Atletico domestic success breaks continental mould
26 May 2014, 09:16
Paris - Atletico Madrid fans could be forgiven for feeling that there was a crushing sense of inevitability about their defeat to rivals Real in the final of the Champions League on Saturday.
For all that Diego Simeone's side went into European football's showpiece game in Lisbon as Spanish champions, having finished three points clear of both Barcelona and Real, they remain the David against their city neighbours' Goliath and they could only continue to upset the odds for so long.
At the start of the season, the bookmakers' odds on Atletico winning the Spanish title were much the same as those on Aberdeen or Motherwell pipping Celtic to the Scottish championship.
Nobody could have foreseen Atletico winning the double of domestic league and Champions League. In the end, it took a 93rd-minute Sergio Ramos equaliser to save Real, who won 4-1 after extra time to lift the European Cup for the 10th time.
"This will make us better," vowed Atletico coach Simeone after Saturday's defeat. "Now the rest of the world knows that Atletico can compete."
A week earlier, after winning La Liga, the Argentine had declared that "there is no replacement for hard work", but with a budget that is only around a quarter of that of Real and Barca, their domestic dominance may not last too long. More predictable than ever
Indeed, while they succeded in Spain, Europe's other leading leagues turned out to be more predictable than ever before.
In Germany, Bayern Munich were champions in record quick time, clinching the Bundesliga title with seven games to spare and ending 19 points clear of Borussia Dortmund despite taking their foot off the accelerator in the closing weeks.
They didn't lose a single match until after securing the title and went on to add the German Cup for good measure.
In France, mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain confirmed their dominance as they retained the Ligue 1 title with a record 89 points, nine points more than runners-up Monaco, whose own tally was a new club record.
And in Italy, the country's richest and most decorated club Juventus won a third straight title with a record tally of 102 points, finishing 17 points clear of runners-up Roma.
Money is almost everything in football today. In England, Liverpool briefly appeared poised to win a first title since 1990 before Manchester City, fuelled by huge injections of cash from their Abu Dhabi-based owners, emerged to be crowned Premier League champions for the second time in three seasons.
They did so by scoring 102 goals, one short of the Premier League record set by Chelsea in 2010.
Liverpool were the season's hard-luck story, as they came so close to ending a 24-year wait to win a 19th English top-flight title, but having climbed from seventh to second in the space of a year their manager Brendan Rodgers was happy to label the season "a wonderful adventure."
The likes of Laurent Blanc at PSG and Pep Guardiola at Bayern could not get away with saying that if they went one season without winning silverware.
"I get the impression that our season is only measured on what we have done in Europe. It is a bit simplistic," bemoaned Blanc after leading the French capital club to a domestic double, as well as a quarter-final exit from the Champions League.
"You have to win everything here, but even when you do, it's still not enough," admitted Guardiola, whose season featured four trophies altogether but will probably be best remembered for a Champions League semi-final hammering by Real Madrid.
Madrid president Florentino Perez's exuberant celebrations in Lisbon were understandable given the spending he has sanctioned on his club's quest to win that 10th European Cup, or 'La Decima'.
But with the world's two most expensive players at his disposal in Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, it was only a matter of time before they got there.
Meanwhile, having broken the mould at home, and on their run in Europe, Atletico will struggle to fend off approaches from elsewhere for their best players over the summer.
Their ability to do that will determine to what extent they really can compete again next season.