Atlético Madrid’s president has likened their La Liga title win in 2014 to Leicester becoming Premier League champions as thesides prepare to meet in the Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday.
Atlético face Real Madrid on Saturday trailing Zinédine Zidane’s side by 10 points and having played a game more as they have struggled to maintain the pace set by the big two. That has not been the case in recent seasons as Diego Simeone’s side have been consistent challengers at home and in Europe, although defeats in the Champions League finals to Real in 2014 and 2016 mean the only major trophies they have to show for it is the 2011 Europa League win and the surprise title under the Argentinian in his second full season at the Vicente Calderón.
That was achieved despite having only a fifth of the budget of Real and Barcelona, a fact Atlético’s president, Enrique Cerezo, believes has often been forgotten given their progress in recent seasons. “It was almost impossible to break the cycle of Real and Barça because they each had the best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who were at their peak,” he told Reuters.
“Players in teams with smaller budgets can still be great players and we managed to build a good squad, we had a magnificent coach, we started the season well and we kept up the pace. The difference between teams’ budgets is something to remember, but in the end it doesn’t have to be definitive. It was the same for Leicester, they were competing with teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United so them winning the Premier League was a huge achievement.”
Leicester go into the first leg at the Calderón having won six games in a row since Craig Shakespeare replaced the sacked Claudio Ranieri. Simeone, who cut his managerial teeth in his homeland before a short but successful spell at the Italian side Catania, has been linked with a move from the club he served as a player between 2003 and 2005. Internazionale are reported to be keen to bring him to the San Siro.
Cerezo insisted that despite reducing the length of his contract from 2020 to 2018, the 46-year-old is happy to stay. “He came here when the team was in a very difficult situation and changed everything and has kept us at the top for five years,” he said.
“Simeone has demonstrated he is a magnificent coach, he is a magnificent Atlético fan. He has a great life here in Madrid, he’s just had a baby girl, he and his wife are very happy here. Everyone from the fans to the president to the board supports him, what more could he ask for?”
Simeone has a remarkable La Liga record against Real at the Bernabéu having only lost once – a 4-1 defeat in his first game in December 2012 – and winning the past three. Cerezo hopes the lure of moving to their new 67,000 capacity stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, next season may persuade him and players such as Antoine Griezmann – whose adviser revealed the France striker has a release clause of £86m (€100m) – to remain where they are.
“We have been in the Calderón for 50 magnificent years, we have won many trophies here, the best players in the world have passed through here but everything has to change at some point and that time has come,” he said. “The best players will always end up playing where they want but now fortunately we have players who want to play at Atlético. We are doing well in the Champions League, we finish high in the league every season, we will have a magnificent stadium and we have a brilliant fan base who love all the players. We have everything a player could want.”