Saturday, May 01, 2010

Madrid Gets The European Final It Didn't Expect

The car horns were hooting late at night in the centre of Madrid on Thursday. Of course it's not exactly an unfamiliar sound in the Spanish capital, but when so much noise is being made at such a late hour it's normally because Real Madrid supporters are celebrating one of their (increasingly rare) triumphs. This time was different however, it was the Atlético Madrid fans who were out making the noise even though their team had lost on the night against Liverpool. Over two legs in the Europa League semi-final Atleti came out on top and reached their second cup final of the season; they are already in the final of the Copa del Rey.

Nobody would have predicted such a situation at Christmas, but then Real were still in the Champions League and Atlético were close to the relegation positions in the Spanish Liga. Their league form hasn't improved that much, but in the cup competitions they have found a means of salvaging something from the season. It's a club with some talented players and disastrous management, and fans with a tremendous endurance and loyalty. It would be impossible to imagine Real Madrid supporters making the same sort of noise that Atleti's fans produced in Anfield, the fickle followers of Real rarely make that much noise when their team plays at home.

It's difficult not to enjoy the situation. As I walked through the recently pedestrianised square at Callao this morning I saw a bus that was parked offering the chance to anyone who wanted to hold the Champions League trophy. The final is to be held in Real Madrid's stadium later this month. There was already quite a queue but I didn't see Ronaldo or Kaka amongst those who were waiting. This after all was part of the plan behind the huge investment made by Florentino Pérez for this season, to win the trophy in their home city. It may have helped to heal the wounds of Madrid fans that Barcelona are not going to be in the Champions League final either. When the trophy was presented in the city a few weeks ago almost everyone was smiling except for Pérez, who sulked in the corner. Despite that small satisfaction, Real still face the possibility of not winning anything this season; if Barcelona don't slip up in the league.

We'll see whether Jose Mourinho comes to Madrid just with the hope of seeing Inter Milan win the final, or whether he will have more profound conversations with Pérez about terms and conditions. Entertainment will be guaranteed, at least off the field, if Madrid take him as their trainer. Meanwhile Atlético and their fans should enjoy the moment. The points gap in La Liga between the first and fourth places (which guarantee Champions League qualification) is currently greater than that between fourth and last. Those who are followers of teams other than the big two increasingly have to look to the cups for a bit of entertainment and excitement, because La Liga just hasn't got it.

No comments: