Saturday, November 12, 2011

Atlético Madrid suicidal instinct

It has been three months since the official season started and we can already hear the war drums that come from the Manzanares river. Despite the polemic exits of "Kun" Agüero and Diego Forlán, the main references of the club during the last years, the club was able to generate illusion with the arrival of players like Arda Turan, Adrián, Diego and, especially, Radamel Falcao, new and fresh tools for the project of Gregorio Manzano. However, the negative run of results in La Liga have put the crowd of the Vicente Calderón in flames and the coach near the abyss. This is the way to describe this season, but it could have been the description of any season in the previous years at this point of the year.

Atlético Madrid is the third or fourth club of Spain in terms of fan base and TV revenues according several surveys. However, in the last decade, Atlético Madrid have only played once in the UEFA Champions League after their best season in this period of time, when they ended up in fourth position in the 2007/2008 season. A very poor record. Even though there was a time when Atlético Madrid could fight face to face with Real Madrid and Barcelona, perhaps it is too much to ask for this kind of battle nowadays, but it is definitely realistic to ask for much more and the club fails in the comparison with direct rivals, like Valencia, Sevilla or even Villarreal.

Quique Flores' UEFA Cup title

In this comparison there is a clear difference between Atlético Madrid and the clubs we just mentioned. The stability of the club. The question that arises is: is Atlético Madrid an unstable club because of the results or are the results which create this lack of stability? Since Atlético Madrid returned to Primera División in the year 2002, the club had 10 coaches. Ironically, when Atlético Madrid decided to keep their bet on a discussed Javier Aguirre for a second season, the club reached their so wished Champions League spot. In the same period of time, and not counting eventual home coaches who acted as bridge between the real directors of the club, Valencia had five coaches (Benítez, Ranieri, Quique Flores, Koeman and Emery), Sevilla the same amount (Caparrós, Juande Ramos, Manolo Jiménez, Manzano and Marcelino), while Villarreal only had four (Benito Floro, Pellegrini, Valverde and Garrido). It is also remarkable that some of these coaches left these club once their contract expired, looking for higher goals, and not as a consequence of bad results.

Basically, the main difference between these clubs and Atlético Madrid has been their higher dose of patience when it came to face the bad moments. This facts expose the management of the club, the lack of a clear direction. Atlético Madrid has never made a real bet for a project and the only time they did, it actually give them goods, although the club did not learn this lesson. Even Quique Flores, the coach who took the club to the UEFA Cup victory and a Copa final, did not receive the renewal offer, despite the support of the crowd. His evident bad relationships with one of the icons of the club, Diego Forlán, and the bad results of the past season damaged his relationships with the Board. The reality was that Quique Flores had an average squad with a star in decline, like Diego Forlán himself, and another one thinking in higher goals, like "Kun" Agüero.

Gregorio Manzano

This year the bet was Gregorio Manzano, a coach who had already managed the team in the 2003-2004 season, with not so good results, in what it was a surprising decision. Gregorio Manzano is a coach with a good record with humble teams, like Rayo Vallecano or Mallorca, but also with more or less questionable results in big projects like Atlético's and Sevilla's (in this case, not so questionable though). In one way or another, one of the coaches with more consistent results in La Liga in the last decade. Atlético Madrid refreshed the squad, with the addition of new and important names who were given the responsibility to make the fans forget their recent idols.

And the initial results were a reason to feel optimistic. Despite the initial draw at home against Osasuna and the defeat in Valencia, the team showed a relatively good image and the following beatings on Racing and Sporting, with a sublime Falcao, made people feel optimistic about the future. It was not so long ago when Atlético visited the Camp Nou convinced about their possibilities. The 5-0 beating, a result that far from good could have been seen as an accident (it is not that Pep Guardiola's Barcelona does not use to mistreat their rivals in their stadium in the last years, independently of their size), but it took Atlético out of track. Since that horrible night, Atlético has only won one Liga game, at home against Zaragoza, and another one in the Europa League, against Udinese. The 4-0 on Udinese could have been a reason to rebuild, but this credit got destroyed with the poor image shown against Getafe, throwing the match to the garbage, wasting a 0-1 lead and a 2-2 draw when Getafe had been playing with 10 men since the minute 27 of the match. Definitely, this game marked Atletico's lowest point this season.

Falcao vs Getafe

Atlético did not play in the Calderón since the horror night of Getafe, but it is easy to predict what is going to happen soon against Levante . A couple of weekends ago, in the last Liga match at home against Zaragoza, despite the convincing and clear victory, the chants of the crowd were clear: "Manzano, vete ya" -Manzano go away- and "Luis Aragonés, Luis Aragonés". It was it, that point of the season when the Calderón explodes against the team and the coach, making the home experience a hell for a team that already does not have self-esteem. In these situations, the owners of the club, the strange duo Miguel Ángel Gil-Marín and Enrique Cerezo, start to get nervous and it is also usual the chants against them. When the owners get nervous, they panic and it is usual to see them cutting the heads of the coaches to save theirs, in a clear short-time thinking, throwing projects to the garbage with incredible ease.

In the next couple of weeks, Atlético will receive Levante at home and will visit Real Madrid in the derby of the city. Preciselly, with the derby in sight, the ground under Manzano's feet does not seem very solid. With a rising Real Madrid, showing their best moments of football since José Mourinho is the manager, and the poor record of Atlético Madrid in the recent derbies, the possibility of a humiliating defeat is likely and this idea that roams in all the Atlético fans is particularly painful. Another way to see it is that it is a good chance to change the trend of the season, but, at this point, it does not seem the most likely scenario and it is not a minority who believe that Manzano will not have the Christmas dinner in the Calderón.

Cerezo and the long shadow of Luis Aragonés

With the fans finishing their patience and the lack of power of a scared board, the club is in the verge to throw the season to the garbage to start with the improvisations... once more. Patience and football do not mix well very often, especially in Spain, but in the case of Atlético Madrid, patience is the only strategy that has never been used. Improvisations, constant changes, schizophrenia. Atlético Madrid is about to commit suicide once more.

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