atletico madrid

#15: How Atletico Madrid Broke Up LaLiga’s Duopoly

We spoke to Euan McTear about Atletico Madrid, their rise from the second division of Spanish football to their crowning glory just 14 years later, and how they finally split up Real Madrid and Barcelona’s stranglehold on the league. (Read More Below)

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It must be hard being the little brother. I wouldn’t know: I’m the eldest of three brothers and one sister. I got to lord it over them as the boss of the house, at least until my dad balled me out of it. Still, I was a saint to my siblings compared to the kind of pummeling that Real Madrid inflicted on their closest rivals down the years.

In the noughties Atletico Madrid were very much the poor put-upon younger sib in Spain’s capital city. Not only was silverware nowhere to be seen — while Los Blancos triumphed in Europe and at home — they were relegated to the Segunda in 2000, and didn’t return to the Primera for two years. Even then, their hardship was only compounded by a failure to get one over the elder brother.

Atleti won the Europa League twice, in 2010 and 2012, finally reclaiming a level of respectability befitting the third most successful club in Spain. Alas, no derby day win came.

And then the 2013 Copa Del Rey happened.

Facing Real Madrid in the final. Facing Cristiano Ronaldo on the field. Facing Jose Mourinho on the sideline. Facing thousands of baying supporters in white in the Bernabeu, Real’s home ground.

And yet… they did it. They won the final. They broke the hoodoo. They didn’t have to fear the bigger brother anymore. And what made it all the sweeter was, they didn’t deserve to win the game, such was the dominance of the ‘home’ side.

Real would go on to defeat Los Rojiblancos in the next four editions of the Champions League, twice in the final, proving they still held a curse over their heads. But that victory on May 17, 2013 was the catalyst for greater things. A league title, two Champions League finals, another Europa League. It instilled in the club a belief that they deserved to be at the top, to be amongst the cream of the crop.

They may not have old big ears (yet), but they at least they’re not the little brother anymore.

You can buy Euan’s book, Hijacking LaLiga, on Book Depository (free delivery).

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Freelance journalist living and working in Dublin, Ireland. Commenting on a website near you.

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