“This shows that there is more than one way to win,” Diego Simeone said in the Camp Nou press room after his Athletico had drawn Barcelona to win the La Liga title.
His team had shown others a path, not a gilded one but a path forged through individual skill and collective will. The Argentine tactician had used this duo break Spain’s duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid, after a gap of nine seasons. Including Valencia in 2003-04, only on five occasions, has a team other than the big two won La Liga in the last three decades.
Barca and Real’s stranglehold on Spain has grown and has always taken something special to crack. Their outsize influence — they get $150 million each year from TV revenues, roughly three times what Atletico, next on the list, get — makes Los Rojiblancos’s achievement staggering. Such economic disparities are not found in any other major football league in Europe.
The numbers to place their feat in context are staggering.
Let’s take Atletico this season. 61 matches played, spread out among 25 players. That’s a workload shared by a thin squad. While one might have expected tired legs, they bombarded Barcelona ten minutes either side of half-time with a ferocity few expect with teams playing their 61st match of a season. Some will.
In the same match, the had only 36% of possession. Yet, they found a way to do what was demanded of them in the time allotted. Some skill.
A new artistry has won La Liga this year — the artistry of the adaptable, the artistry of the efficient, the artistry of the hungry. True to form, they suffered — injuries to two of their best players limiting their options. Even so, they grew with each other, living each moment as their last.
The season is not over though. One match, against their arch-rivals, remains. One more moment to salute Atletico’s class of 2013-14, remains. They may yet provideone more way to win.
(Hormazd is a senior sub-editor based New Delhi)