Madrid Derby: Football as a way of life
A city is both a repository and a paragon of tradition, culture and time. Magnificent as it may look, a city is far greater than its concrete. It is an amalgamation of human emotions and spirit. What makes a city stand out? The answer might be relative, but it is often than not related to a way of life. In case of the Spanish capital, that way of life is football. That is not to say that football is the only thing that governs the life of Madrilenos. Art, food, fashion, architecture dominates the city’s scope and its people. But football remains an integral part of everyone’s life, perhaps a part of Madrid’s identity.
The New Home
As our flight neared touchdown, the aerial view was dominated by the coliseum-esque Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. It is the new home of Atletico Madrid, the city’s second most successful football club. I had been to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium - home to the most successful club in Europe & Spain, Real Madrid - before, but Metropolitano was something different. It was a modern day architectural splendour. Once you are inside, it is difficult to decide whether to marvel at the pitch or at the facilities. During the tour of the stadium, organised by LaLiga for visiting journalists in September 2019, I realised something that I had felt over years of covering sports. These giant arenas have a soul and character of their own. Every seat, has a story to tell, every lane has its own moment to share.
The major attraction of our week long trip was the Madrid derby, to be played at the Metropolitano over the weekend. We reached well in advance on the big day. The noise around the stadium went up as the Atletico faithfuls arrived in batches closer to the start of play. The ultras or the hardcore fans assembled near gate number 40 and ensured the decibel levels were hitting the roof. In Spain, we were told, away fans don’t travel much and that is why I decided not to wear my Real Madrid (confession, I am a fan) jersey.
We watched the tense encounter from the best seats, along with all the luxuries of the lounge. The match ended in a goalless draw but the atmosphere was electric. It was also the day that Wanda Metropolitano recorded its highest attendance since opening in the 2017-18 season.
‘You must pick sides’
We were checked in to a hotel in the heart of the capital. One evening, when we had some time to ourselves, I decided to venture out towards Gran Via, the central shopping district. Having been to Madrid a few months before, there was a certain confidence in my stride. I knew the place, the buildings looked familiar and I knew where to go. The architecture in this part of the city is posh, and you can at times strain your neck while admiring the artistry and charm of the beauteous facades.
As I gazed at one of the many edifices that lined the roads, the eyes wandered and fell upon a window. Through the glass I could see a bunch of antiques. Drawn to their uniqueness, I decided to enter, fully aware I didn’t have to means to buy any of what was on show. Upon entering I was welcomed by a man, whom I thought was the owner. A warm gentleman, he went on to show me the pieces of history. But something was odd, his English was too smooth. That begged the question, was he really Spanish. Peter was American, he was married to the daughter of the owner. His wife, a fourth generation antiquarian, was an avid football fan. Peter said if you choose to stay in Madrid, ‘you must pick sides’.
“The family has fans of both Atleti and Real. It’s split down the middle, just like the city. Sometimes it gets a bit tense, especially with the young guys. They tend to get too serious. I knew only baseball. But now I know football and I too had to choose,” he said. ‘And you chose?’, Peter decided not to answer the question, knowing I would include his story when I chronicle my trip.
‘Looking to make it as big as Clasico’
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have locked horns 162 times in LaLiga with Real coming out on top in 89 of those encounters. Atletico have won 39 matches and the same number have ended in a draw. Not just the league, Real have had the upper hand in European clashes as well, beating the neighbours in the UEFA Champions League final in 2014 and 2016.
For long Spanish football has been dominated by the Real Madrid-FC Barcelona rivalry. Historically there is no match, but as LaLiga looks to reach out to a global audience, it understands the need to spin riveting new stories. Create new stars for fans to follow, introduce fresh duels to increase interest. Atletico’s rise under Diego Simeone has given the Madrid derby a whole new character. Atletico has finished above Real Madrid in the league in the last two seasons and were champions of LaLiga in 2014. LaLiga’s plans about energising the fixture further was shared by its president Javier Tebas.
“The Madrid derby is an important and significant match. We will be looking to make it as big as the Clasico,” Tebas said during an event.
Madrid Derby 2020
The Madrid derby on February 1 at the Santiago Bernabeu comes at an interesting time for both the clubs. Zinedine Zidane has managed to reinvigorate Real Madrid as the Los Blancos sit three points clear of Barcelona at the top of the table. If Zidane’s team can notch up a victory at home against the neighbours, it will be another big step towards instilling confidence in the team, which is finally shaking off the after effects of the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Zidane guided his team to the title in the recently concluded Spanish Super Cup, with a penalty shoot-out win over Atletico, and has his sights set on the league this year.
Atletico find themselves in an unusual position. Simeone’s team is 10 points behind the leaders and are yet to find form this season. The exit of several key players before the start of the season, has left the manager without his core, and he needs to start afresh. Simeone has been linked with a move away from Atletico over the past few months although the Argentine has claimed he is going nowhere. A victory for Atletico at the Bernabeu will go a long way in re-establishing Simeone’s credentials as the man who could make the impossible possible at the club.