There were many heroes when Atlético Madrid won LaLiga in 2013/14. In addition to Diego Costa to David Villa to Diego Godín to — whisper it — Thibaut Courtois, there was also Arda Turan and the boot-flinging midfielder harvested a cult following. Ardaturanismo was born at that moment. It was a way of being. A way of life. A way of enjoying football. It was quite weird.
Now it’s time for the next cult you’ve never previously heard about. It’s time for Kalinićismo.
With Costa having had an operation on his foot last week, he is expected to miss around three months of action and this will see Nikola Kalinić’s playing time dramatically increase. Since Costa’s surgery was announced, Kalinić has played two matches and has scored two goals — his first ones for the club — proving that he can be a decent replacement for the Spain international.
While some have criticised Kalinić for his return of just two goals across 542 minutes and 12 appearances, it’s worth pointing out that he has started just six times. The 30-year-old may have been racking up significant minutes, but most of these have been 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there as a substitute — not exactly the ideal situations for proving oneself.
Now that he has been given starts and he has been able to get a feel for a game from the first whistle, the Croatian has proven more valuable and has improved his minutes per goal ratio to 271, better than Costa’s 312 minutes per goal. He has shown that he can finish, even doing so with his belly against Alavés, and this will have delighted Diego Simeone further, even though the coach was already pleased with the striker’s efforts.
“[Kalinić] has been working well since the start,” the coach said after Saturday’s 3-0 win. “He’s making the most of the opportunities he is getting and, as well as being able to score, he is doing a lot for us off the ball when he has his back to goal.”
This mix of hard work, sacrifice and occasional moments of quality really does sound very Atleti-esque and the fact that the ex-Milan striker arrived as something of an unknown brings to memory many Arda Turan comparisons. Turan joined Atlético from Galatasaray in 2011 and was better known for his exploits with the national team, and for many Spanish football fans it’s a similar situation with Kalinić.
In fact, his international reputation isn’t exactly the best after he left his country’s World Cup squad following a row over a substitution, but all reports from inside the colchonero camp this season have been positive. The sense is that Kalinić is a polite, hard-working player who simply had one very ill-advised tantrum in Russia.
There are so many unknowns with Kalinić, and the striker boasts more surprises than your average advent calendar. But one thing I am confident about is that Atlético fans will soon grow to love him. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Kalinićismo becomes a thing. This might be the trendiest cult of 2019.