Will Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid Be the New Big Liga Rivalry?

Nick DorringtonSpecial to Bleacher ReportApril 24, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 02: Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with Gabi Fernandez (L) of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on March 2, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Barcelona's recent downturn, combined with their upcoming, now-delayed, transfer ban, have led some to ponder whether Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid will become the new big rivalry in La Liga.

The truth, however, is that that even if Atletico do win this year's Primera Division title, the odds are heavily stacked against them if they hope to become part of a long-lasting capital-city duopoly.

The primary issue is revenue. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the two most successful teams in the history of Spanish football and currently benefit from a television-rights agreement that is immoderately skewed in their favour.

In the current deal, Atletico receive €42 million a year from domestic television rights, while Barcelona and Real Madrid each take home €140 million. It is a huge disparity and one that makes it difficult for a team such as Atletico to maintain a regular challenge to the big two.

Atletico sneaked into the top-20 highest-earning clubs during the 2012-13 season in Deloitte's annual Football Money League report, but it is telling that only three clubs in the top 20 made less money from broadcast revenue (from domestic and European rights) during the season in question.

Change is on the horizon. As per El Mundo (h/t Sports Business Daily), from the 2016-17 season onwards, the distribution of television rights will move to a more equitable model. Atletico expect to receive in the region of €60 million under the new arrangement.

But television revenue is not the only area in which the finances of Barcelona and Real Madrid dwarf those of other La Liga sides. Atletico also trail the pair by some distance when it comes to commercial and matchday revenue.

ClubMatchday (€m)Broadcasting (€m)Commercial (€m)Total (€m)
Real Madrid119.0188.3211.6518.9
All data courtesy of Deloitte's Football Money League report 2012-13

Atletico intend to move into a remodelled, near-70,000 capacity stadium in the summer of 2016, while their strong performance in this year's Champions League should provide a boost to their international appeal. But with over €500 million of debt, as per ibnlive.in.com, to be paid off, they will be operating on a strict budget for at least the next four to five years.

The club have done fantastically well in the transfer market in recent years. The current squad features a number of free transfers (Adrian, Cristian Rodriguez, Miranda, Tiago Mendes) and loan signings (Jose Sosa, Thibaut Courtois), while David Villa, Diego Ribas, Juanfran and Gabi were each signed for €5 million or less.

Combined with the emergence of Diego Costa and Koke, these shrewd signings have allowed Atletico to stay competitive. It is, however, difficult to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat year after year and Atletico's financial restrictions are eventually likely to catch up with them.

It is also difficult to overstate just how good a job Diego Simeone has done since taking over as Atletico head coach in late 2011. He inherited a team that were 10th in the table and led them to fifth place and Europa League glory in his first half-season. In his first full campaign, they finished third in the league and won the Copa del Rey. And this year, Atletico are in the semi-finals of the Champions League and on the verge of securing their first league title since 1996.

Diego Simeone: The Difference Maker?
Diego Simeone: The Difference Maker?Andres Kudacki

"Simeone is a great coach and is always trying to take the best of every player," Atletico defender Miranda recently commented, as per Eurosport.com. "All we've achieved these last two years, we owe a big part to him."

In a recent column for AS, journalist Alfredo Relano wrote that Atletico "last longer and longer, like that Duracell bunny - powered by the battery that is Diego Simeone."

But would Atletico be capable of maintaining their current excellence without their source of power?

We might soon find out. As per beIN Sports, Simeone has been linked with a move to Monaco this summer, while, according to the Telegraph, he is one of the three prime candidates for the newly vacant position at Manchester United.

Atletico are enjoying a truly superb season and it would be an incredible achievement if they do manage to win the Primera Division title. It is, however, too soon to declare them perennial challengers to Barcelona and Real Madrid, let alone to suggest that they may topple Barca and turn La Liga into a Madrid-based two-horse race.

By resources alone, their par is third or fourth in the table. To consistently overachieve and compete for the title in a league in which there is such a financial imbalance between the big two and the rest is all but impossible.