It was meant to be a fairytale first European trophy for the last team in Europe who still draw all their players from their own region, but instead it was decided by a €40m (£35m) striker whose ownership is clouded by the vagaries of third-party investment funds.
Radamel Falcao has now scored 30 goals in his last 29 Europa League games. He got the winner in the final last year for Porto, and last night in Bucharest's National Stadium he delivered the first-half brace that saw Atletico Madrid win a second Europa League trophy in three years.
The Jorge Mendes-represented player will be the striker everyone wants this summer; what is not so clear is whom the interested parties will need to persuade to release him. Atletico signed him last summer for just €5m less than they sold Sergio Aguero for.
The money they received for Aguero was earmarked for the Spanish tax office, which they still owe €215m, so there has been a need to draw on investment funds and loans, and with Falcao the match-winner in the first half at one end they also had the on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank at the other end for a solid second-half display, saving especially well from Ibai Gomez after he had robbed Juanfran in the area.
But, bought or borrowed, the Atletico players deserved their triumph. They played the first game in the competition in July and 18 games later, with just one defeat and one draw behind them, they steamrollered a disappointing Athletic Bilbao.
The game was only seven minutes old when Diego's pass found Falcao, who turned inside Fernando Amorebieta to curl a left-foot shot into Gorka Iraizoz's top right-hand corner. On 34 minutes he got his second, this time receiving from the left and stepping away from Amorebieta again. Falcao's tally for the season now reads 35 in all competitions.
At the other end, a poor Fernando Llorente volleyed a De Marcos cross wide; the Athletic winger claimed a penalty as his surging run was ended by a push from Miranda but Wolfgang Stark waved away his appeals.
Ibai and Iñigo Perez came on at half-time but the Basques were unable to find the form that had seen them beat Manchester United in both legs en route to the final.
Markel Susaeta shot from distance and Courtois saved brilliantly from Ibai but with every chance for Athletic to close the gap came another for Atletico to extend their lead with Falcao hitting a post in search of his hat-trick.
On 85 minutes Atletico's third goal came when Amorebieta – again – was bypassed in the penalty area, this time by Diego, another on loan to Madrid.
Coach Diego Simeone has brought the best out of his Brazilian midfielder. The former Argentina captain, who played for the Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa in 30 of his 106 games for his country, had told his players beforehand: "You have to enjoy the occasion as if it's your first and play the match as if it's your last." They did him proud.
Athletic Bilbao (4-3-3): Iraizoz; Iraola, Martinez, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe, Herrera, Iturraspe, De Marcos, Susaeta, Llorente, Muniain
Atletico Madrid (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Luis Felipe, Gabi, Mario Suarez, Adrian, Diego, Turan, Falcao.
Referee W Stark (Germany).Reuse content