Anyone who takes even the smallest bit of interest in Spanish football will be watching Atletico Madrid with the same intensity as they did when Levante went on that fantastic run early last season and topped the league table. Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to be the big draws of La Liga, each one with their own internal whirlwind of stories that are still indirectly linked to the other club, but Atletico are really storming the gates with a good manager and settled team.
Maybe it’s a step too far to say this Atletico side are a settled team. After all, any other major club with a fair bit of money will be linked with the best striker on the continent. It’s something that no La Liga fan really wants to hear, unless of course you’re a supporter of Barcelona or Real Madrid; by other teams losing their finest players to foreign leagues, the big two in Spain remain kings well ahead of a group of pretenders.
Just in the same way that David Silva, Juan Mata, Javi Martinez and Santi Cazorla’s departure from Spain had an effect, Radamel Falcao’s potential departure would be a catastrophic blow to the league. It would be extremely unfair to suggest that Falcao alone has made Atletico relevant in the conversation of a big three or even a title contender this season, but he’s had such a big impact in Spain that his loss would only take the league many, many steps backwards.
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Falcao and Atletico’s charge on the league this season has given others hope. Villarreal, Valencia and Malaga have all failed, but Diego Simeone’s side are gifted with a weapon that is more than good enough to dismantle either Barcelona or city rivals Real.
Many should be eagerly awaiting Atletico’s clashes with Real, who they haven’t beaten in over a decade, and Barcelona, who were once demolished by an Atletico led by Sergio Aguero. Chelsea and PSG and anyone else who can put together around 60million euros will fancy their chances of landing Falcao, but no follower of Spanish football would want to see that. Should Atletico cause a shock this season—and may I raise the point that the last time they won eight of their opening nine games they won the league title—then it could well be the catalyst for the rise in status and hopefully financial growth of the league. It sends out a message that it can be done.
But what would happen should Falcao leave inside the next 12 months? We’ve already seen the effects of star players leaving their clubs, clubs who performed exceptionally well with those players in the past. Villarreal were relegated the season after Santi Cazorla’s departure; Javi Martinez has left behind a sinking ship at Bilbao, one which can’t dip into the transfer market to find a lifeline; Valencia are unlikely to have a combination of David Silva and David Villa again in the near future, and even Juan Mata’s move to Chelsea seemed to take another almighty swing against the shaky foundations of Spanish football.
At this stage and with anything possible, Atletico Madrid have a duty beyond their need for financial support to keep Falcao for the remainder of the season. The team are undefeated in the Europa League so far and Falcao hasn’t played a minute. Since the Colombian arrived from Porto last season they’ve won two trophies and should be favourites for the Europa League again. But they’re so comfortably ahead of Real Madrid in the league table that any hint of surrendering Falcao to another team now would just force them to revert back to their previous role of fifth or sixth place challengers—fourth if they’re lucky.
The hope for Atletico is that they are winning trophies, they are picking up results in the league even in games where they aren’t at their best, and Falcao wants to be among the very best in Europe. It almost seems a sure thing that they will finish in a Champions League spot this season, most likely with Malaga completing the four. But what if another trophy did arrive this season, and not necessarily the league title? Yes, Atletico have mountains of debt, but Falcao isn’t agitating for a move just yet.
But it takes two to help cripple La Liga: those who suggest that the league is just a two team league and those who give in and fulfil their roles as just making up the numbers. Borussia Dortmund’s popularity has skyrocketed since they won their first of two recent league titles, and they’re under no pressure to sell their best players. As mentioned, 60million euros would likely do the trick in capturing Falcao, but Atletico really have to resist any temptation until at least the league season is over.
La Liga needs something new, something to force Spanish football into life. It would be devastating if any hope of something spectacular from Falcao and this Atletico team were simply resigned to fairytale.