If you listen carefully at the Vicente Calderon this Saturday you may hear an audible exhalation of relief from one Quique Sanchez Flores. The Atletico Madrid manager witnessed Diego Forlan effectively save his team’s season on Wednesday as he craftily poached a 116th minute winner against Fulham to clinch the first European title in 48 years for Los Rojiblancos.
Now attention turns to the final week in La Liga and the Copa del Rey final as Atletico seek to conjure a season to remember from the embers of what looked to be a failure of a campaign. For the fans of a team known as “The Sufferers” a season such as this is the norm. Unflattering league form has left them marooned in 9th and four points behind their nearest rivals Athletic Bilbao with a game to play. They welcome a resurgent Getafe side this weekend who, having recorded their record points total for a season in the top league, will be keen to cement a Europa league spot. A cup double is by no means a certainty either; their opponents in the final, Sevilla, impressively ended a supposedly impervious Barcelona side’s run in the competition as early as the fifth round.
If they do manage to complete a late season renaissance will it only serve to paper over the cracks at a proud sporting institution? Atletico have watched for years as their city rivals have perpetuated their dominance at the elite level of European football. Even with victory in Hamburg a bleak future is not inconceivable for the team that for 16 years were simply an extension of Jesus Gil’s infamous persona. Sergio Aguero will surely use the World Cup as a platform to reinforce the opinion of several top European clubs that he will add a dynamism to their forward line and Diego Forlan’s 18 goal haul in this year’s Primera division, which has only been bettered by players from the top three clubs, seems set to convince suitors that his poor record in England was a blip.
Should their inauspicious league position lead their most important players to the view that now is the time to jump ship a difficult next couple of years could be in store. How galling it would be for such a loyal and fervent set of supporters to see another group of top players head for the exit and the top table of Europe. Let’s hope that the club who fostered the talent of Raul, idolised the craft of Fernando Torres and nurtured Kun Aguero do not drift inexorably toward mediocrity.
Written By Jake Farrell