Real Madrid not a great team, Atleti on the way up


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What now for both Madrid giants after their engrossing Champions League final?

An estimated 120,000 Madrilenos made the 700-kilometre journey to Lisbon. With just 17,000 tickets allocated to each finalist, the majority didn't stand a chance of getting in. The single road home from Lisbon offered a contrasting experience for fans.

It was light by the time most arrived back in Madrid this morning after seven hours on a coach. For Atletico fans, it was a horrid night with the road shared by the gloating Madrid support. They were two minutes from their greatest ever moment when Sergio Ramos equalised to push the game into extra time.

It was almost history repeating itself. In 1974, Atletico reached the final where they played Bayern Munich in Brussels. It was 0-0 after 90 minutes, then Luis Aragones scored in extra time. Atletico were about to be European champions until Bayern defender Georg Schwarzenbeck hit a speculative long-range shot in the 120th minute. It went in and forced a replay two days later, which Bayern won 4-0. Atletico had gone, just as they had in extra-time last night in Lisbon.

It was a cruel end to their incredible season. This is a club with the same revenue as Newcastle United over the last three years, a team who won the league against rivals with a wage budget four times their size, who came so close to the European Cup before their richer, more glamorous neighbours gatecrashed their party.

For Real Madrid, their celebrations have yet to finish. They don't wait for local council approval in Spain, but go straight to where they celebrate trophies: the Cibeles fountain in Madrid's case, as the players and an estimated 200,000 fans partied until dawn. The team didn't arrive back from Lisbon until 5.30am, when Sergio Ramos was given the job of crowning Cibeles with a Real Madrid scarf. Late Sunday meant more celebrations at regional government headquarters, before attending yet another at a packed Bernabeu.

After a summer break, it will be business as usual for Madrid from now on. Which is buying the best players on the planet, and without the same fears as other clubs about UEFA's Financial Fair Play. If Madrid have to live within their means, then they have bigger means than any other club in the world by virtue of being the only club with a revenue over half a billion Euros.

Madrid will boost their revenues in forthcoming years by expanding the towering Bernabeu beyond its 80,000 capacity, adding more executive seats. And enjoying the same boom in commercial deals and television revenues all the big clubs enjoy.

Demands will continue to be higher than for any other club, anywhere: an 11th European Cup or a league title in the same season. Anything less is considered failure and the manager, even one as talented as Carlo Ancelotti, is unlikely to last much longer. They're likely to stay at the top of domestic and European football, but can this current side be considered great? It has great players, but more trophies need to follow to achieve greatness.

What happens at Atletico will be more interesting. A selling club with the 20th biggest revenue in Europe should not, all things being equal, be winning the Primera Liga and reaching the Champions League final. Though he lost his head at the end of Saturday's match which saw 13 cards shown, Diego Simeone is a big part of that reason.

He wants to coach in Italy in the future at the clubs where he played - Inter and Lazio - before managing Argentina "when I'm 60". He'll stay at Atletico for now where he's rightly loved. Most of his players will stay too. They're loving life and who can blame them? But money will outstrip romance and several will leave.

Diego Costa will follow Radamel Falcao in chasing the money. Should he be criticised for that? What would you do if a rival employer offered to double or triple your wage? Yet there's something sad about Falcao leaving the passion of Atletico for Monaco and their 8,000 average crowds.

Atletico have several players who've been integral to their success this season who earn less than €50,000 a week. Full-back Filipe Luis, one of eight Atletico players (including all four defenders) who played more than 50 games for his club this season, is one of the best in his position in the world. Just as his compatriot Daniel Alves left Sevilla for a far bigger club and contract at Barcelona, so he might be tempted by a far bigger offer from a bigger club. Manchester United watched the 28-year-old several times this season.

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In October, I visited Atletico's training ground and interviewed most of their big-name players. When asked about the future, none of them said emphatically that theirs would be at the Calderon. They know they're at a selling club and have seen Aguero, De Gea, Torres, Falcao et al leave over the years.

They're not at the top of football's food chain, but Atletico's success moves them up and puts them under less pressure to sell. Their average crowds are up 4,000 on a year ago to 48,000, and the money from the Champions League run will help.

They'll move to their new stadium La Pieineta in two years. The huge structure, which would have been used for Madrid's Olympic Games had the bid been successful, continues to rise slowly in western Madrid. That will have a 67,500 capacity, 12,000 more than the ageing, largely uncovered Calderon. It will also have more executive seating.

A successful Atleti have the potential to fill their new home and push closer to Spain's big two. Valencia tried it but ran out of money in 2009 and their new Mestalla has sat half completed for five years like a Roman amphitheatre on the fringe of their city.

Atletico may have been troubled and unstable for much of the past three decades, but they've found stability and unity under Simeone and given their record of developing and signing their own players, the future looks bright.

It will be almost impossible to repeat this season, but they could move into the top 15 European clubs in terms of revenues, regularly excelling in European competition, because they source and produce better home grown talents than most of their continental rivals. It seems wrong to even write of revenues, yet money talks. As they know at Real Madrid.

Andy Mitten - @AndyMitten

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