Atletico Madrid's 10 Greatest Players of the 21st Century: Nos. 10-6

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistNovember 14, 2016

Radamel Falcao, Koke and Thibaut Courtois.
Radamel Falcao, Koke and Thibaut Courtois.JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

Atletico Madrid have had some wonderful players in the 21st century, but who have been the best?

We'll take a look at the top 10 this week, starting here and concluding with the top five on Wednesday.

         

10. Thibaut Courtois

Thibaut Courtois was on loan at Atletico for three successive seasons.
Thibaut Courtois was on loan at Atletico for three successive seasons.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The first member of our top 10 was never actually owned by Atletico.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois signed for Chelsea from Genk in 2011, but the trouble was that the Premier League club had the excellent Petr Cech in their ranks, and so the Belgian needed to go elsewhere to play his football.

He could have gone on loan elsewhere in England or back to Genk to continue his development, but after Atletico sold David De Gea to Manchester United they snapped up the player, who had only just turned 19. Despite his tender age, they had already seen enough in him to make him their No. 1.

And so began three seasons of continued excellence in the Atletico goal.

Courtois missed only one league game in each of his three campaigns with the club, and he enjoyed successes at the end of each of those seasons—winning the UEFA Europa League in his first season, the Copa del Rey in his second and the Liga title in his third.

         

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9. Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao won the Copa del Rey in 2013.
Radamel Falcao won the Copa del Rey in 2013.DANI POZO/Getty Images

Radamel Falcao was only an Atletico player for two seasons, but they were arguably the best two years of his career.

He arrived at the club in the summer of 2011 having guided FC Porto to Europa League glory through the sheer weight of his goals, and he immediately did exactly the same for Atletico who—having appointed Diego Simeone as manager midway through the campaign—won the tournament for a second time in three years.

Falcao scored twice in the final against Athletic Club Bilbao, and he finished his first campaign at the club with 36 goals in all competitions.

He followed that up with a hat-trick as Atletico beat Chelsea to win the UEFA Super Cup at the beginning of 2012/13, a season which would see him score 34 goals as his side clinched the Copa del Rey by beating rivals Real Madrid in the final.

The Colombian didn’t score, but that was almost an anomaly in an Atletico career which featured 70 goals in 91 appearances.

          

8. Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann is the current star of the Atletico team.
Antoine Griezmann is the current star of the Atletico team.Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

The current star man in the Atletico ranks seems destined to rise up this list in seasons to come, and if he can inspire either a Liga or UEFA Champions League title in this campaign, that rise might well be a fast one.

The Frenchman—who won the Golden Boot and was voted the best player as his nation reached the final of Euro 2016—has scored 50 Liga goals for Atletico to date, managing 22 strikes in each of his two full seasons at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

The 25-year-old looks set to better that number in 2016/17, but it isn’t just his goals which mark him out as a special player.

Griezmann, who came through the ranks at Real Sociedad before joining the then-champions Atletico in the summer of 2014, brings all-around quality and a fantastic balance to any team. He has an ability to shoot from distance and run in behind defences in equal measure.

His best days surely lie ahead of him, and he looks set to be a key figure in the world gameand in Atletico’s historyin the years to come.

          

7. Koke

Koke is a complete midfield player.
Koke is a complete midfield player.Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Another of the current Atletico stars, midfielder Koke has become one of the cornerstones of the team and one of the first names on the teamsheet under Simeone.

He combines the key traits of hard work, grace and ability on the ball, and has become almost the archetypal player for Simeone, with his constant driving from midfield designed to get his team on the front foot.

A Madrid boy who joined the club’s youth system when he was just eight years old, Koke is seen as one of Atleti's own, and as such he is hugely revered by the club’s supporters.

He made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2009, and after being gradually introduced into the team in the 2009/10 season, he has been a part of the club’s furniture virtually ever since.

It was the arrival of Simeone midway through the 2011/12 season which really set him on the path to an increased importance within the team; and by the following campaign—despite his still tender age—he was taking on the mantle of a dependable midfielder.

A player who Simeone clearly trusts, he was in the team that won the Copa del Rey in 2012/13, before surely the best season of his career when he played a huge 58 games in all competitions and scored seven goals—a career high—as Atletico won the 2013/14 Liga title and reached the UEFA Champions League final.

Now a regular in the Spain squad, Koke is one of the finest central midfielders in the game today and has become an Atletico icon.

           

6. Diego Forlan

Diego Forlan was La Liga's top scorer in 2008/09.
Diego Forlan was La Liga's top scorer in 2008/09.PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/Getty Images

Goals at Villarreal had allowed Diego Forlan to forget about a disappointing spell at Manchester United earlier in his career, and the Uruguayan would blossom after joining Atletico in 2007.

Effectively replacing Fernando Torres—who had left the club for Liverpool that summer—Forlan didn’t quite hit the ground running in his first season, but he was in stunning form in his second, scoring 32 goals in 33 games as he finished as the top scorer in La Liga.

Forlan was the driving force as Atletico sought to make an impact on the European game, and his finest hour arrived in the 2009/10 season when his goals took the team to the Europa League final. His double strike—including a late winner in the dying stages of extra time—beat Fulham in the final and secured Atletico’s first European trophy for 48 years.

Forlan followed that up by shining at the 2010 World Cup, and he was very much a player who seemed to be improving with age.

Helping to nurture some of Atletico’s younger players, Forlan became a key figure in the club’s rise to prominence.

After a less impressive final season at the club in 2010/11, he ended with 96 goals in 196 games for the club and earned a place in their modern history.