Last Thursday I visited the Vicente Calderon for the Europa League clash between Atletico Madrid and Hapoel Tel Aviv. I returned to Blighty disappointed that I had not witnessed, at first hand, the immense talent of Colombian forward Falcao, a Chelsea target, and mildly shocked at being surrounded by the racism ripe amongst Spanish supporters.
My trips to Madrid are regularly littered with Tapas, Cerveza’s, ogling Spanish girls and a visit to Atletico’s Vicente Calderon, if the opportunity allows. I feel a far more alluring allegiance to Atletico Madrid compared with their wealthy, arrogant, royal, far more successful neighbours Real. My reasons being two fold.
1) My inner workings feel a much stronger connection to the ‘Antimadridista’s’ and the logo of a spiritual Indian that decorates merchandise sold on stalls surrounding Athletico’s stadium. To me Real Madrid come across as an egotistical commercial juggernaut, compared to Athletico, the working class hero. Real are like Simon Cowell and his manufactured pop stars, Athletico maintain qualities of a band possessing raw talent, still practicing in their garage, continually struggling to break into the big time. Hence why they are known as "los suffrodores," the sufferers.
2) Without wishing to have my sexual preference called into question I may also have a slight ‘boy crush’ on Radamel Falcao… a gentle obsession born purely out of football reasons I assure you.
Before actually buying tickets for the Thursday night game it quickly became apparent that Falcao would not be playing. Manager Diego Simeone has routinely rested his star man during the early stages of their defence of the Europa Cup. But I quietly reminded myself that I was lucky enough to watch Falcao dazzle, when I watched Atletico beat Hannover in this competition, last season. Still I arrived at the stadium early, keen to take back a replica shirt with the name of the man that would have been a Villa player if O’Neill had not turned him down in favour of Emile Heskey. The stalls outside the ground only sold shirts in pre-pubescent sizes, and when I looked at the 97 Euro price tag in the club shop I nearly vomited in my mouth. I settled for an infinitely cheaper ‘Falcao’ scarf instead.
The game itself was a relatively dull affair. Diego Simeone rang in the changes; making eight compared with the team that he picked in La Liga the previous weekend. He gave rare starts to the likes of Jorge Pulido, Domingo Cisma and Silvio. It took just 7 minutes for Athletico to take the lead, via man of the match Raul Garcia. After that point Madrid grew lethargic, slowly letting the already eliminated Israeli side back into the match, without any further goal scoring chances being fashioned. Most of the crowd’s attention was spent sending abuse in the direction of an English Premier League blast from the past.
That blast from the past was former West Ham and Fulham defender John Pantsil. A section of the ‘Ultra’s’ that I was stood by wasted little time launching into a foray of bad tasting ‘monkey chants’ at Pantsil. The Ghanaian did himself no favours by kicking a bunch of flowers, laid by the corner flag in memory of players that lost their lives during the Spanish Civil war, when taking a throw in.
The stadium erupted with vicious boo’s, and turned up the volume of ‘monkey chants’ whenever he touched the ball, for the remainder of the game. If any consolation Pantsil can take, it is that fact that only 10,000 fans made the journey to the Vicente Calderon. If filled to its 55,000 capacity then the abusive taunts would have become deafening, but perhaps the low attendance is the reason why this incident has passed by ignored by the world’s media?
Madrid finished the game as 1-0 winners and guaranteed their slot in the last 32 of the competition. What became abundantly clear from this experience is that racism is indeed apparent in Spanish football, even before Pantsil foolishly provoked further tension.
But what painted itself ever clearer was the fact that Atletico Madrid must keep hold of Falcao. Most of the supporters that I have spoken with rate him even higher than, previous Madrid darlings, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres. Without him they looked impotent, the teams entire play seems to be directed in a style that centres itself around Falcao, the only problem was that they had forgotten that he wasn’t on the pitch.
Put simply Falcao is irreplaceable; I hope for Atletico’s sake that they ignore the temptation to sell just to ease the clubs debt. Ride out the season, qualify for the Champions League and raise money through success instead.
As simple as it sounds my heart tells me that Falcao will not be an Atletico Madrid player next season, and in the certainty that he won’t join Villa, it hurts just thinking about where he might go.
Have something to tell us about this article?