O ye mighty Soccer Gods, how blessed are we, the fans of the sport you so nobly watch over! You’ve given us over a decade of The One, your favorite son, the one and only Lionel Messi, and we have praised you for it! In recent times, you saw fit to grant us arguably the greatest team feat of all time, guiding poor, meek little Leicester City to the championship of England, and how we treasured that achievement! It has been a wondrous time to follow this great sport, thanks in large part to your infinite wisdom and generosity. Though if we may be so bold, let us ask for one more major favor that we swear is totally deserved: please, may you see fit to grant Atlético Madrid the biggest prize of all by winning the Champions League this season.
Atlético have already borne the fruits of the Soccer Gods’ favor in this recent spell of theirs under the helm of manager Diego Simeone. That league title they won in the 2013-14 season is a modern marvel at least on par with Leicester’s Premier League success of last season, and arguably was even more impressive. Yes, they too benefitted from relatively down years from the giants of their league, but still, even an off season for Barcelona and Real Madrid—armed as they were with Messi and Ronaldo and Neymar and Gareth Bale and Alexis Sánchez—makes for a hell of a competition. And with the Copa del Rey trophy that came the year prior and the Champions League success Atleti have enjoyed in recent years, their title was unquestionably justified as a legitimate testament of their non-fluky greatness.
That Spain’s third team, with a fraction of the budget of not only Barça and Real but also a slew of teams from around Europe, won a league title, made two UCL finals, and now find themselves once again in the semifinals of the most cut-throat competition in the world is a feat so remarkable that it’s impossible to overstate. And that’s just one of the reasons why Atleti, who’ve had their hearts broken twice now by their biggest rivals in Champions League finals, deserve to lift the trophy that has been so cruelly denied them this year.
The other big reason why Atlético should win the Champions League this season, if the Soccer Gods are as fair and just as we know them to be, is the indelible mark the team has made on the sport as a whole. Simeone’s Atlético—with it’s deep-set, compact, hard-pressing, ferociously counter-attacking tactical philosophy—have become the most influential team in European soccer. Simeone’s style has usurped the patient possession play of Pep Guardiola and the passive defending of José Mourinho to become the defining strategy of the moment.
Sitting deep in a 4-4-2 formation with a group of players best described as hardworking in a big Champions League match would’ve gotten you laughed at by the majority of soccer fans just a handful of years ago. Everyone believed that hoarding a bunch of small, technical, ball-loving midfielders and versatile, interchanging forwards was the only true way to compete at the highest level, and anything else was gauche, a reversion to antiquated tactics that Barcelona and Spain’s national team had consigned to history’s dumpster.
Just look at how different the world is now. Not a single one of the UCL semifinalists is a tiki-taka-style possession monger. Three out of the four still in the tournament prefer to line up similar to how Atleti do—in a compact 4-4-2 that prioritizes careful defending and unleashing their quick forwards on direct counters. And the biggest league miracle of all time happened because Leicester basically copied Simeone’s gameplan. You can see Atlético’s fingerprints all around Europe in the way teams are playing, and it’s only right that the creators of this wildly popular and influential style reap the rewards of their labor. And to do so by besting their bête noire, Real Madrid, in the semifinal after losing out to them in such agonizing fashion in recent years, would be perfect.
And so we come to you, great and powerful Soccer Gods, pleading Atleti’s case. Please let these warriors who’ve provided so much joy in your name by redefining what successful soccer looks like win the highest honor in the sport. You’ve been so good to us for so long. We know you’ll do the right thing now.