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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Two's company, three's certainly not a crowd

Por: | 13 de febrero de 2014

There are some things in sport that are a given. Rafa Nadal winning the French Open, a teary England captain trudging off the pitch at a major tournament after losing on penalties, your football team, whoever they may be, taking one step forwards only to then take two steps back. Unless, that is, you support Real Madrid or Barcelona, in which case you’re guaranteed to win the league or, at very worst, come second.

Whist these preconceptions might be largely true, it now appears that somebody is trying to spit in the proverbial soup. No, England aren’t practicing penalties, nor has a new king of clay arrived, but thankfully Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid have.

When I lived in the UK I would rave about the technical qualities of La Liga. Aesthetically pleasing all over the park, you can’t help but be impressed: centre backs who are comfortable on the ball as opposed to hulking, gurning galoots. Midfielders with a bit of flair and a touch of class contrast England’s try-hard headless chickens, added to tiki-taka galore with no Sam Allardyce route one in sight, not to mention the world’s two best players. But I would always get the same unanswerable retort: “it’s a league of two teams”.

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For years there have only been two sides in the Spanish title race. Photo via Flickr user Manto Football T-shirts

They were right, and the history books don’t lie. The last team to win the title other than FC Barcelona or Real Madrid was Valencia (in 2001/02 and 2003/04), and they now find themselves in a situation that make the overdraft figures in your average university lecture theatre look laughable (around €350m in arrears), not to mention the fact that they are sitting on what The Guardian’s excellent Sid Lowe once called “the second greatest white elephant in Spanish football after Dmytro Chygrynskiy” (four years on I think the Ukrainian can rest easy), the Nou Mestalla. Before them it was Deportivo (1999/00), who are now battling for promotion in the Segunda. Right now you might be thinking it would be wise for Atleti to fall off the pace.

But isn’t it refreshing to see a third wheel? People often say that two’s company, three’s a crowd, but that is definitely not the case where one of Europe’s more mundane duopolies, Spanish football, is concerned. After 23 games in La Liga the three sides sit joint top of the table with 57 points, meaning it is the most tightly contested major league in all of Europe.

Atlético’s rise has been quite meteoric, considering two seasons ago they finished 44 points off the pace, a deficit they almost halved as in coming third last year. But still, nobody could have predicted that the less illustrious city neighbours of Florentino’s gálacticos would mount a serious title challenge after they lost their best player, Ramadel Falcao, to AS Monaco last summer, whilst both Real Madrid and Barcelona spent astronomical sums of money - the less said about the actual amounts afforded by two clubs in a country succumbing to a crippling economic crisis, the better – on Gareth Bale, Neymar et al.

Wind the clock back a week and Los Colchoneros were league leaders in their own right. For the first time in 18 long years the capital’s second side looked down everyone. Not since an Atlético side containing one Diego Pablo Simeone won the double in 1995/96 had they been able to do so. Between then and now they’ve been relegated, promoted, Cup winners and losers, Europa League winners, Super Cup winners, Super Cup losers and sellers of their prized assets.

Diego-simeone-playing

The last time Atlético won the league, their manager Diego Simeone was playing for them. Photo via fourfourtwo.com

The Argentine returned to the club where he had two spells as a player on the 23rd of December 2011 and immediately led the side to their second Europa League title in three seasons. More recently he has been talked of as becoming “the Ferguson of Atleti”, developing a side that have improved despite the loss of the Colombian striker, instilling a team ethic around a nucleus of outstanding individuals including Thibault Courtios, Koke and Diego Costa. Ultimately, the XI is good but the squad is thin, and the high-intensity manner in which they play will take its toll on such small numbers.

Come July 1st, club management will face an uphill battle to keep Europe’s prying eyes, and chequebooks, away from such talent. Courtois, who isn’t actually contracted to the rojiblancos, will either take Petr Cech’s place at Chelsea or be targeted by a manager who has deeper pockets than ‘El Cholo’. Diego Costa, now Spain’s Diego Costa, will more than likely lead the line, and catch scouts’ eyes, for the defending champions at the World Cup come summer. Meanwhile Koke has been spotted house hunting in Manchester by the Twitterati more times than Robbie Fowler as United lurk.

So for now, lets just enjoy them whilst we can, and hope they can sustain their title tilt before normal service is resumed.

 

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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