Moneybol: the story of Atletico Madrid
On December 23, 2011, Atletico Madrid signed Diego Simeone to take over after a failing team.
Though the move was criticized at first, soon fans found themselves celebrating from game to game.
He led them to the Europa League and finished fifth in 2011-12 season. In the 2012-13 season, they finished nine points behind their city rival, Real Madrid, in third place and defeated them in the final of the Copa del Rey.
This season, the Cinderella story took them to the Champions League final against none other than Real Madrid, losing in overtime 4-1.
They got to this point influenced by a familiar tactic to many MLB fans.
In the late 1990s, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane took his team in a different direction, focusing on an analytical, evidence-based approach to creating a successful baseball team, despite financial limitations. The game plan: Employ undervalued players who can hit and win a World Series. Teams like the New York Yankees spent tens of millions more on players than the A’s.
The A’s set an American League record, winning 20 consecutive games between August 13 and September 4, 2002. Unfortunately, the A’s lost 3-2 to the Minnesota Twins in a heartbreaking American League Division Series game.
Atletico Madrid found itself in the same situation: Under the shadows of the wealthy teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Professional soccer financially is the most competitive sport in the world. With no drafts or salary caps, clubs are forced to sell their best players to the highest bidder, just to afford their other players.
However, Atletico Madrid took the risk.
According to SportingIntelligence.com, the average wage per player for Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2012-13 was just above $8 million. Atletico Madrid spent just under $3 million per player.
Somehow, their system was working and it took them all the way to a regular season game against Barcelona to determine who would win the Spanish league.
Lo and behold, Atletico Madrid rallied to tie Barcelona 1-1 after a Diego Godin header in the 49th minute to tie the game and secure it’s first Spanish league title in 18 years.
Despite losing their top strikers in Diego Costa and Arda Turan to injuries during the game, they still avoided defeat to secure the title in front of 90,000 in Camp Nou.
Even the fans of Barcelona praised their play by chanting “Atleti” as the players celebrated.
Then came the next challenge: Real Madrid in the Champions League on May 24.
For most of the season, Simeone extended the playing time of his best players to avoid injury. Since they cannot afford depth like the richest soccer clubs, Atletico maximized chances his team creates and provided ways of letting their players rest and recover during the match.
Eight players played more than 30 full matches in La Liga (more than 2,700 minutes), which no Barcelona player did, and only three Real Madrid players did.
Using an outdated formation with modernized strategy, Atletico Madrid used its 4-4-2 formation to its advantage.
So now to complete the feel good underdog story.
In a rematch of the Copa del Rey in the 2012-13 season, the stage was set and they had the chance to make history to win it’s first Champions League title.
But as the A’s did against the Twins, it ended with disappointment.
Real Madrid took its 10th European title in a 4-1 overtime victory over Atletico Madrid.
After a Sergio Ramos header in injury tied the match, Real would go on to score three goals in extra time.
For Simeone and Atletico Madrid, it was a season to remember. To their dismay, they just could not finish out the season.
Maybe there is a soccer team out there willing to adopt their style of play and be like the Boston Red Sox, who broke the Curse of the Bambino, by winning a World Series in 2004, using the strategy of Billy Beane.