After two heartbreaking defeats to bitter rivals Real in the Champions League finals of 2014 and 2016, Atlético Madrid now keep the pressure on their moneyed rivals in their new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, opened in 2017. Venue for Liverpool’s Champions League win of 2019, this near 68,000-capacity arena sits way out in Rosas, far closer to Madrid’s Barajas airport than the city centre.
It was back at their old ground, the Vicente Calderón by the Manzanares river, that Atlético won their famous double of 1996, underpinned by defensive midfielder Diego Simeone, and here that the bullish Argentine, as coach, led his tenacious side to win the Spanish title in 2014, overcoming global superstars Barcelona. Days later, Simeone’s side fell to richer city rivals Real by a late, late equaliser in the Champions League final. Two years later, after taking Barcelona and Real to the wire in the league, Atlético succumbed to Real on penalties.
Atlético Madrid were founded as Athletic Club de Madrid in 1903 by local Basque students, a branch of the namesake team in Bilbao, and similarly first wore blue, then red-and-white stripes.
Ever since, the ‘Rojiblancos’ have also been known somewhat mockingly as the ‘Colchoneros’, the ‘Mattress-Makers’, a reference to the cheaper beds of the day. Certainly, the later Atlético were working-class, first based at Vallecas, then, after separating from Athletic Bilbao, at the Estadio Metropolitano.
Success only came immediately after the Spanish Civil War, when Atlético merged with Athletic Aviación, the Air Force team. Under the managership of legendary goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, Athletic – later renamed Atlético by Franco – won two titles and beat Real Madrid 5-0.
After two further title wins under Helenio Herrera, Atlético were a major force, albeit one behind Real and Barça. As the giants waned, Atlético nipped in to win the league, and gain sundry silverware – including the Cup-Winners’ Cup of 1962. Soon after the championship win of 1966, long-term club president, Vicente Calderón opened a new stadium on the banks of the river it abutted: the Manzanares. After his death, it bore his name.
Ruthless Argentine coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo and his team of compatriot hatchet men won Atlético the title again in 1973, and kicked their way to the European Cup Final of 1974. Lorenzo was replaced by former Atlético goalscorer Luis Aragonés, who would have four stints as coach at the club.
Another controversial figure, ex-Marbella mayor, Jesús Gil y Gil, became long-term club president in 1987, seeing out 30 coaches. Only one, Raddy Antić, won Gil the title, in 1996, thanks to fellow Serbian playmaker Milinko Pantić and Diego Simeone. Gil then paid a fortune for top foreign stars Christian Vieri and Juninho. The club lost balance, momentum and eventually even their top-flight status. Gil ended up in jail.
After the lucrative loss to Liverpool of Fernando Torres, whose goals pushed Atlético back to the top flight and Europe, Atlético signed Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán to become a high-scoring force once more. The Uruguayan scored twice against Fulham to win Atlético the Europa League in 2010, a feat repeated under coach Simeone by superstar Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, in 2012. At the Spanish Cup Final a year later, Falcao’s pass to Diego Costa changed the game, stunning Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, leading to an equaliser. Atlético would go on to win their first derby in 14 years, picking up their first domestic silverware since the double season of 1996.
With Falcao sold to Monaco, his replacement, impeccable poacher David Villa, proved a goal threat throughout the 2013-14 season, while strike partner Diego Costa maintained a near goal-a-game ratio. But it was the tenacious attitude of captain Gabi, fellow midfielder Koke and committed defender Javi Manquillo, all products of Atlético’s youth system, that typified Simeone’s team. With Belgian Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, quickly becoming one of the world’s best keepers and with ex-Chelsea Tiago a rock in midfield, Atlético kept pace with big-money favourites Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league.
After epic quarter- and semi-final wins over Barcelona and Chelsea in the Champions League, Atlético would face Real in the fateful final. Providing a welcome third contender in the domestic league, Atlético had become the neutral’s favourite to overcome Real and Barça. With both slipping during the run-in, Atlético came within a fingertip of winning a first title since 1996, a late desperate save gaining Málaga a draw at the Vicente Calderón in the penultimate game. La Liga had never witnessed such a thrilling climax. For the final match, Atlético had to go to second-placed Barcelona and gain at least a point. Trailing 1-0 and losing Diego Costa to injury, Atlético showed wonderful spirit to notch a title-winning equalising header from Diego Godín, and gain laudable applause from the Barcelona fans for the remarkable achievement of winning the league championship.
In the subsequent Champions League final, Atlético outran, outfought and simply outplayed the world’s most moneyed club until a Sergio Ramos header sent the game into extra-time. Eventually, Simeone’s side buckled. Their solitary strike in normal time, and title-winning goal the week before, had come from €8 million Uruguayan defender Diego Godín. And to think that Atlético’s remarkable 2013-14 season had started with the €60 sale of Radamel Falcao, one of the world’s greatest strikers, to Monaco…
As coach, star of the 1996 double-winning side Diego Simeone had led a team against the highest paid stars in the world – and won over the course of a season. Despite the disappointment of losing the Champions League Final at the death, few could belittle the size of his achievement.
In the 2016 final, Real took an early lead through (who else?) Ramos, Atlético’s star striker, 2014-15 arrival Antoine Griezmann, saw his penalty rebound back off the bar and a tense game went to penalties. The shoot-out loss had even Simeone talking of leaving – but Atlético, embodied by spirited team captain Gabi, lived to fight another day.
Facing Real in Europe again, this time in the 2017 Champions League semi-final, Atlético looked dead and buried after an unanswered Ronaldo hat-trick at the Bernabéu. A week later, in a fitting farewell to the Vicente Calderón on the international stage, Griezmann converted a penalty on the quarter-hour to set the aggregate score to 2-3 as Atlético harried for revenge. It wasn’t to be.
Christening the Wanda Metropolitano with a win over sorry Málaga in September 2017, Griezmann the solitary goal scorer, Atlético welcomed back Diego Costa on the eve of a crucial Champions League fixture against his former club, Chelsea. Each striker was on target when the Madrid side edged past Arsenal in the Europa League semi-final of 2018, leading to a relatively straightforward 3-0 win over Marseille in the final, the third time Atlético had lifted the trophy. For combative captain Gabi, this would be his last game in red and white before joining fellow Spanish stalwart Xavi in Qatar.
Three months later, Atlético at last overcame Real, in the UEFA Super Cup, 4-2. In what would be Griezmann’s last season, Simeone’s team achieved another runners-up spot in 2018-19, ahead of Real but well behind Barça. Drawing as many games as winning them in 2019-20, Atlético still trail Spain’s big two in the league while challenging Europe’s best.
Farewell, Estadio Vicente Calderón. Set against the murky Manzanares river it was originally named after, near a gas works and the former Mahou brewery, the home of Atlético Madrid from 1966 to 2017 stood in complete contrast with the palatial Bernabéu of Real Madrid.
Unveiled in September 2017, the Wanda Metropolitano (Estadio Metropolitano for European games) also bears little comparison to Atlético’s former sacred ground. First, its capacity is 13,000 greater, approaching 68,000, almost three-and-a-half times bigger than the original La Peineta athletics arena it replaced. Built in the early 1990s to stage the World Athletics Championships of 1997, ‘The Comb’ was also earmarked as part of Madrid’s bid for the Olympic Games of 2016. Its official name became the Estadio Olimpico. In the end, neither event was granted to the Spanish capital and La Peineta was abandoned in 2004.
Nine years later, unable to expand the Vicente Calderón, Atlético announced La Peineta as the site for their new stadium, way out in the eastern suburbs by the M-40 orbital motorway.
Some €240 million later, and Atlético have their new stadium, inviting club legends to the opening party against Málaga and celebrating the award of hosting the 2019 Champions League Final.
Replacing the Vicente Calderón is a thankless task, and the Wanda Metropolitano already bears the name of a Chinese sponsor, one-fifth owners of the club since 2015. But already the move here doesn’t feel as removed as, say, West Ham’s from Upton Park to the London Stadium, a far shorter distance. Red-and-white livery provides the backdrop to a series of plaques, each bearing the name of a stand-out Atlético player.
The Estadio Metropolitano has its own metro stop on orange line 7 that runs from the city’s main bus station at Avenida de América 20 minutes away. From central Sol, you need to change twice, allowing about 45 minutes. Improvements were made to the transport infrastructure in the run-up to the 2019 Champions League Final.
While the Wanda Metropolitano has some 13,000 more seats than the Vicente Calderón, tickets for non-members are still at a premium. If available, prices tend to be €10-€15 higher than the rates members pay. Online sales are through the club website.
The cheapest seats for non-members are way up in Level 3 of the West Side/Lateral Oeste, €40. Level 2 run at about €60-€80, the Lower Stand around €100. Behind the goals, in the Fondos, it’s €60-€100.
The club’s main outlets are at the Metropolitano (Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-7pm, 1hr after the final whistle on match days) and in the centre of town at Gran Vía 47 (Mon-Thur 10am-9.30pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm, Sun 11am-8pm).
For 2019-20, change shirts are black with red trim, third kits sky blue. Themed Subbuteo sets, beer glasses and headphones are the pick of the many souvenirs.
Tours & Museum
Tours, guided (Mon-Thur 11am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm and 5pm, Fri 11am & 12.30pm) and non-guided (Fri 3pm-7pm, Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 11am-7pm), start from Gate 10 and take in the trophy room, dressing room, tunnel, press room and touchline. Admission is €19, €12 (5-12s), free under-5s. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
The Metropolitano’s concrete enormity cuts it off from the streets around, but there are plenty of standard pitstops around Plaza Grecia, gateway to the stadium – its broad pavements provide plenty of seating and, on match days, standing room.
As you come out of the Estadio Metropolitano metro station at the corner of Calle de Suecia, they will be serving beer from a red-and-white striped hatch at Las 9 Musas and the same plus tapas at La Previa 1903. A block away, Pulpería Airiño is deservedly popular for its Galician seafood.
Running south from Plaza Grecia, Avenida Niza is lined with café bars as it leads into the Las Musas neighbourhood, which can also be accessed from the Estadio Metropolitano metro as it doubles as a walkway under Avenida de Arcentales. Beer is the name of the game at the capacious Cervecera de Niza, El Zarzal alongside also offers foaming jars of the stuff, together with a friendly neighbourhood feel. Further on, Buda Bar at No.53 on the other side of Las Musas metro is a nightlife-y bar with giant plasma screens for match action.
In the stadium itself, La Gradona is a fancy Argentine steakhouse aimed at the high-end and business market. Close to the Atlético Madrid Store, El Gran Escenario opened with a private party on Valentine’s weekend, 2020, offering quality Spanish cuisine and wines.