Atletico Madrid coach, Diego Simeone, admitted in the week leading up to Barcelona’s La Liga title win that his club were, realistically, waiting for the Blaugrana or Real Madrid to have a poor campaign in order for them to capitalise.
In the same breath he told reporters that whilst one of those behemoths occasionally does dip below the incredibly high standards that they set for themselves, the difficulty for the Rojiblancos lies in the need for both to drop sufficient points in the same season.
Though some may deem ‘Cholo’s’ words as an acceptance that his players just aren’t good enough, Spanish football watchers know that’s about as far from the truth as it’s possible to be.
However, the fact remains that Atleti under Simeone have been close to perfection on a handful of occasions, but not able to get over the line. Two Champions League final defeats against Los Blancos will have hurt even if they’ll always have the final day victory at the Camp Nou to earn the La Liga title in 2014 as consolation.
Taking the next step though – consistently winning trophies – has become something of a problem for Atleti. Despite the fact that money has been thrown at the first-team in order for Simeone to be able to build a squad of note, the status quo has remained the same.
Recent financial developments seem to have driven a wedge between some of the players too, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this has contributed to another campaign devoid of silverware, save for the UEFA Super Cup which was won back in August, but which isn’t considered a major trophy when all is said and done.
Six weeks or so before that win over Real Madrid, Antoine Griezmann finally announced his decision to stay at the club after a protracted courting from Barcelona, who had been led to believe they’d secured the Frenchman’s services post-World Cup.
Initial joy at retaining the striker quickly turned to jealousy in the dressing room, with Diego Costa the first to stick his head above the parapet and make it clear that he required parity with Griezmann in salary terms.
Atleti had given the Frenchman an uplift to $19.5m per season, and a guarantee that world class signings would be made in order that the club would challenge for the trophies the likes of Barca and Real routinely acquire. With Costa lagging behind on $9.5m, his ire was completely understandable.
Fast forward a few weeks, and with the new signings not really working out, the Rojiblancos were already playing catch-up in the league. Early exits from the Champions League and Copa del Rey meant that by mid-March, La Liga was their only challenge left – and Barcelona’s strangle hold on the domestic competition meant that this was never within reach.
Griezmann’s World Cup winning colleague, Lucas Hernandez, had evidently seen enough, so when Bayern Munich came calling for a second time, the defender needed little persuading once the Bavarians had paid his buyout clause of $89.2m. He’ll join them officially on July 1.
In the wake of that disappointing turn of events, club captain and stalwart, Diego Godin, has apparently agreed a deal to join Internazionale of Milan, whilst Manchester City are believed to be considering whether to meet Saul Niguez’s buyout clause.
It’s rumoured that the midfielder also believes that Simeone has taken the club as far as he can, and that, effectively, the only way is down from this point. Certainly, his omission from a recent Spain squad has been seen as one reason to consider a new challenge.
With Filipe Luis ready to move on too and Costa angling for a lucrative move to China, it’s really not too far from the truth to believe that Cholo has got to start all over again. He’s having his hand forced into a revolution rather than introducing a gradual team evolution.
All of a sudden, that ridiculous rise in salary for Griezmann isn’t looking like the best decision the club have ever made.