History of Atletico Madrid
Foundation and first years (1903–1939)
The club was founded on 26 April 1903 as Athletic Club de Madrid by three Basque students living in Madrid. These founders saw the new club as a youth branch of their childhood team, Athletic Bilbao. In 1904, they were joined by dissident members of Real Madrid. They began playing in blue and white, similarly to Athletic Bilbao, but by 1911, Athletic were playing in their current colours of red and white stripes. Many believe the change was influenced because red and white striped tops were the cheapest stripes to make, because the same combination was used to make bed mattresses, and the unused cloth was easily converted into football shirts. This discovery of a cheaper option probably persuaded them to change and influenced the Madrid club being come to known as Los Colchoneros nickname. Another more plausible account of the reason to change colours is that both Athletic Bilbao and Athletic Madrid used to buy Blackburn Rovers blue and white kits in England. Once in 1911, Juanito Elorduy, former player and member of the board of Athletic Madrid, went to England to buy kits for both teams. When he failed to find Blackburn Rovers kits to purchase, he instead bought Southampton red and white ones. Athletic Madrid adopted the red and white shirt but opted to keep Blackburn Rovers’ blue shorts, leading to them also being known as Los Rojiblancos.
Atlético’s first ground, the Ronda de Vallecas, was situated in the eponymous working-class area on the south side of the city. In 1919, the Compañía Urbanizadora Metropolitana—the company that ran the underground communication system in Madrid—acquired some land, near the Ciudad Universitaria. And in 1921, Athletic Madrid became independent of parent-club Athletic Bilbao. As part of that project the company built a sports stadium, named Estadio Metropolitano de Madrid, and Athletic had a new a 35,800-seat home. The Metropolitano was used until 1966, when they moved to the new Estadio Vicente Calderón. After the move, the Metropolitano was demolished and was replaced with university buildings and an office block belonging to the company ENUSA.
During the 1920s, Athletic won the Campeonato del Centro three times and were Copa del Rey runners-up in 1921; ironically, this final saw them face parent club Athletic Bilbao, as well as later in 1926. Based on this record, they were invited to join the Primera División of the inaugural La Liga in 1928. During their debut La Liga season, the club were managed by Fred Pentland, but after two seasons in the Primera División they were relegated to Segunda División. They briefly returned to La Liga in 1934 but were relegated again in 1936 after Josep Samitier took over in mid-season from Pentland. Fortunately for Los Colchoneros, the Spanish Civil War gave the club a reprieve, as Real Oviedo was unable to play due to the destruction of their stadium during the bombings. Thus, both La Liga and Athletic’s relegation were postponed, the latter by winning a playoff against Osasuna, champion of the Segunda División tournament.
Athletic Aviación de Madrid (1939–1947)
By 1939, when La Liga had resumed, Athletic had merged with Aviación Nacional of Zaragoza to become Athletic Aviación de Madrid. Aviación Nacional had been founded in 1939 by members of the Spanish Air Force. They had been promised a place in the Primera División for the 1939–40 season, only to be denied by the RFEF. As a compromise, this club merged with Athletic, whose squad had lost eight players during the Civil War. The team were awarded a place in the 1939–40 La Liga campaign only as a replacement for Real Oviedo. With the legendary Ricardo Zamora as manager, the club subsequently won their first La Liga title that season and retained the title in 1941. The most influential and charismatic player of these years was the captain Germán Gómez, who was signed from Racing de Santander in 1939. He played eight consecutive seasons for the Rojiblancos until the 1947–48 campaign. From his central midfield position, he formed a legendary midfield alongside Machín and Ramón Gabilondo. In 1941, a decree issued by Francisco Franco banned teams from using foreign names and the club became Atlético Aviacion de Madrid. In 1947, the club decided to drop the military association from its name and settled on its current name of Club Atlético de Madrid. The same year saw Atlético beat Real Madrid 5–0 at the Metropolitano, their biggest win over their cross-town rivals to date.
The Golden Age (1947–1965)
Under Helenio Herrera and with the help of Larbi Benbarek, Atlético won La Liga again in 1950 and 1951. With the departure of Herrera in 1953, the club began to slip behind Real Madrid and Barcelona and for the remainder of the 1950s were left to battle it out with Athletic Bilbao for the title of third team in Spain.
However, during the 1960s and 1970s, Atlético Madrid seriously challenged Barcelona for the position of second team. The 1957–58 season saw Ferdinand Daučík take charge of Atlético, where he led them to second place in La Liga. This resulted in Atlético qualifying for the 1958–59 season of the European Cup since the winners, Real Madrid, were the reigning European champions. Inspired by Brazilian centre-forward Vavá and Enrique Collar, Atlético reached the semi-finals after beating Drumcondra, CSKA Sofia and Schalke 04. In the semi-finals, they met Real Madrid, who won the first leg 2–1 at the Santiago Bernabéu while Atlético won 1–0 at the Metropolitano. The tie went to a replay and Real won 2–1 in Zaragoza.
Atlético, however, gained their revenge when, led by former Real coach José Villalonga, they defeated Real in two successive Copa del Rey finals in 1960 and 1961. In 1962, they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Fiorentina 3–0 after a replay. This achievement was significant for the club, as the Cup Winners’ Cup was the only major European trophy that Real Madrid never won. The following year the club reached the 1963 final, but lost to English side Tottenham Hotspur 5–1. Enrique Collar, who continued to be an influential player during this era, was now joined by the likes of midfielder Miguel Jones and midfield playmaker Adelardo.
Atlético’s best years coincided with dominant Real Madrid teams. Between 1961 and 1980, Real Madrid dominated La Liga, winning the competition 14 times. During this era, only Atlético offered Real any serious challenge, winning La Liga titles in 1966, 1970, 1973 and 1977 and finishing runners-up in 1961, 1963 and 1965. The club had further success winning the Copa del Rey on three occasions in 1965, 1972 and 1976. In 1965, when they finished as La Liga runners-up to Real after an intense battle for the title, Atlético became the first team to beat Real at the Bernabéu in eight years.
European Cup Finalists (1965–1974)
Significant players from this era included the now-veteran Adelardo and regular goalscorers Luis Aragonés, Javier Irureta and José Eulogio Gárate, the latter winning the Pichichi three times in 1969, 1970 and 1971. In the 1970s, Atlético also recruited several Argentine personnel, signing Rubén Ayala, Panadero Díaz and Ramón “Cacho” Heredia as well as coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo. Lorenzo believed in discipline, caution and disrupting the opponents’ game, and although controversial, his methods proved successful—after winning La Liga in 1973, the club reached the 1974 European Cup Final. On the way to the Final, Atlético knocked out Galatasaray, Dinamo Bucureşti, Red Star Belgrade and Celtic. In the away leg of the semi-final against Celtic, Atlético had Ayala, Díaz, and substitute Quique all sent off during a hard-fought encounter in what was reported as one of the worst cases of cynical fouling the tournament has seen. Because of this cynicism, they managed a 0–0 draw, which was followed by a 2–0 victory in the return leg with goals from Gárate and Adelardo. The Final at Heysel Stadium, however, was a loss for Atlético. Against a Bayern Munich team that included Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeneß and Gerd Müller, Atlético played above themselves. Despite missing Ayala, Díaz and Quique through suspension, they went ahead in extra-time with only seven minutes left. Aragonés scored with a superb, curling free-kick that looked like the winner, but in the last minute of the game, Bayern defender Georg Schwarzenbeck equalized with a stunning 25-yarder that left Atlético goalkeeper Miguel Reina motionless. In a replay back at Heysel two days later, Bayern won convincingly 4–0, with two goals each from Hoeneß and Müller.
The Aragonés years (1974–1987)
Shortly after the defeat in the European Cup, Atlético appointed their veteran player Luis Aragonés as coach. Aragonés subsequently served as coach on four separate occasions, from 1974 to 1980, from 1982 to 1987 once again 1991 until 1993 and finally from 2002 to 2003. His first success came quickly as Bayern Munich had refused to participate because of fixture congestion in the Intercontinental Cup and as European Cup runners-up, Atlético were invited instead. Their opponents were Independiente of Argentina and, after losing the away leg 1–0, they won the return leg 2–0 with goals from Javier Irureta and Rubén Ayala. Aragonés subsequently led the club to further successes in the Copa del Rey in 1976 and La Liga in 1977.
During his second spell in charge, Aragonés led the club to a runners-up finish in La Liga and a winner’s medal in the Copa del Rey, both in 1985. He received considerable help from Hugo Sánchez, who scored 19 league goals and won the Pichichi. Sánchez also scored twice in the cup final as Atlético beat Athletic Bilbao 2–1. Sánchez, however, only remained at the club for one season before his move across the city to Real Madrid. Despite the loss of Sánchez, Aragonés went on to lead the club to success in the Supercopa de España in 1985 and then guided them to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1986. Atlético, however, lost their third successive European final, this time 3–0 to Dynamo Kyiv.
The Jesús Gil years (1987–2003)
Atlético had not won La Liga for 10 years and were desperate for league success. Right away, Gil spent heavily, bringing in a number of expensive signings, most notably Portuguese winger Paulo Futre, who had just won the European Cup with Porto. All the spending, however, only brought in two consecutive Copa del Rey trophies in 1991 and 1992 as the league title proved elusive. The closest Atlético came to the La Liga trophy was the 1990–91 season when they finished runners-up by 10 points to Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. In the process, Gil developed a ruthless reputation due to the manner in which he ran the club. In pursuit of league success, he hired and fired a number of high-profile head coaches, including César Luis Menotti, Ron Atkinson, Javier Clemente, Tomislav Ivić, Francisco Maturana, Alfio Basile as well as club legend Luis Aragonés.
Gil also closed down Atlético’s youth academy in 1992, a move that would prove significant due to 15-year-old academy member Raúl who, as a result, went across town to later achieve worldwide fame with rivals Real Madrid. The move came as part of the overall Gil-initiated business restructuring of the club; Atlético became a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva, a corporate structure benefiting from a then-recently introduced special legal status under Spanish corporate law, allowing individuals to purchase and trade club shares.
In the 1994–95 league campaign, Atlético only avoided relegation via a draw on the last day of the season. This prompted another managerial change along with a wholesale squad clearance during the summer 1995 transfer window. Somewhat unexpectedly, in the following 1995–96 season, newly arrived head coach Radomir Antić, with a squad including holdovers Toni, Roberto Solozábal, Delfí Geli, Juan Vizcaíno, José Luis Caminero, Diego Simeone and Kiko, as well as new acquisitions Milinko Pantić, Luboslav Penev, Santi Denia and José Francisco Molina finally delivered the much sought-after league title as Atlético won the La Liga/Copa del Rey double.
The next season, 1996–97, saw the club take part in the Champions League for the first time. With expectations and ambitions raised, the most notable summer transfer signings were striker Juan Esnáider from Real Madrid and Radek Bejbl, who was coming off a great showing for Czech Republic at Euro 1996. Playing on two fronts, Atlético fell out of the league title contention early while, in the Champions League, they were eliminated by Ajax in extra-time in the quarter-finals. Before the 1997–98 season, the heavy spending continued with the signings of Christian Vieri and Juninho. All of the success, however, produced little change in the overall Gil strategy, and although Antić survived three consecutive seasons in charge, he was replaced during the summer of 1998 with Arrigo Sacchi, who himself only remained in the managerial hot seat for less than six months. Antić then returned briefly in early 1999 only to be replaced with Claudio Ranieri at the end of the season. The 1999–2000 season proved disastrous for Atlético. In December 1999, Gil and his board were suspended pending an investigation into the misuse of club funds, with government-appointed administrator José Manuel Rubí running Atlético’s day-to-day operations. With the removal of club President Jesús Gil and his board, the players performed poorly and the club floundered. Ranieri handed in his resignation with the club sitting 17th out of 20 in the league table and heading towards relegation. Antić, returning for his third coaching stint, was unable to prevent the inevitable. Despite reaching the Copa del Rey final, Atlético were relegated.
Atlético spent two seasons in the Segunda División, narrowly missing out on promotion in 2001 before winning the Segunda División championship in 2002. It was again Luis Aragonés, in his fourth and last spell as manager of Atlético, who brought them back to the Primera División. He also coached the team during the next season, and gave Fernando Torres his La Liga debut.
Aguirre era (2006–2009)
In 2006, Atlético signed Portuguese midfielders Costinha and Maniche, as well as Argentine forward Sergio Agüero. In July 2007, Fernando Torres left the club for Liverpool for £26.5 million, while Luis García moved in the opposite direction at the same time in an unrelated transfer. The club also bought Uruguay international and former European Golden Boot/Pichichi winner Diego Forlán for roughly €21 million from Villarreal. Other additions included Portuguese winger Simão from Benfica and winger José Antonio Reyes for €12 million.
In July 2007, the Atlético board reached an agreement with the City of Madrid to sell the land where their stadium is located and move the club to the City-owned Olympic Stadium. However, the new stadium will change hands in 2016 and be owned by the club. Madrid had applied to host the 2016 Olympic Games, losing out to Rio de Janeiro.
The 2007–08 season proved to be the most successful season for the club in the past decade. The team reached the round of 32 in the UEFA Cup, where they were defeated by Bolton Wanderers. They also reached the quarter-final round of the Copa del Rey, where they were beaten by eventual champions Valencia. More significantly, the team finished the Liga season in fourth place, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the 1996–97 season.
On 3 February 2009, Javier Aguirre was dismissed from his post as manager after a poor start to the season, going without a win in six games. He later claimed that this was not accurate, and that he had left by mutual termination rather than through sacking. There was public outrage after his dismissal, many believing he was not the cause of Atlético’s problems, namely player Diego Forlán. He backed his former manager and said that, “Dismissing Javier was the easy way out, but he was not the cause of our problems. The players are to blame because we have not been playing well and we have been committing a lot of errors.” This led to the appointment of Abel Resino as Atlético’s new manager.
Atlético’s success continued in the latter half of the season when they placed fourth once again in the league table, securing a position in the playoff round of the UEFA Champions League. Striker Diego Forlán was crowned with the Pichichi Trophy and also won the European Golden Shoe after scoring 32 goals for Atlético that season. Atlético saw this domestic success as an opportunity to reinforce their squad for the upcoming Champions League season. They replaced veteran goalkeeper Leo Franco with David de Gea from the youth ranks and signed promising youngster Sergio Asenjo from Real Valladolid. Atlético also purchased Real Betis defender and Spanish international Juanito on a free transfer. Despite pressure from big clubs to sell star players Agüero and Forlán, Atlético remained committed to keeping their strong attacking base in the hopes for a successful new season.
The 2009–10 Atlético season, however, began poorly with many defeats and goals conceded. On 21 October, Atletico were hammered 4–0 by English club Chelsea in the Champions League group stage. This defeat led Atletico’s management to announce that manager Abel Resino had to leave. After failing to sign Danish former footballer Michael Laudrup, Atlético Madrid made it official that the new manager for the rest of the season would be Quique Sánchez Flores.
La Liga and European successes (2009–)
With the arrival of Quique Sánchez Flores as coach in October 2009, Atlético saw a huge change of fortunes. Though they continued to lag somewhat in La Liga during the 2009–10 season, finishing in the ninth position, they managed to get third place in the 2009–10 UEFA Champions League group stage and subsequently entered the season’s Europa League in the round of 32, going on to win the Europa League, beating English teams Liverpool in the semi-finals and eventually Fulham in the final held in the HSH Nordbank Arena in Hamburg on 12 May 2010. Diego Forlán scored twice, the second being an extra-time winner in the 116th minute, as Atlético Madrid won 2–1.
It was the first time since the 1961–62 European Cup Winners’ Cup that Atlético had claimed a European title. They also reached the Copa del Rey final on 19 May 2010, where they faced Sevilla, but lost 2–0 at the Camp Nou in Barcelona. By winning the Europa League, they qualified for the 2010 UEFA Super Cup against Internazionale, winner of the 2009–10 UEFA Champions League, which was played in Monaco on 27 August 2010. Atlético won 2–0 with goals from José Antonio Reyes and Sergio Agüero, Atlético’s first win in the Super Cup.
Atlético had a comparatively disappointing 2010–11 season, finishing only seventh in the League and being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey and the group stage of the Europa League. This ultimately led to the departure of manager Sánchez Flores before the conclusion of the season, who was replaced with ex-Sevilla manager Gregorio Manzano, and who secured the final Europa League place for Atlético. Manzano himself was replaced with Diego Simeone in December 2011 after a poor run of form in La Liga.
Simeone led Atlético to their second Europa League win in the three years since its creation, as they beat Athletic Bilbao 3–0 in the final on 9 May 2012 in Bucharest with Radamel Falcao – twice – and Diego being the scorers. Again, by winning the Europa League, they qualified for the 2012 UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea, winner of the previous season’s Champions League, which was played in Monaco on 31 August 2012. Atlético won 4–1, including a hat-trick by Falcao in the first half. On 17 May 2013, Atlético beat Real Madrid 2–1 in the Copa del Rey Final in a tense match where both teams finished with 10 men. This ended a 14-year and 25-match winless streak in the Madrid derby. The 2012–13 season saw the club finish with three trophies in a little over a year.
On 17 May 2014, a 1–1 draw at the Camp Nou against Barcelona secured the La Liga title for Atlético, their first since 1996, and the first title since 2003–04 not won by Barcelona or Real Madrid. One week later, Atlético faced city rivals Real Madrid in their first Champions League final since 1974, and the first played between two sides from the same city. They took a first-half lead through Diego Godín and led until the third minute of injury time, when Sergio Ramos scored an equaliser from a corner; the match went to extra time, and Real ultimately won 4–1. Atlético reached a second Champions League final in three seasons in 2015–16, again facing Real Madrid, and lost on penalties after a 1–1 draw.