(Read Part I here.)
Atlético Madrid are losing something by leaving Estadio Vicente Calderón, even as they stand to gain much from a move to the Wanda Metropolitano.
From a logistical standpoint, the move makes perfect sense. Under Diego Simeone’s guidance, Atlético have become one of Europe’s biggest clubs. In the Wanda, they’ll have a stadium that fits their ambition (and their debts). They will sell more season ticket packages than they ever did at the Calderón. A Stadium Called Wanda may even host the Champions League Final in 2019.
And make no mistake — it’s time. The club needs to move, and Atlético becoming a continental power is the out that the club’s hierarchy needed after three decades of relocation talk. Atleti will make more money, which will give them a more realistic shot of competing with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Beyond that, the club needs money to pay off its various loans. Though Atleti aren’t a global brand on level of those Spanish super clubs, Bayern Munich or Manchester United, a state-of-the-art stadium will boost the club’s profile.
The Wanda Metropolitano will seat close to 70,000. Camp Nou seats nearly 100,000, the Santiago Bernabeú nearly 82,000. Atleti have a deal with Philips to light up the arena in red and white. By all accounts, it will be a marvel of modern architecture and technology. Though the futures of Simeone and Antoine Griezmann remain uncertain - and the demolition of the Calderon feels like the end of an era in that regard, too - club officials will sell the opening of the Wanda as a great leap forward. New crest, new stadium, new markets, new permanent place among Europe’s elite.
However, the Calderón should not - and will not - be forgotten. The home field advantage created by the Calderón was immense. The fans were right on top of the field, sardines packed into a small space. It was loud. So loud. The team fed off the fans’ energy, all bottled up in a condensed area, almost like Cameron Indoor Stadium. At the Calderón, even in the nosebleeds - as far as nosebleeds exist at the Calderón - you could feel the electricity rising up from the pitch, traveling around the lower bowl and back.
The Wanda Metropolitano, by contrast, will be cavernous. Though the club will attempt to recreate the Calderón’s atmosphere, it may not be the same. The new stadium will be located near the airport, a lengthy drive or metro ride from the heart of the city. Atlético are removing themselves from the center of town. Before, people could easily walk or take the metro to the Calderón. Now, many will take cars to the Wanda. Traffic will be a nightmare. That 15-minute walk to the Calderón from the metro - where the anticipation gave you goosebumps, where the fans built momentum as they closed in on the stadium - will be no longer. Next year, Real Madrid’s Bernabéu and even Rayo Vallecano’s Estadio de Vallecas will be more accessible to people who actually live in the city.
Moreover, the Calderón, the team and the fanbase were made for each other. As former manager Raddy Antic said, “(Atlético de Madrid) is a club that knows what it is to suffer.” The Calderón is the church for those sufferers, the home for catharsis.
In American sports leagues, there are teams that reflect the ethos of their city. The Grit n’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies come to mind. Recently, the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators and their raucous, honky-tonk fans have entered the fray. In south Madrid, the team reflects their stadium, which reflects their fans. Like Atlético’s most famous squads, the Calderón isn’t fancy. It’s made of ramshackle bricks, weathered from age, certainly not pretty. But it does its job. It’s a Gabi tackle, a Diego Godín bloody nose, Diego Costa bundling the ball over the goal line through sheer force of will.
That said, here’s what the Calderón is not: it’s not Griezmann exchanging a jaunty one-two with his strike partner before curling a missile past the opponent’s keeper. It’s not Yannick Carrasco leaving a PSV defender on his arse after an audacious bit of skill. It’s definitely not top transfer target Alexandre Lacazette firing a thunderbolt in off the crossbar and pausing for a second - Eric Cantona-style - in awe of his own greatness.
Contemporary Atlético are a more technical squad. They are a more skillful, more offensive team. Holdovers from the 2013-2014 LaLiga-winning squad are certainly built in the image of the Calderón. I read a description of Juanfran that described him as “rugged, insistent, and with more than a touch of genuine class,” and those same words could easily apply to Gabi, Godín or even Fernando Torres. However, Atleti’s young guns are built to play a more modern game. I know that Atleti always seem to say that they want to play a more offensive style before reverting to what they know. But as Atleti’s old guard begin to age, perhaps a new, flashy stadium will better house the brilliance of Saúl Ñíguez, the elusiveness of Carrasco, the electricity of Ángel Correa, the dime-ball crosses favored by Šime Vrsaljko.
So the Wanda Metropolitano makes sense. As Rory Smith wrote in his New York Times eulogy of the Calderón, “sentiment cannot stand in the way of progress.” But while we still can, we should appreciate the most recent era of Atlético Madrid. The era that saw a club legend return home and lead the team to never-before-seen heights. The era that saw typical, gut-wrenching, this-could-only-happen-to-Atleti suffering at the hands of our most bitter rival. The era that just had to conclude with a Pyrrhic victory in the pouring rain against that same rival and a double from an over-the-hill club legend still known as El Niño.
The era that was housed and symbolized by a tumbledown collection of bricks located on the Río Manzanares on Melancholy Walk in Madrid.