The Champion League final is to be contested by two teams not just from the same country but from the same city, Madrid.
Atletico Madrid have recently been crowned La Liga champions thus claiming their 10th league title. But their title before this one was in the 1995/96 season when their current coach was still playing for the side. On the other hand, for Real Madrid, despite having won more domestic championships, more than anything they yearn for the la decima – the dream of a record 10th European Cup title.
In his book, El Clasico Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Football’s Rivalry, Richard Fitzpatrick writes: “Real Madrid’s identity is tied up with its pursuit of a jug-eared cup. The Champions League is its grand obsession.”
He continues: “Fans talk about ‘la decima’, the tenth European Cup that awaits the club at some indeterminate date, in reverential tones. It is a Holy Grail.”
This observation is also confirmed by Steve McManaman who spent four years as a player with Real Madrid. In the book, El Marca, which he co-authored with Sarah Edworthy, McManaman intimates: “The European Cup is Real’s great obsession. Their record nine victories define the club.”
Thus it has been the benchmark for Real Madrid since the 1950s. They last won it in 2002. However, since then they have been coming short in Europe’s elite competition.
As for the fortunes of Atletico, considered Spain’s “Third Team”, after Real Madrid and Barcelona, they are perhaps affirmation that money is not everything and may not always guarantee success in the field of play.
Formed in 1903 by three Basque students who were studying in Madrid, the club’s original colours were blue and white stripes, but in 1911 the colours were changed to red and white.
Having previously been known as Athletic Club de Madrid and Atletico Aviacion (because of the club’s merger with the Spanish Air Force), in the aftermath of World War II the club dropped the military association in its name and finally settled for the current name of Atletico Madrid in 1947. They stand in third place in the all-time Spanish league, with 10 league titles and nine cups to their name.
Phil Ball remarks: “Nevertheless, they always seem somehow marginalised, kept at arm’s length from the mainstream, out on the polluted banks of the Manzanares river by the gas works.”
Atletico plays its home games at the Vicente Calderon Stadium which is situated close to the Mahou brewery.
Atletico Madrid deserves more than a passing mention in the history of Spanish football. Not only do they lie third in the all-time Spanish league table, but they won more league titles than their illustrious neighbours during the first 25 years of the competition.
Though always a step or two behind Real Madrid in the pecking order, the los Colchoneros (mattress-makers) is a club that is said to have never harboured the kind of social pretensions and glamour favoured by their more illustrious neighbours, hence being regarded generally as “the poor neighbour”.
Athlone-born Quinton Fortune was at some stage, earlier in his career, on the books of Atletico Madrid.
Coached by the irrepressible Argentinian Diego Simeone (David Beckham’s nemesis at the 1998 World Cup in France) – who played for the club during the 1990s when the side last won the domestic championship – the club sealed its fate to face Madrid (los Merengues or los Blancos/The Whites) in the Champions League in Lisbon following the dispatching of another rich outfit, Chelsea, in the semi-finals.
Atletico is a team that Simeone has assembled with the utmost shrewdness and economy.
It plays with a combination of gusto, skill and ruggedness that used to define Simeone’s own approach to the game as a midfield enforcer during his playing days, both for the club and for Argentina.
This goes some way to explaining why not much is said about a Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid derby. Certainly rivalry (morbo) exists between the two clubs, but not to the same intensity as that between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Phil Ball notes: “The Real-Madrid morbo seems to inhabit a different planet. It would also appear as if Real Madrid prefer not to get too deeply involved in any extra morbo with their poorer neighbours, partly out of saving it all for Barca and partly out of indifference.” It was not listed among the world’s greatest derbies in a feature of the July 2008 World Soccer Magazine that profiled football’s most important club rivalries.
This time around, with both clubs vying for Europe’s ultimate club honours, it is possible that this could provide the spark for a great club spectacle either way.
As things stand, it is difficult to say which of the two has the edge, as both are endowed with quality players, though Real boasts the biggest names in club football and are, admittedly, the aristocrats of European football.
Therefore it remains to be seen which club wants it the most. Sentiment points to a los Merengues victory, yet, sentiment aside, perhaps it is time for the los Colcheneros to reach and conquer the promised land of European club competition’s topmost prize… just as their overbearing regal neighbours are seeking that elusive la decima.
lMilile Kraba is a former amateur footballer - Cape Argus