In claiming their first La Liga title since 1996, Atletico Madrid finally managed to break the monopoly exercised by Barcelona and Real Madrid for the previous nine seasons. Since the 2004-05 campaign, Real and Barca have shared nine titles and a dominance of Spanish football with Champions League finance and other extras allowing lavish spending on their respective playing staffs. Atletico’s 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp proved that such spending does not always guarantee success.
Before the final game of the season, Barcelona needed to beat Atletico Madrid to retain the league title and a first half goal by Alexis Sanchez appeared to set the scene for a celebratory win for Barca. Injuries to leading striker Diego Costa and creative midfield player Arda Turan added further pressure on Atletico manager Diego Simeone as he sought that crucial equaliser.
Yet Atletico were the better team during the second half and deservedly equalised via a header from defender Diego Godin with Barcelona unable to breach the opposition rearguard despite the presence of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and other expensive purchases on the home team.
For Atletico Madrid, this league triumph provides further proof that team building and a decent worth ethic can yield results especially when competing among the elite teams of Europe. They have always been considered the poor relations of Madrid football and are generally recognised as the working class team of the capital city. Financial problems and some questionable accounting practices have restricted their ability to provide the same level of funding for players as their city neighbours Real but that has not stopped Atletico from claiming some success on the European circuit.
During 2010 and 2012, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup victories were earned by Atletico but the important prizes of both La Liga and the Champions League just appeared to be that one step too far for a proud and respected team.
The departures of Diego Forlan, Fernando Torres and Radamel Falcao suggested that Atletico would never succeed in taking that extra step to ultimate glory, an opinion apparently confirmed when Barcelona sold David Villa to the Madrid club in July 2013 for approximately 5 million euros. He was considered to be a lightweight in an increasingly potent Barca attack.
Villa’s partner in attack, Diego Costa, has barely been involved in any significant transfer activity in his eight year footballing career within the Iberia peninsula while Turkish international midfielder Arda Turan remains one of the more expensive Atletico purchases at 12 million euros in 2011.
Nevertheless, next weekend, Atletico Mardrid can demonstrate that World record transfer fees do not always guarantee success when they attempt to clinch a historic double by beating neighbours Real in the Champions League final in Lisbon. Should they succeed, Diego Simeone will surely become most employable manager in European football.