How Atletico Madrid produced a miracle on a shoestring

Like Liverpool, Diego Simeone relied on ingenuity and belief to take team to top, in contrast to their wealthy opponents Chelsea

Radomir Antic, who knows a lot about both the man and the club, is in no doubt regarding Diego Simeone’s feat at Atletico Madrid: “A miracle”, the former Luton Town player says. Amazingly, it isn’t the only one in European football right now. The same word is being used by staff at Anfield to describe Liverpool’s rise under Brendan Rodgers.

If all of this sounds overstated, consider their over-achievements. Although Atletico will be forced to sell at the end of this season to help balance the books, the two teams are defying football’s modern economic realities to compete in a manner that simply didn’t seem possible in this era of petro-dollar super clubs. Atletico’s annual revenue of £89m is dwarfed by Real Madrid’s £500m; Liverpool’s wage bill is just over 50 per cent of Manchester City’s £233m. You only have to consider what’s at stake in the next few days to see why this season represents such a departure.

FOLLOW OUR LIVE BLOG OF THE MATCH HERE

On Tuesday, Atletico take on Chelsea – annual revenue £250m – in the Champions’ League semi-final first leg, having already consolidated their place on top of La Liga with Friday’s 2-0 win over Elche. Should they last the pace, they will be the first team to win the Spanish title other than Barcelona and Real Madrid since 2004, and the  financially poorest club to lift the European Cup since Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto in that same year.

As for, Liverpool today they travel to Norwich City hoping to put themselves within touching distance of a first English title since 1990. If they finish the job, they will be the champions with the smallest revenue, wage bill and squad – relative to rivals – since the Premier League was founded.

One club enjoying such a surprise season would be invigorating. Two in the same year, so quickly following Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, may just represent a new breed of team and manager. It is genuinely refreshing, and the way in which they have got this far does restore one’s faith in what can  still be achieved without top-level money.

Although there are questions about Atletico’s ownership, and Liverpool’s actual expenditure is relatively high, none of that has  really driven the construction of the two sides. You only have to look at how Rodgers decided to take a financial hit on Andy Carroll to see the benefit of his philosophy; and Simeone equally benefited from the sale of Radamel Falcao.

And the unprecedented leaps in terms of league position and points achieved by both managers has been echoed in the radically improved level of performance they have extracted from players many thought were lost causes. And both men have done all that using remarkably distinctive methods that reinforce the spirit of defiance around the two clubs.

“I think that’s why everyone is so captivated,” Chris Davies, Rodgers’s Head of Opposition Analysis, says. “Relative to the start point, it is a miracle.”

Intensity has been key for Atletico. They cite the tie that took them into this week’s meeting with Chelsea, the 2-1 aggregate quarter-final victory over Barcelona. Simeone drilled home that his backline should always be within a certain distance of midfield, thereby ensuring Leo Messi was isolated like never before. Many Spanish coaches have known to try that but the difference was Simeone derived the necessary battle frenzy, while also ensuring enough energy to persistently cause Barça problems. Atletico’s opening 20 minutes of the second leg was one of the most breathless spells of football this season.

Club staff say that comes from the uniquely regimental siege mentality created. Antic managed Simeone at Atletico during their last title win in 1995-96 and says he always had “a natural authority. Even as a player, he put character into the team.”

Simeone has obviously put in much more than that as a coach. Atletico break relentlessly and possess a seemingly endless range of set-pieces. Assistant manager German Burgos, who attracted attention last week for analysing a match through Google Glass, always carries a folder that details every Atletico play. There is also the players’ incomparable fitness, with Simeone instructing staff to alter their conditioning to cater for this season’s extra demands. In other words, his side prepare better, work harder and run faster than any of the richer outfits. As Simeone told owner Miguel Angel Gil when he took over in December 2011: “I’m going to make it unpleasant to play us, teams are going to suffer.”

Liverpool have also run opposition ragged, but in a different way. If Simeone’s approach is about minimising external gaps, Rodgers is all about maximising inherent talent.

“That’s what’s great about it,” Davies says. “Brendan’s a proper coach who improves players... there won’t be a better manager who can coach like Brendan can.”

It means Liverpool play the kind of attacking football that is supposed to require elite money. Davies explains that is not necessarily about bringing out ability, but providing players with an understanding of how best to use it within an overall plan. That has allowed so many devastating formation switches.

Adrian Tucker is goalkeeping coach at Swansea and, having worked with Rodgers closely, must be one of the few not amazed by the extent of that improvement.

“There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a success because he could affect and improve players, whoever they were. Am I’m surprised at how quickly? I’d say definitely not.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee