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Choosing to support Atlético de Madrid involves a very serious commitment and acceptance of suffering through every minute of every match of every season. With that in mind, currently Atlético Madrid is in their best and most successful period in decades, but it is certainly not without heartbreak. That heartbreak is only accentuated by the presence of a particular city rival, who just so happens to be the biggest club in the world, and is often the perpetrators of the heartbreak.
What makes Atleti special is not the trophy cabinet, though not immodest, but the feeling and attitude that is promoted not only by the fans, but also the current management, and club hierarchy. Diego Simeone knows this feeling very well, having been an Atleti player himself for Atleti on two separate occasions, 1994-97, and 2003-2005. Though he missed out on the club's disastrous relegation at the turn of the millennium, he was apart of the first Atleti squad to compete in the rebranded UEFA Champions League in 1996-97. The season prior he won a league and cup double with Atleti, the last league title the club would win until Simeone became manager.
Atlético Madrid also has a fantastic talent for recruiting extraordinarily charismatic and influential players, particularly strikers. Since 2001 (though there are more from prior years) Atleti have deployed Fernando Torres, Sergio Agüero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa, David Villa and Antoine Griezmann among numerous others up front. All of these players have a taste for the spectacular when it comes to goals, and have all had great goal scoring success with Atleti. Many of them have also wished for a return to the Vincente Calderón upon leaving.
Then, there is of course, the stadium, for which this blog is named. Vincente Calderón was president of Atlético Madrid for two decades and helped maintain the clubs financial solvency, as well as on the pitch success. The stadium, which is named in his honor, was opened in 1966 and is located next to the Manzanares River, and within a working class neighborhood, which has led to the association between the working class and Atleti, quite the opposite of those noisy neighbors.
Next year, Atleti will no longer play at the Vincente Calderón, and move to a higher-class region of Madrid, which is closer in terms of distance to the Santiago Bernabeu than the Vincente Calderón. What that will mean for the club's identity is yet unknown, but the supporters of Atleti have certainly not been shy in their opposition to the decisions made as Atleti move the Wanda Metropolitano.
Though Diego Simeone has had great success in numerous competitions in recent years, what will be remembered as his greatest achievement will always be the 2013-14 La Liga title. It was the first title win by a club not named Real Madrid or Barcelona since Valencia in 2003-04. That title was certainly no fluke, featuring Diego Simeone's trademark defensive solidity, and bags of goals, particularly from Diego Costa, who has been without doubt one of Europe's best hit men in recent seasons, both for Atleti and Chelsea.
However, the title win on the last match of the season in Barcelona's Camp Nou in 2014 was not without heartbreak, as nothing is with Atleti. Diego Costa and Arda Turan were injured, which significantly reduced Atleti's chances to win the Champions League that season, though Costa played in the final, he lasted less than ten minutes s the horse placenta treatment did not solve his hamstring issues. Atleti lost that final in heartbreaking fashion, as they did again two years later, again to Real Madrid.
Atlético Madrid cannot reasonably expect to be the best club in Europe winning the Champions League, or the best in Spain because of other clubs' ability to financially out-gun them, but what is expected is that they play the role of underdog and make it interesting. The Atleti team as currently constructed is coming to the end of its cycle in a few positions, with Gabi, Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Diego Godín, Tiago and Fernando Torres all on the wrong side of 30, Atleti will have to bring in a new generation. But as ever, that transition has already begun, with Saúl Ñiguez, Koke, Thomas Partey and Lucas and Theo Hernandez have all been or will be integrated into the first team in recent seasons.
And that is what is so special about Atleti, many of the players have great loyalty to the club, as do former players. Koke, for example, who this week signed a seven year contract and announced his intention to retire a Colchonero, comes from a family of Atleti supporters, and could potentially be a one-club man. Other important players for Atleti like Gabi and Filipe Luis, have both left the club at different times, but found their way back, which shows how much the club means to the players as well as the fans.
Most of all, the Atleti fans are without question some of the best in Europe. The atmosphere created for Champions League matches and regular Liga matches alike are enough to give goose bumps. They do not get on the back of the players, instead seeing the benefit in providing a solid foundation for the players to build on, and fall back on if the match is not going their way.
With a renewed commitment from Simeone, and several key first team players still under long term contracts, Atleti have a lot to look forward to, though they will always know that the good times will be accompanied with some since of disappointment or heartbreak.