Though Atlético finished the season strongly, going unbeaten in their final nine games in all competitions including Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Villarreal and Thursday’s Europa League title-hoisting triumph over Athletic Bilbao, the mood in Rojiblanco land was tepid at best, as most of us felt we should have been celebrating our return to the Champions League.
Instead, the outcome at the Madrigal was one of tragedy. We had to witness the suffering of a fanbase in tears, incredulous as to how, in a matter of minutes, they went from salvation to damnation in the form of relegation to the Segunda División because of our game-winning goal.
Meanwhile, those numb to the agony of the Yellow Submarine community were beginning to brace for what will possibly, if not most likely, be another summer of departing Colchonero idols.
It is commonly understood in the Spanish media that Atleti would only have looked to retain their stars, particularly Falcao and Diego, if a Champions League berth had been secured.
A fifth place finish means the future is up in the air and subject to the whims of a super agent and the incompetence of a pair of directors.
For now, the squad will head to Colombia for a series of friendlies in the cities of Bogota (May 16th), Cali (May 19th) and Huila (May 22nd), before closing the book on this trademark Atleti season.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone unable to assure Falcao and Diego will return
In his first five months at the helm of the club he once won two titles with as a player, Diego Simeone finished with a record of 19 wins, 7 draws and 5 losses in all competitions, with one of those victories being our Europa League trophy-lifting triumph.
Despite the club’s – for the most part – success under ‘El Cholo’, the Argentine tactician was somewhat disappointed at missing out on a chance of going head-to-head with Europe’s finest next season.
“It’s not a comfortable situation, on the contrary, it’s uncomfortable,” an emotional Simeone said after the game at the Madrigal.
“We were left out of the Champions League and Villarreal were relegated, but Sporting only lost 1-0 and we had to give it a shot.
“We had hope of qualifying for Champions, though in the end, we weren’t able to achieve it. The players cannot be reproached at all because we went for everything. Sporting couldn’t tie their game and we didn’t finish in fourth place.”
When asked if Diego and Falcao will return despite the squad not having qualified for Champions League, Simeone’s response did not allay any of the Rojiblanco faithful’s fears.
“The match just ended and it’s not the time to talk about this, but I can’t guarantee [they’ll stay],” he said.
“We needed to make it into Champions League, we picked up a huge amount of points, a lot, but it wasn’t possible. We finished just outside the door.”
He continued: “What we have to keep making sure of is that Atlético remain a competitive team, just as they have been in these last games.”
Falcao, Villarreal’s bête noire
Radamel Falcao’s whopping 36th goal of his inaugural and hopefully first of many campaigns at the banks of the Manzanares River will have a longer life span in the nightmares of the Submarino faithful than in the dreams of Atleti fans, as the strike ended Villarreal’s 12-year run in the Primera División.
With his eighth career goal against his favourite prey, ‘El Tigre’ equalled former Atleti forward Manolo’s single-season mark of 36 goals from the 1991/92 season.
Remarkably, only three other Atlético players in history have scored more goals in one year: Elícegui, who scored 48 in 1934/35; Pruden, who scored 47 in 1940/41; and Baltazar, who scored 42 in 1988/89.
The Colombian finished 2011/12 with 24 league goals, third in the category behind Lionel Messi (50) and Cristiano Ronaldo (46).
In a tribute to his mom and having scored off a header on the day celebrated as Mother’s Day in his native country of Colombia, Falcao told the following story through his Twitter account:
“Dedicated to my mom on her day. I was young and we lived in Santa Marta, my mother and I would go to the beach, always with a ball. Because the ball did not roll well on the sand, my mom would throw the ball up in the air and I would have to jump up and head it back to her hands.
“All afternoon long, the ball would go up and I would send it back to her with my head; the sun would set and it would become nighttime until their was no longer any light left to keep on playing! I think it was then that I began to perfect my headers! A big hug to her and to all mothers today!”
Antonio López proud of squad’s performance in his final season at the club
Atleti captain and 10-year veteran Antonio López suited up in red and white for the last time in his career, though he didn’t get any playing time on Sunday.
“It’s been a shame that we couldn’t qualify for Champions,” López said.
“We’ve had many chances to do so, but it wasn’t possible. Nonetheless, we leave with our heads held very high this season. We’ve won a title, we’ve made it into European play, and we’ve been fighting until the last moment to qualify for the Champions League.”
The 30-year-old lauded the work of his last boss at Atleti, saying of Simeone: “The team wasn’t doing very well before he arrived, but we turned things around at the end of the season and we’ve fulfilled our goals.”
Villarreal’s Vice President calls Godín a “shameless scoundrel” after the game
Television cameras caught an ugly exchange between Villarreal Vice President José Manuel Llaneza and Atlético defender Diego Godín in the Madrigal tunnel 45 minutes after the final whistle had blown.
Llaneza was seen yelling at Godín, calling him a “shameless scoundrel”, Spanish paper El País reports.
“In his last match with us, he went out and got drunk the night before,” Llaneza explained later.
“That’s why we parted ways with him. Today, he started arguing with our players. I asked him if he was satisfied and he insulted me and I responded.
“If it weren’t for our club, he’d still be in Montevideo.”
- Thibaut Courtois, whose second-year loan deal at Atleti is said to be pretty much all wrapped up, kept his 24th clean sheet this year in all competitions and 15th in La Liga. Only Barcelona’s Víctor Valdés finished with more clean sheets in the domestic competition, with 17.
- The corner kick sent in by Diego in the 88th minute that led to Falcao’s match-winning goal was the Brazilian’s 10th assist of the year, and third in league play.
- Atleti leaders (La Liga): Most goals: Falcao (24). Most assists: Juanfran (5). Most cards: Gabi (14 yellows, 1 red). Most appearances: Courtois (37). (Info Atleti)
Share your end of the season thoughts and your expectations for the summer with us in the comment section.