'NOBODY MAKES ANY COMPROMISES'
The fighting spirit Atletico Madrid have shown all season meant coach Diego Simeone never doubted they would come from behind to draw 1-1 against Barcelona and claim a first La Liga title for 18 years, even if the rest of the footballing world has been left stunned.
Barca needed to beat Atletico in a final-day showdown to snatch the title away and Alexis Sanchez gave the hosts hope when he rifled home from an acute angle after 33 minutes at a packed Nou Camp.
But four minutes after the break Diego Godin powered in a header from a corner and Atletico defended robustly to earn the draw they needed and claim their first championship since 1995-96.
"I never thought for a moment that the team would not be able to do it. They always have a response, the bigger the challenge is, the more determined they are to achieve it. From the first moment I walked into the dressing room here I noticed that," Simeone told a news conference.
Simeone was an Atletico player when they last won the championship and he has passed on his determination to the team as a coach.
"The work and effort of this team is the key and nobody makes any compromises. The team understands this," he said.
"Today will be one of the most important days in the history of the club. To become champions against Barcelona is a great feeling."
Atletico lost Diego Costa and Arda Turan to injury early in the match and went a goal down but still went on to get the point they needed against Barcelona. It is not hyperbole to say that Atletico's title triumph is one of the biggest achievements in the history of football. They have a wage bill that is less than QPR's and were 66/1 to win the title at the start of the season – the same price offered on Aberdeen or Motherwell winning the Scottish Premiership. They did it with a small squad, who also managed to somehow get to the Champions League final too. Barcelona (Neymar) and Real Madrid (Gareth Bale) both spent more on one player in the summer than Atletico's entire squad cost. This is a genuine feel good story in a new, money-driven footballing world.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Atletico Madrid travel to Lisbon for the Champions League final with an injury depleted squad that must be both physically and mentally exhausted. However, only a fool would write them off causing another big upset given all they've achieved this season. They will likely lose arguably their two key players in the summer to Chelsea – the on-loan Thibaut Courtois and top scorer Diego Costa - and top clubs may even court their manager too, so some sort of regression seems inevitable. But even so, nothing can take away the scale of this achievement. This is the sort of team that Atletico fans will be telling their grandchildren about in 50 years' time.
WHAT THE MEDIA ARE SAYING
Sid Lowe (The Observer): Atlético Madrid have done it. A year after they went to the Santiago Bernabéu and took the Copa del Rey from Real Madrid, they came here and took the league title from FC Barcelona. It is their first in 18 years. Next they travel to Lisbon to play their first European Cup final for 40 years. What Diego Simeone and his side have achieved is barely believable. Barcelona's supporters recognised the magnitude of what they had witnessed: when the final whistle went here, they immediately broke into applause. Simeone's side have taken on the duopoly and defeated it. This is a monumental achievement: not only has it been 10 years since someone else won the title, the nearest anyone has been over the last five years was 24, 39, 25, 28 and 17 points. Atlético finished this season three points ahead.
Rory Smith (The Times): Atletico Madrid are champions of Spain, for the first time since 1996. That does not come close to capturing quite what an achievement this is, though, for their coach, Diego Simeone, for their players, a mixture of cast-offs and has-beens and late bloomers. This is a club that exists in a state of almost perpetual chaos, that toils in the shadow of Spain’s big two, that has a fifth of their financial clout. They are precisely the sort of club, in other words, who are not supposed to win titles in the harsh capitalist reality of modern football. And yet, thanks to a mixture of courage, talent, nous, guile and a bloody-minded refusal to give up, here they are, on top of a table that includes Barcelona and Real Madrid, and with a Champions League final to look forward to next week. It may not be the ultimate underdog story, but it’s roughly as close as you’re going to get.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atletico Madrid
- Diego Simeone
- Real Madrid