Atletico Madrid are the surprise team of the Spanish season so far. Currently second in the Primera Liga, they’ve notched up 12 wins from 14 games including victory at the Bernabeu against a Real Madrid side who’d not lost against them in the league so far this century.
They also held Barcelona in both legs of the Spanish Super Cup and in Europe, they were the first team to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League after four wins from four. On Sunday, they put seven past Getafe.
Diego Costa, David Villa, Koke, Gabi and Thibaut Courtois are the players making the headlines. Atletico’s recruitment policy is exceptional. Was there a better bargain than Villa for €2 million (£1.7m) (plus a few add ons if things work out) in the close season? And that after selling Falcao for €60m.
I spoke to Atletico sporting director Jose Luis Caminero at the club's training ground. The former Atletico, Valladolid and Spain midfielder is now in his second spell as Atleti’s sporting director, where his contract was recently renewed.
Can you remember your last game for Spain?
Thanks! Against England at Wembley in Euro 1996. We lost on penalties. Terrible way to go out, but aside from the results I have fond memories of the atmosphere at Wembley.
Is it vital for Atleti to sell players to survive?
No. We have money to spend and players want to come here. It’s a big trophy-winning club in a fine city. We have a team with top international players. We’re attractive to very good players.
What’s your philosophy?
To bring the best players to this club. We have a network of scouts and I personally watch two to three games a week. We see youth development as vital to our future. We’ve consistently developed a high number of young players for our first team. Looking at the talent we have, I’m confident we can bring more players through.
They have their inspiration right on front of them, players like Koke, Mario, Gabi and Oliver (Torres). Many of our players are from Madrid. We don’t choose players based on where they are from, but if they’re from Madrid or if they’re Atleti, that’s only positive because they understand the identity of the club.
Does it sadden you that you seem to sell some of your best players every year?
It means I’m doing my job well. To interest the biggest clubs in the world, like we do, shows that we are producing and developing excellent footballers. It’s also the reality. Atleti is a big club, but not the biggest. Other clubs have more money and will try and spend that on our players. If we sell a player, then another player gets a chance.
Would Diego Costa be doing how he is if Radamel Falcao was still here? He’s having the best moments of his career. We’ve been satisfied with how we’ve conducted ourselves in the transfer market. The money also helps us get control of our debts. That was important given UEFA’s financial fair play directive. We’re in a good position.
What is success for Atletico Madrid?
A Champions League finish and, ideally, a higher league position and more points than the season before. We’ve finished in a higher league position in each of the last four seasons. We’d like to close the gap on Barcelona and Real Madrid and are confident of doing that. Champions League football makes a club more attractive to players
Is the current team better than a year ago?
Ask me at the end of the season. We’ve started better, sure.
Can Atletico win the league?
Tough. I’ve been a league winner here. I know what it felt like and that it can be done, but the financial difference between us and Barcelona/Real Madrid is huge; they’re on another planet. We’re looking to close that by being successful and moving to a bigger new stadium. We’re also looking to close it on the pitch.
You were player of the year in the Atleti team which won the double. What’s Diego Simeone like?
Level headed. Hard working. Wants to win. He’s not the only one. He cares deeply about the supporters and he thinks big.
Andy Mitten - @AndyMitten