Atlético end 14-year Madrid curse



Historic is the word. This may even be Atlético’s greatest ever night. “If we win it will be forever,” Adrián had said before the game. Diego Simeone said he didn’t know where it ranks in the club’s history. But, he added, “in many years’ time, it will be remembered.” And how. Atlético had not defeated their city rivals this century. They had not defeated them this millennium, in fact. The last victory came in October 1999, back when Christina Aguilera was being rubbed the right way, the Pet Shop Boys didn’t know what you wanted and Thibault Courtois was seven.

That year, victory was empty. Atlético were relegated to the second division for the first time in their history, “one little year in hell” that turned out to be two. In the first derby for almost three years upon Atlético’s return to the first division, a last minute free kick and a penalty save from the then-goalkeeper and current assistant manager Mono Burgos – with his nose – earned them a 2-2 draw but they have not won since. Twenty-five games, not one victory. Over 60 teams have beaten Real Madrid since 1999 but their neighbours weren’t one of them and it hasn’t even been close of late: Madrid had won the last 10 matches.

There is a whole generation of kids – and in fact, Spanish football correspondents – who have never seen Atlético win against Real. No matter what they tried, no matter what they did, no matter what the conditions, they simply couldn’t win. There was a crushing inevitability about defeat that fed into an identity being built on failure. Atlético were El Pupas, the jinxed one, that famous advert showing a father lost for words when his son asks him: papá, why do we support Atlético? There was even a supporters club called The Suffering and their centenary hymn, from gravelly-voiced folk singer Joaquín Sabina, lauded: “What a way to suffer! What a way to lose!” When their centenary came around, a problem over the rights meant that they could not play it at the Calderón. So they chose the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get what you want instead.

When it came to facing Real, there was always something that stood in their way. Fate, destiny … a curse.

Until now. And what better way of breaking the spell than this? Afterwards, Arda Turan was grinning, his hair shaved off as promised. Filipe Luis came through with the match ball under his arm, slapping Courtois as he went: “Madre mía, what a save,” he shouted, “the world’s best goalie!” “This is amazing: glorious,” the keeper smiled. Simeone conjured up the rather unlikely image of Jesús Gil in hell and dedicated victory to everyone struggling in life: “we’re an example, proof that you can do it,” he insisted. As for Miranda, scorer of the winning goal, he said: “I wanted to score that goal for all the kids who laugh at my son every day for being an Atlético fan.”

Atlético’s players and staff wore T-shirts. “Winning is not an aim, it is an attitude,” read the front; “Madrid is red-and-white,” read the back. At 2.15 am, Atlético’s team bus finally pulled out of the Bernabéu, home of their great rivals, with the Copa del Rey on board. Miranda had nailed it. This was cathartic, revenge at last. This time there was a hint even before the game, that the psychology and pressure had shifted. Now, it really has, at long, long, long last. All year banging on about the décima (the 10th), all decade in fact, and it turned out they were right: this was the year of the décima … just that instead of Madrid’s 10th European Cup, it was Atlético’s 10th Spanish Cup. In 18 months, Diego Simeone has won as much as José Mourinho in three years.

“If you had made the fans an offer in which you’d said: ‘we won’t win against them for 14 years but when we do, it will be in the Cup final at their stadium, with them scoring first, hitting the post three times and us winning in extra time,’ they’d have signed up for that’,” Simeone smiled. “Tomorrow there will be a few more Atlético fans. I invite them to all wear their shirts. Tomorrow will be a special day.” The first day of the rest of their lives.

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