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The International Champions Cup is back this summer and so are European heavyweights Atlético de Madrid.
Making their third appearance, the Spanish giants are renowned for being one of the toughest and most resilient soccer teams on the planet.
They’re also a fascinating club, filled with history and prestige, boasting some of the best players and one of the most respected coaches in the game. Let’s take a closer look.
Atlético are currently enjoying yet another fine season. FC Barcelona’s closest challengers in LaLiga, they’ve also gone deep in the UEFA Champions League once again, having reached two finals in the last five years.
Under Diego Simeone’s leadership, Atleti have established themselves as worthy contemporaries of Real Madrid and Barcelona, breaking the Clásico rivals’ duopoly atop the Spanish football tree.
Now, with a hugely talented squad and a stunning new stadium to call home, Atleti have designs on domestic and European domination once again.
Atlético are the third most successful club in Spanish soccer in terms of titles, having won LaLiga on ten occasions, as many Copa del Reys, three UEFA Europa Leagues and two Supercopas de España.
Founded in 1903 by Basque students living in Madrid, Atletico were initially seen as the youth team for Bilbao-based Athletic Club.
However, after gaining independence in 1921, they began to forge their own path. Their first LaLiga title arrived in 1940, shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War, a championship they successfully defended.
Under Helenio Herrera, they won back-to-back titles in 1950 and 1951 but had to wait 15 years for their fifth. Juan Carlos ‘Toto’ Lorenzo was appointed in 1973, clinched the league title and led Atleti to their first European Cup final, where they lost to FC Bayern.
Shortly after, Luis Aragonés, who spent ten years at the club as a player, was appointed. Zapatones (meaning big boots) grew to become the most important coach in Atleti’s history, winning the league and three Copas del Rey during four separate spells between 1974 and 2003.
Serbian coach Radomir Antić led them to a league and cup double in 1996 but four years later they were relegated. Calling on the legendary Aragonés, the club regained top-flight status in 2002.
Since then, Atleti have become a force on the European scene, winning three UEFA Europa League titles and reaching two UEFA Champions League finals. In 2014, one of their greatest ever seasons, they beat Barcelona and Real Madrid to the league title, the first time a side other than the Clásico giants had won it since Valencia in 2004.
In 2017, Atlético moved into their new home at the Wanda Metropolitano, replacing the historic Vicente Calderón.
Boasting a capacity of 67,703, it is a stunning fortress and one that will host the 2019 UEFA Champions League final.
It also hosted the 2018 Copa del Rey final, which saw Barcelona thump Sevilla 5-0. The game is notable for being Andrés Iniesta’s last for the Blaugrana.
Coach – Diego Simeone
A former Atlético player – part of their double-winning side in 1996 – Simeone was appointed in December 2011.
Success soon followed. Just six months into his reign, the club clinched the 2012 UEFA Europa League.
It heralded a new era under Simeone, an era in which Atlético returned to Spanish soccer supremacy with LaLiga glory in 2014. That same season, the Argentine led them to within touching distance of the UEFA Champions League, only to be thwarted by bitter rivals Real.
Atleti were also runners-up to Los Blancos in 2016 but those near-misses have not defined Simeone’s reign. No, El Cholo has given the club unwavering self-belief, built on hard work and fuelled by an unrelenting desire to win.
That’s why Los Rojiblancos are considered one of the best teams on the planet. That’s why Simeone is one of the most respected tacticians of the modern era.
Antoine Griezmann – A special player, Griezmann has been the linchpin of the Atleti attack since 2014.
Fast approaching 150 goals for the club, the Frenchman has ably continued the club’s impressive track record of boasting at least one world-class centre forward at a time. Some of Griezmann’s predecessors include Fernando Torres, Sergio Agüero, Diego Forlán and Radamel Falcao.
During his time at Atlético, only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez have scored more LaLiga goals. A FIFA World Cup winner with France, Griezmann was named LaLiga Best Player in 2016.
Saúl Ñíguez – A hugely intelligent midfielder, Saúl is one of many Atlético youth prospects to have broken into the first-team under Simeone.
The 24-year-old Spain international has become integral to Simeone’s style of play, contributing regularly to both the defensive and attacking phases of play.
Blessed with excellent technique, timing and finishing, Saúl has become the heartbeat of Atleti’s midfield.
Álvaro Morata – The Spanish forward rejoined his boyhood club on loan from Chelsea in the January transfer window, signing an 18-month agreement with the team he left as a youth to join Getafe and, later, Real Madrid.
Morata scored regularly across two spells with Los Blancos but could not dislodge Karim Benzema as the club’s first-choice striker, enjoying a two-year stint with Juventus between 2014 and 2016, reaching the UEFA Champions League final.
After averaging a goal every 88 LaLiga minutes during his second stint in the capital, he left for Chelsea in the summer of 2016, netting 24 times in 72 appearances for the Premier League side.
Ones to watch
Rodri – Widely regarded as one of Spain’s brightest young midfield talents, Rodri returned to Atlético after a three-year spell at Villarreal.
A former Atleti youth player, the 22-year-old has slotted seamlessly into Simeone’s side, adept at breaking up play and speedily distributing the ball to the forwards.
With four caps already under his belt for the Spanish national side, Rodri’s future holds endless possibilities.
José María Giménez – The power central defender is one of the mainstays in Atleti’s famously robust defence, striking up a near impenetrable union with fellow Uruguayan Diego Godín.
The 24-year-old joined Atlético from Danubio in 2013 for a reported $770,000, a fee which, six years later, looks a snip.
Giménez won LaLiga in his maiden season in Spain and has also been instrumental in winning the UEFA Europa League (2017/18), UEFA Super Cup (2018) and Supercopa de España (2014), as well as helping Los Colchoneros to two UEFA Champions League finals.