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Madrid Is Center Of Footballing Universe Again

Madrid is the football capital of the universe again and to say that the ‘Madrilenos’ are pleased about that would be an understatement.

The talk over the beer and tortilla in Madrid over the weekend was not just of the two finals to be played this month, but of the European Super cup final to be played next August in Tallinn, Estonia – another Madrid derby if things go to form in the coming weeks.

It maybe it shouldn’t escape the attention of the kingmakers at Arsenal that the incredible record of the city’s two big clubs over the last five years has largely been achieved with both clubs going for ‘one of our own’ coaches.

Someone like Patrick Vieira would be a huge gamble at the Emirates but then so was Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid back in 2015 and, albeit to a slightly lesser extent, Diego Simeone seven years ago. He had never coached in Europe and had not always been a success in South America.

Simeone has now made it to four finals in seven years and Zidane is on the verge of making history. Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti both won three European Cups but they did not do it in consecutive seasons.

Real Madrid have more money than most of their rivals in the Champions League and Atletico are a big fish in the small pond of the Europa League but it isn’t just about the finances in Madrid.

The city breathes football and to tap into the passion both clubs have put legendary figures from their past in charge.

To see the Metropolitano Stadium turn as one on Thursday night and salute Simeone, decked out in his lucky black suit and waving a red Atletico flag above his head, was to witness once more the bond between the people and the their spiritual leader.

There is not quite the same homage paid to Zidane at the Bernabeu where players have always been more important than coaches but Zidane has an approval rating that dwarfs all his predecessors.

Jose Mourinho won a league and Ancelotti a Champions League but only every succeeded in getting half the people onside. Everyone backs Zidane.

This is the first time in 24 years two teams from the same city will contest the two European prizes. Madrid, the city, will have been represented by a team in a European final seven times since 2014.

It’s always been a fraternity as much as a rivalry and one based on big brother, little brother – at least that is the way Real Madrid fans would see it.

This season, in European competition at least, the hierarchy has been restored by the bigger club playing the bigger European competition.

Atletico remains the noisy neighbour, the upstart. For so many years they were stuck out on the city’s southern border. Their Vicente Calderon stadium easily the noisiest in Spain.

The fans no longer stroll down Paseo de Melancolicos (Melancholics Way) towards the stadium set on the banks of the shallow Manzanares River. And there is some authenticity lost by the move to the out of town new-build by the airport.

But the Europa League win over Arsenal was hailed by Simeone as the first chapter of a new story – the story of the Metropolitano. The noise was not quite to Calderon levels but they still roared their team over the line.

Back, slap-bang in the centre of the city the Santiago Bernabeu still rises up from the city’s most emblematic avenue, the Castellana, not far from its wealthiest neighbourhood, Salamanca.

Atletico’s move has not changed the dynamic of the two clubs – one on the fringes of the city and one at the heart. Even though supporters of Simeone’s team will argue that it’s the club on the fringes that actually has the bigger heart.

Those arguments about authenticity will not stop both sets of supporters wanting the other to win their particular final. That perhaps would not happen in too many cities. But then neither would the unprecedented recent success of both clubs.

And if they both win their finals, then they can have that late summer Madrid derby in Estonia with yet another trophy guaranteed to be on it’s way to Madrid. That’s the Spanish capital, and, for the time being, football’s capital city too.