Champions Atletico already trailing in the wake of Real & Barca.
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The scale of Atletico Madrid’s achievements in 2013/14 may not be fully realised until they try to do it all again next season, with the summer transfer window so far already putting them in a desperate position against their rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Despite being crowned champions of Spain in remarkable fashion, with a hard-fought draw at the Nou Camp on the final day of the season sealing their first title win since 1996, Atletico remain a ‘small club’ in comparison to their wealthy rivals, as evidenced by their contrasting transfer business so far.
Regardless of deservedly finishing above their two rivals, Atletico have still seen their best players leave for moves elsewhere. Top scorer Diego Costa has signed for Chelsea in a £32m deal, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has returned to the club he helped dump out of the Champions League semi-final after three years on loan at the Vicente Calderon. David Villa has also left for a move to the MLS, while rumours persist about key players such as Koke, Miranda, Diego Godin and Arda Turan. At this rate, barely any members of the title-winning squad will be there to pick up the trophy at the start of next season, with the presentation delayed due to the head of the Spanish FA being unavailable in May.
Meanwhile, Barcelona look set to add yet another player who could be ranked as among the best in the world at the moment, adding the £75.5m signing of Luis Suarez from Liverpool to play alongside Lionel Messi, Neymar and co. Two exciting new goalkeepers have been brought in, as has Croatian playmaker Ivan Rakitic, who was superb for Sevilla last season. Even with Cesc Fabregas leaving and Alexis Sanchez likely to follow, the Catalan giants already look significantly stronger for 2014/15, and will surely not flop as they did under Gerardo Martino this year.
Real Madrid are busy as ever as well, of course, with the Champions League winners having the luxury of offloading the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sami Khedira as unwanted squad fodder as they seek to add more ‘Galactico’ signings such as Colombian pair Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez of AS Monaco, along with Bayern Munich playmaker Toni Kroos, and possibly Juventus star Paul Pogba. After signing Gareth Bale and Isco last summer and spending over £100m in the process, the very best players and biggest names are on their way to the Bernabeu again, to join the side that finished third in La Liga.
This is the cruel reality for Atletico. As much as their miraculous title victory of this season will live long in the memory of their loyal fans, they are now almost definitely going to be the victims of their own success as richer clubs around them strengthen and poach their players. They will start next season as defending champions, but already look like standing no chance in their quest to retain the trophy.
For all the ‘crisis’ talk at Barcelona after a trophyless season, there fans really needn’t worry in the same way that Atletico’s might now, as the duopoly in Spanish football is alive and well, regardless of where the big two finished. While Diego Simeone’s side enjoyed one season in the limelight, winning the admiration of fans across all of Europe, they can expect another long wait for their next success as the money being thrown around at the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu will always guarantee silverware sooner or later.
Of course, Atletico have shown that miracles do happen, but they will need an even bigger one now.