomes quite the evaluation to the influence I had of him after his World Cup antics with England midfielder David Beckham in France 1998. In truth, ‘El Cholo’ is held in such excessive regard and with such affection in Spain. When his crew play their hearts out for him, why. Luis once advised me that Simeone is someone who has to get everything off his chest if he is disappointed with you. “Even if he sees you in an eating place, he’ll come and inform you without delay,” he said. Every pre and put up-in shape interview I did with the Argentine became sincere, open, accommodating and no-nonsense. From my perspective, I appreciated that too.
Having lived in Madrid and worked with plenty of Atleti enthusiasts, I had a fantastic concept of what the membership represented. The exceptional perception, however, was from Torres. Before the 2016 Champions League very last, we requested several players to study one line every from a script approximately the rivalry between the two Madrid clubs, which would be edited together. Torres refused to examine the line “out of the shadows” – due to the fact; he stated, “we had been in no way in their shadow”. My appreciate for him went up numerous notches. Another event was before his farewell in shape, the 2018 Europa League very last. He stared down the digicam lens and started with: “When you grow up in Madrid, you may take the easy course and help Real Madrid… or you could do it the tough way and assist Atleti.” It’s pretty something to listen to an international-magnificence participant, who has won the entirety sincerely there’s to win, speak with such uncooked passion about the football club his grandfather took him to aid as an infant. That ardour is personified with the aid of the person at the helm, of direction. Consider the crotch-grabbing celebrations which have earned Simeone a great after the first-leg victory over Juventus. I would likely deem it vulgar or attention searching for from every other manager. From Simeone, it’s all part of the fun. With Atleti touring to Turin with a 2-0 advantage, it’ll be intriguing to peer which crew progresses to the zone-finals in a match-up of two dominant narratives. This was the tie I became looking forward to the maximum. Two groups who definitely couldn’t find the money for to be knocked out at this degree. Two teams who were owed damage to this opposition. Last 12 months’ Europa League name didn’t do Atleti justice; they were some distance too right to have ever dropped into it. Even their Uefa Super Cup win in August, once they, in the end, beat Real Madrid in a European showpiece, will in no way be sufficient (in which myself and different journalists were doused in champagne on the pitch via Diego Godin!). If they can keep away from a Juve comeback, they would be considered the various favourites to win the one trophy that eludes them, the one that has precipitated them a lot of pain. Three-time finalists Atleti at the moment are a membership with success, balance, progress and a real identification.
Moreover, they’re hitting their rhythm and are a robust danger. They’re not continually pretty to watch, thoughts you, however, their grit and backbone are stunning. Their story is thrilling to follow, and their rise has been top notch. The incentive for Atleti this 12 months is more than ever, of course, with the Champions League very last being held of their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium on Saturday, 1 June.