Atletico’s Striking Conveyer Belt

   Atletico Madrid and strikers seem to go hand in hand. Over the past twenty years the club has always had a big name leading the line, despite the seemingly never ending departures of top class strikers over that period. With almost all of these players being sold on for a profit, it would seem that the Vicente Calderon is the perfect breeding ground for goal scorers. 

   Atletico are a club with a budget, unlike their two closest rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Diego Simeone surmised the situation in Spain perfectly last week when saying that ‘we’ve spent 95 million on bringing seven or eight players, they (Real Madrid) spent 95 million on two.” With such a gulf in spending capabilities Atletico have been forced to scour the market for low cost players they can develop. When it comes to strikers, they have got their transfer policy spot on.

   It all began 17 long years ago under previous president Jesus Gil, with the signing of Italy international Christian Vieri. The club paid €10 million to bring him to Spain, a significant amount at that time. Vieri impressed mightily, scoring 24 goals in 24 games including a magnificent chipped goal from a corner, and claimed the Pichichi Trophy for the league’s top scorer. Off the pitch however, was another story. Vieri enjoyed a playboy lifestyle, and it was said that he pinned up the underwear of his conquests on his bedroom wall. 

   In the late 90s Serie A was still the place to be, and when Lazio came calling for Vieri after his impressive season and World Cup it was hard to say no. With the Italian league awash with money Atletico dug their heels in looking for a large fee, and duly received it when Lazio president Sergio Cragnotti agreed to pay €24 million – a new world record.

   But what was to be done with this profit? Then manager Arrigo Sacchi reinvested, and a certain Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was bought in as his replacement. The Dutchman was hot property at the time, having just won the Premiership golden boot with Leeds United. It took a bid of £12 million and a transfer request for Hasselbaink to join Los Rojiblancos. He adapted to the Spanish game well, scoring 32 goals in all competitions. Despite his goals, Atletico were relegated at the end of the season and Hasselbaink was swiftly flogged to Chelsea for a cool £15 million. 

   So where did Atletico turn next? Having just been relegated they stood no chance of attracting a big name replacement, and went through a succession of intermediate strikers whilst still languishing in the Segunda. The likes of Salva Ballesta and Veljko Paunovic failed to catch the imagination of the fans, or set the pitch alight, and Atletico looked towards their youth team. Specifically Fernando Torres.

   Back then, Torres was a completely different player, blessed with pace, intelligence and finishing skills – a far cry from his current predicament. Although Torres did not have an outstanding goal record in his first season, he performed well, and his boyhood club were duly promoted back to La Liga at the end of the 2001-2002 season. 

A fresh faced Fernando Torres in happier times
A fresh faced Fernando Torres in happier times

   Then he really got going. The local boy done good scored at least ten goals a season during the remainder of his time at the club, and was made captain at the age of 19. The club and Torres himself rejected many offers to leave, until the current president Enrique Cerezo said he would listen to offers in 2006. 

   This may have had something to do with the fact they had just signed Sergio Aguero, and in his first season he showed immense promise. Torres left Atletico in 2007, joining Liverpool for £25 million plus Luis Garcia. 

   Los Colchoneros were not satisfied with having just Aguero up front, and splashed the cash on Diego Forlan of Villareal before Torres had even left the club. The two went on to form a deadly partnership, supported by fellow signings Simao and Jose Antonio Reyes on the wings. The season proved to be the most successful in a long time, as Atletico qualified for the Champions League after an eleven year absence.

   Forlan impressed again the following season, scoring 32 goals and winning the European Golden Shoe in the process. Atletico were finally competitive again, and what can be considered a golden period for the club began, which has yet to end. The Aguero-Forlan partnership was thriving, and the club won the Europa League in 2010. 

   However, Forlan was shipped of to Inter Milan the following summer for a decent fee – which in retrospect was a good decision. The veteran has failed to reach the highs of his time at Atletico since leaving the club. Contoversially, Aguero was also sold to Manchester City for a £38 million fee. The club’s fans turnt on him for requesting a transfer, even brandishing an ‘Aguero, We Hope You Die’ banner in a game against Strømsgodset IF.

   With money in the bank, Atletico again set out in search of a top quality forward to lead the line. Fans were beginning to worry after it reached mid-August and no striker had been signed – then Atletico pulled it out of the bag. Radamel Falcao was signed from FC Porto for a huge fee – making him the most expensive player in the club’s illustrious history. He settled straight into life in the capital, and scored 52 goals in 68 league games for the club, winning a Copa del Rey in the process. However, as soon as he had joined the club there were rumours abound of a transfer, which somewhat surprisingly came to fruition with a move to Monaco last summer. A record fee of €60 million was received, though it was clear Falcao was upset at having to leave the club.

   So where did Atletico turn next? Rather than go out and splash the cash, David Villa was purchased for an extremely low fee, though he was not to play through the middle. Diego Simeone was manager of the club by now, and he decided to rely on Diego Costa up top. Costa was the personification of Simeone on the pitch – aggressive, with a never say die attitude. The Brazilian turnt Spaniard spearheaded Los Rojiblancos title challenge, which they ultimately won in the final game. A new hero had been born – and was again sold on for a huge profit, to Chelsea.

   Simeone is much more important to Atletico than Costa ever was, but he was now left with the monumental challenge of continuing Atletico’s proud tradition – or conveyer belt – of strikers. With David Villa also leaving the club this summer he was in need of a couple of star signings. Antoine Griezmann was bought in to play on the wing, but the club still needed a forward – or two.

Mario Mandžukić - Atletico's new number 9
Mario Mandžukić – Atletico’s new number 9

   Enter Raul Jiménez and Mario Mandžukić. The little known Mexican was signed earlier this month and is considered as one for the future. He’s blessed with pace, and don’t be surprised if he makes an immediate impact. But Mandžukić is the man tasked with replacing Costa. Purchased from Bayern Munich after Robert Lewandowski was bought in to replace him (probably unfairly), his physical presence is exactly what is needed to fill the hole left by Costa. Indeed, he got of to a great start – scoring the winner against hated rivals Real Madrid in the Supercopa de España last week. And he only cost £17.5 million, a bargain when you consider Shane Long recently when for £12 million.

   Mandžukić is the big name signing the club craved, and if he continues scoring, Atletico may have just found their Costa replacement. Though he’ll probably be sold on for a profit in the next couple of years. It’s just the Atletico way.

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