Are Atletico Madrid Long-Term Liga Title Contenders?

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Associated Press

When Gregorio Manzano left Atletico Madrid, the club had just lost 2-0 at home to Real Betis and had been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by third-tier side Albacete, via Fox Sports Asia.

Sitting 10th in the Primera Division, Manzano appeared void of ideas, and there was no money from the board to strengthen.

The former Mallorca manager failed to inspire and became the 17th appointment to leave the Vicente Calderon since Radomir Antic won the league in 1996.

Only Luis Aragones, Javier Aguirre and "Quique" Sanchez Flores lasted longer than a year. Espanyol's current boss, Aguirre, served the longest tenure with 31 months.

Argentine Diego Simeone has 26 months under his belt, in which time he has won three trophies. The transformation has been remarkable.

This manager has built a side in his own personality, as they fight for every ball and display a positive attitude.

The first concern was to make the team hard to beat. Simeone's new side kept six consecutive clean sheets in his opening league matches, the single defeat in 10 was to Barcelona, via Six months later, Atleti were Europa League champions for the second time in three years.

In his full debut season, Atletico were fast on the counter-attack and clinical in front of goal. They were happy to concede possession as they held a fantastic shape, and when they intercepted, they were able to strike at lightning speed. Up until December, they kept in touch with Barcelona, who incredibly had only dropped two points.

The title pursuit faded, but the third-place finish was their highest since they last won the title, and they overcame their derby mental block by beating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey final.

This year they have evolved further and are still level with Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table. They have learned to keep the ball better, and they are more creative against teams that sit deep and deny them space.

As they are able to grow every campaign, the natural assumption is that they will continue to improve and mount title challenge after title challenge, but unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen.

The main concern is keeping hold of Simeone. The coach is meticulous in his work, and it's difficult to envisage one of his teams not being competitive. We are entering unknown territory, though, as he previously has not held down a managerial position longer than 18 months.

There could come a time when the players stop responding to his methods. As an intense disciplinarian, some may grow tired of it all—especially if they are unable to topple Barcelona and Real Madrid in winning the Primera Division.

Should they lose Simeone, then few managers will be able to get the best out of this squad in the same manner and under the constraints that exist.

The main issue with Atletico Madrid competing for the league every year is the enormous debt upon the club, as explained by financial expert Swiss Ramble. They are one of the top teams in Europe, but they don't have the funds to improve on what they have got or provide adequate replacements.

Atletico need to sell their best players every summer. If they were to lose Diego Costa or Koke, it wouldn't necessarily mean the start of a demise, but plenty of teams have lost their way when key personnel depart.

They have a number of good youngsters coming through the academy, and like the case of David Villa, they are capable of some smart transfer moves on a limited budget.

All this suggests that their future hangs in the balance, and Diego Simeone is the glue that holds it altogether. Unless their circumstances change, we should enjoy the next year or so—while it lasts.

If you are poorly run at the top, it eventually catches up with you, and the fall can often be catastrophic.


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