LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Atlético Madrid

A decade under Simeone delivers silverware aplenty

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

After two heartbreaking defeats to local rivals Real in the Champions League finals of 2014 and 2016, Atlético Madrid kept the pressure up on the domestic elite by winning the title in 2021. Ironically, their new stadium, the Estadio Metropolitano, was practically empty when the crucial turnaround came late in the penultimate game against Osasuna, fans celebrating wildly in the car park.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Atleti fans flocked to the Neptune fountain in the centre of Madrid once the title was confirmed a few days later. 

For manager Diego Simeone, approaching an almost unprecedented ten years in charge of the club where he won the double as s player in 1996, it was a personal triumph. The Argentine had nabbed striker Luis Suárez from title rivals Barcelona and it was the Uruguayan’s late winner that had put paid to Osasuna to bring the 2021 title within touching distance.

Under Simeone, the previously underachieving Atlético have won two league titles,  one Copa del Rey, two Europa Leagues and made those two fateful Champions League finals. The two teams his men have consistently challenged and often overcome are arguably two of the greatest club sides in European football history, Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.

With far fewer resources and a passionate fan base, moving stadiums along the way, Atleti have stayed at or very near the top thanks to tenacity, organisation and an astute transfer policy. No, they’ve not been as exciting to watch as Barça or Real but that’s not why Simeone’s there. Since 2013, his team has never finished out of the top three. 

The club is now sitting pretty, owning the new arena unveiled in 2017. Venue for Liverpool’s Champions League win of 2019, the 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano stands way out in Rosas, towards Barajas airport. In all respects, it’s a long way from the old ground, the Vicente Calderón in south-west Madrid. Set against the murky Manzanares river it was originally named after, near a gas works and the former Mahou brewery, the former home of Atlético Madrid stood in complete contrast with the palatial Bernabéu of Real Madrid.

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 that bore his name after his death.

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 in midfield. 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 long dominant Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league.

After epic quarter- and semi-final wins over Barcelona and Chelsea in the Champions League, Atlético lined up against Real in the final of 2014. Back home, providing a welcome third contender for the domestic title, Atlético were 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 their achievement.

In the Champions League, 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-million sale of Radamel Falcao, one of the world’s greatest strikers, to Monaco.

Despite the late, late Champions League defeat, few could belittle the size of Simeone’s achievement in taking on the two Spanish giants over the course of a season and winning. He then signed striker Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad, impressive at the World Cup for France that summer, and the slight but savvy forward proved a huge hit in an otherwise disappointing season, Croatian Marko Mandžukić also hitting 20 goals before being moved on to Juventus.

Griezmann continued to score with ease, hitting two as Atlético edged past Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in 2016. His solitary strike in Munich was enough to see off Bayern on away goals in the semi. Ahead, once more, lay Real Madrid in the final.

Real took an early lead through (who else?) Sergio Ramos, before 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 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 Atleti edged past Arsenal in the subsequent Europa League semi-final, 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 almost as many games as winning them in 2019-20, Atlético still trailed Spain’s big two in the league but managed to surprise Liverpool in the Champions League. In a game controversially staged despite the onset of the pandemic, a late brace and through pass by new signing Marcos Llorente reversed fortunes at Anfield to put out the holders. Simeone’s men then folded in the one-off quarter-final that summer to RB Leipzig.

The arrival of Luis Suárez in the summer of 2020 allowed Llorente to become provider for the prolific Uruguayan. The team still built on stalwarts such as reliable keeper Jan Oblak, captain Koke and defensive midfielder Saúl, Atlético proved solidly consistent that season, losing only once in their first 22 games. 

A vital draw at Barcelona set up a nail-biting title run-in and a tense late-stage win over Osasuna in an Estadio Metropolitano emptied by the pandemic. Simeone’s men again came from behind to win at Valladolid and claim the title thanks to another vital goal from Suárez.

Griezmann returned to Atlético from Barça to link up for Suárez for one last season in 2021-22 but Atleti meekly surrendered their title too soon, surprisingly loaning to Saúl to Chelsea, where he barely played all season. Signed in July 2022, experienced Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel should give steel to a midfield in need of a reboot if Atleti are to challenge on all fronts in 2022-23.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Unveiled in September 2017, the Estadio Metropolitano bears little comparison to Atlético’s former ground, the Vicente Calderón. First, its capacity approaches 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 had 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 revered Vicente Calderón was a thankless task, and the originally named Wanda Metropolitano already referred to 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. A Walk of Legends runs by the West Stand.

Home fans occupy the Fondo Sur, away supporters sectors 313-315 and 413-415 in the north-west corner of the Fondo Norte, through gates 21-23. Much of the Fondo Norte is given over to families, with 19,000 seats designated non-smoking.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

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. 

With the metro station being right next door to the stadium, it gets pretty packed before and after games. The stop before, Las Musas, sits among the nearest bars and restaurants and is only 10-15mins’ walk away.

If you’re coming in from the airport, although close as the crow flies, just over 10km, you’ll still pay at least €20 by taxi given the fixed costs in place. One alternative might be to head towards the Sercotel Hotel on Calle Galeón, which is a 10min walk from the end of metro line 5, Alameda de Osuna. If you’re staying at the hotel, it has a free transfer service from the airport. From the metro terminus, two stops away is Canillejas, a 10min walk to the stadium. All other metro options from the airport involve an hour’s roundabout journey via Mar de Cristal and Avenida de América.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

While the Metropolitano has a capacity of 68,000, 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 handled 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.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The club’s main outlets are at the Metropolitano (Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-8pm, 1hr after the final whistle on match days) and in the centre of town at Gran Vía 47 (Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 11am-8pm).

At the stadium, you’ll find the store in the south-west corner, nearest the home end and metro station. In town, it’s steps away from Santo Domingo metro station.

For 2021-22, Atlético’s red-and-white stripes feature ominous red stains streaking down them. Second choice are navy with luminous orange filling the bottom triangle of material, third strip a jolly sky blue with red-and-white collars and cuffs.

It’s not cheap, but among the retro gear you’ll find a cool tracksuit top from 1969 – note also the shirts from 1939-40 featuring the badge of Athletic Aviación, wings and all.

tours & museum

Explore the club inside and out

Atleti Territory is the name of the club’s museum-and-tour experience. A VR projection shows the old Vicente Calderón stadium from an original seat before the club’s history is depicted by means of a time tunnel, interactive games, screens and telephone booths. Among the 400 artefacts is an extensive collection of shirts down the ages. 

Stadium tours are given in English and Spanish, and take in the pitch and dug-out, dressing rooms and press area, plus a VR area for which glasses are provided. Access is through the commercial walkway by the club shop.

A museum visit costs €16 (€14 online, €12/€10 for 4-13s), combined with a stadium tour, it’s €24/€22, €18/€16. The museum is open Tue-Sun 11am-6pm, stadium tours on the same days 11am-1.30pm, 4pm-6pm. 

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

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 NizaEl 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.