In an explosive statement published to the club’s official website on Friday, Atlético Madrid CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín sharply criticized César Soto Grado’s refereeing crew from Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal — as well as the perceived preferential treatment from which opponents Real Madrid have benefitted.
“I have the utmost respect for the refereeing team, and I am convinced that (Soto Grado’s) intention is always the best,” Gil Marín said. “But anyone who observes this from the outside can see that the same thing has almost always happened for decades. Unfortunately, it no longer surprises anyone, it is not news. It’s very obvious, and you just have to remember the history.”
Gil’s statement echoes coach Diego Simeone’s frustration from the night before regarding Soto Grado’s decision not to show Real Madrid’s Dani Ceballos a second yellow card. With around 20 minutes to go in normal time, Ceballos — who had just been booked — cut down Thomas Lemar with a reckless challenge just outside the Madrid penalty area. VAR did not intervene and Soto Grado only awarded Atlético a free kick; Los Blancos equalized less than 10 minutes later and went on to win the match 3-1 in extra time, taking full advantage of a red card shown to Stefan Savić in the 99th minute.
“Yesterday’s second yellow card was obvious, unquestionable, and in accordance with the regulations,” Gil said. “But with the score 0-1, in the 71st minute, playing a knockout tie for a place in the Cup semifinals in their own stadium, leaving Real Madrid with 10 players is a big deal.”
Miguel Ángel Gil: "Con 0-1, en el minuto 71, jugándose el pase para semifinales de Copa en su propio estadio, dejar al Real Madrid con 10 jugadores son palabras mayores"— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) January 27, 2023
Gil — who rarely speaks publicly but has taken on more of a front-facing role over the past several months — describes a pressure-cooker environment around Real Madrid that contributes not only to its status as a major power broker in Spanish football, but also produces what the Atleti CEO (and others) believe is a culture of intimidation that leads to coordinated media campaigns against Madrid’s rivals or irritants.
That process ultimately lends itself to on-field decisions that appear to favor the reigning Spanish and European champions.
“There is a very strong environment around Madrid as a club, with many interests invested in it,” he said. “They create such pressure that it is normal for it to affect the people who must make decisions. (These people) are aware of what awaits them if they make a mistake that harms (Madrid) ... Campaigns against those they consider harmful are common.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Gil goes on to blame the “system” built on favoritism toward Real Madrid, as well as fear of upsetting the Santiago Bernabéu hierarchy, for the refereeing decisions that went against Atlético on Thursday.
“We have gotten used to the system. We read pages and pages in the press, (listen to) hours of radio and (watch) television in the days leading up to a derby, talking about the need to protect a certain player from a specific team,” the statement read. “Honestly, I think that the players who weren’t protected last night were (Antoine) Griezmann or (Álvaro) Morata, for example, who was kicked repeatedly, but that’s the system.”
Though Gil spends much of the statement condemning outside influences, he wraps up by taking responsibility for Atlético’s wretched season and issuing a light rallying cry for the second half of LaLiga. Atleti visit Osasuna on Sunday and host Getafe in two weeks’ time, with only domestic league fixtures remaining on the schedule.
“Whoever really knows the DNA of Atlético de Madrid knows that we don’t like to make excuses ... We are responsible for where the team is, for not having made it past the group stage of the Champions League and for being 7 points behind third place in LaLiga. And it’s up to us to take advantage of these 20 league games to finish the season as high as possible,” Gil said. “We are not making excuses, but we are aware of how the system works.”