El Centrocampista

THE KINGS OF SPAIN – When Atletico Madrid conquered the land

9-CWR-1996-6

The 1995/96 La Liga season went down in the Atlético Madrid history books as one of the most memorable. Having narrowly avoided relegation the campaign before, wholesale changes were needed and that is exactly what happened.

A new coach came in, along with new players, though expectation wasn’t high. What unfolded over the following months has gone down in Atleti folklore.

The 1994/95 season ended with Atléti drawing their final match of the season to avoid the drop to the Segunda division by a solitary point. The club then went and appointed a new manager in Radomir Antic, who in turn brought in the then unknown Milinko Pantic, Luboslav Penev, Jose Francisco Molina, Santi Denia, Roberto Fresnedoso as well as Leo Biagini.

The new players gelled with existing squad members like current manager, Diego Simeone, as well as Juan Vizcaíno, José Luis Caminero and Kiko. Los Rojiblancos got off to a blistering start, gaining three points from each of their opening four games and in the process, raced to the top of the table.

Atleti held top spot for almost the whole season except for one week, though coming in to the last round, Valencia still had a shot at winning the title as they trailed but just two points. The title was secured though, thanks to a win over Albacete at the Vicente Calderon.

The league title wasn’t the only success los Colchoneros enjoyed; the club also secured the Copa del Rey thanks to a brilliant win over Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona thanks to a Milinko Pantic goal in extra time.

The signing of Penev proved to be a masterstroke by Antic, as the Bulgarian, formerly of Valencia, went on to notch up 32 goals in the 44 games he played across all competitions that season. He was well assisted by the likes of Simeone who scored 12 league goals, Kiko 11, Pantić 10, and Caminero 9.

The defence held up their end of the deal, conceding just 32 goals across the whole La Liga season.

Unfortunately, the club wasn’t able to build on the success they enjoyed and struggled the following season under the pressure of participating in the Champions League and defending their cup and league titles. Atletico made it to the Champions League quarterfinals, losing to Ajax in a tense tie which could have easily ended in a more favourable result.

The Copa del Rey run also ended at the quarter final stage as Barcelona got their revenge, winning 7-6 on aggregate before going on to defeat Real Betis in the final.

In the league, Atleti slipped to fifth, failing to defend their tittle. In 1997/98 when the club finished seventh, then in 1998/99, Atletico flirted with relegation, finishing 13th and seven points clear of the drop. The fall from grace reached its peak in 1999/2000 when los Rojiblancos crashed to a 19th placed finish and relegation. It was a sad time for the club and quite remarkable to think that just four seasons earlier the fans had been enjoying a completely unexpected league title.

The 1995/96 league-cup double was a rare moment of success and one that is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. The 2010 Europa League final victory in Hamburg came close, but obviously the league would be the ultimate prize for a club such as Atleti.

Diego Simeone would be wise to use his experience of being a part of that team to inspire the current crop of players, after all the victory that season came out of nowhere, who’s to say it can’t happen again?




3 Comments

  1. Iain McMullen

    13 February, 2012 at 14:38

    Great read Tom – I remember the season when Atletico won the double, very unexpected as you say. They did spend a vast amount of money during that time however under the obnoxious Jesus Gil.

    They’ve had some hard times and I used to see them very much like city in the way they had a huge fan base but struggled to win anything while big neighbours won everything!

    Great to see Simeone back and doing well at the club – how they didn’t win against Racing I will never know!

  2. Pingback: THE KINGS OF SPAIN – When Atletico Madrid conquered the land | Tom Pollock

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