Part two of Sid Lowe’s report on the seemingly endless turmoil that engulfs Atletico Madrid
First Atletico leaked that the new coach would be Michael Laudrup. But Laudrup – unconvinced by the offer of only a six-month contract that, he judged, gave him no authority, no stability and little real support – changed his mind.
Atletico asked youth team coach Milinko Pantic if he’d like the job and he said yes. But they still carried on looking anyway. Luis Aragones’ name was floated and discussed seriously, as were those of Roberto Mancini and Miroslav Dukic. But attention turned instead to Luciano Spalletti.
A deal seemed to be in place, until Spalletti informed Atletico that they would have to pay Zenit St Petersburg £2.5million as he already had an agreement in place with them for next season. Atletico, already £250m in debt, backed away and instead turned to Quique Sanchez Flores, who, thankfully, agreed a deal.
Even then, it wasn’t over. Sanchez Flores couldn’t take over until the Sunday, so Resino’s assistant, Santi Denia, was called in to be the coach for one game, against Real Mallorca.
In just over 24 hours, nine different men had been in line for the job. Denia’s only match saw his side blow a goal lead in the 93rd minute against nine-man Mallorca.
At Sanchez Flores’ first training session fans from the hardcore Frente ultras group were allowed in to the training ground to show their “support” for the team – which they did in no uncertain terms. His first game was a 1-0 defeat in Bilbao, in which Atletico hit the post three times.
In its slapstick silliness, its desperate bad luck and its bumbling incompetence, it was so typically Atletico. The conclusion was inevitable – maybe it wasn’t about the coach at all.
Resino had certainly got things wrong. His defensive approach in particular was shambolic and under his stewardship Atletico even stopped scoring goals, despite boasting the services of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero. But the team’s problems are far, far deeper than that.
Jesus Gil years
It was not Resino’s fault that he managed a squad that does not have a single right-back in it. It was not his fault that the sporting director and the president do not get on. It was not his fault, above all, that Atletico are still suffering from their inheritance from the Jesus Gil years – that president and second largest shareholder Cerezo and the club’s chief executive and majority shareholder Miguel Angel Gil Marin (the son of Jesus Gil and his former right-hand man) do not get on. It certainly was not his fault that the constant clashes between the pair have provoked a civil war that has torn the club apart. Or that Gil Marin and Cerezo complete signings independently of each other, will argue over whose turn it is to choose a coach, and feed the players contradictory lines. Or that the club is in debt and embargoed (a percentage of all transfers is immediately taken off them to pay their debts).
While on some scores Resino was certainly guilty, on most he was a victim. Just as were most of the men that went before him – and there were an awful lot of them. Since Atletico won the double in 1996 they have been through 17 “permanent” coaches; since they were prompted back to the first division in 2002 they have bought in over 60 players and spent more money than any side in Spain, outside Real Madrid and Barcelona. And they have won nothing.
Sitting in La Liga’s relegation zone and out of Champions League after four group games, having won just one of their 13 games so far, they seem unlikely to win anything this season either. Finish another season empty-handed and the solution is predictable: sack another coach. At least it will be until the men running the club finally realise that may not
be the solution at all.