Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur: Two sides of a similar coin

  • Atletico Madrid and Tottenham have endured contrasting fortunes this season. Is it a coincidence or does there lie a deeper difference?
Modified 18 Oct 2019, 16:22 IST

Pochettino's Tottenham have come in for heavy criticism this season

A few months ago, in two different parts of Europe, a couple of sides faced equally daunting tasks in the transfer window. Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, after contrasting 2018-19 seasons, were now cast into the off-season storm, with each having to chalk out a future course of action and make decisions that had the potential to define the club over the succeeding seasons. 

Consequently, both teams went about their business in relatively similar fashion, in light of the cash they splashed to bring fresh faces on board. Unsurprisingly, several seemed to label their transfer activity as a success, especially considering Spurs had last signed a player before VAR took over the footballing world. 

Yet, the sides have proceeded in entirely different directions this term. While the Los Rojiblancos have propelled themselves as a force to be reckoned with, Tottenham have spiralled downwards, arguably even beyond recognition.  

Inevitably, it prompts one to ask whether the conflicting fortunes of the clubs is merely a coincidence or perhaps a case of two entities taking divergent routes when encountered by a similar obstacle. And, on further introspection, the latter outcome seems much more probable than the former.

To put things into perspective, Atletico and Tottenham are quite congruent than they might seem at first glance. 

Over the years, the Los Rojiblancos, despite their immense history, have always been looked upon as the ‘other’ team in Madrid, which could partly be attributed to Real Madrid’s enormous success. Thus, they’ve always had to battle several notions, a few unfounded and some not so, while gracing the pitch.

However, after the appointment of a certain Diego Simeone, the Spanish outfit have earmarked themselves as prominent contenders on the domestic and continental front, a fact emphasised by their frequent forays into the latter stages of the Champions League.

Spurs, meanwhile, have also been treated as the secondary team in North London once Arsenal made the move north. More dramatically for the Lilywhites though, they’ve found themselves in another London side’s (Chelsea) shadow in the past few seasons, even as their arch-rivals, Arsenal have struggled to recapture the glory days of yesteryear.

Akin to Atletico though, the English club have also embarked on their own upward curve since the arrival of an Argentine at the helm. Under the tutelage of Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have constantly been among the upper trenches with them always looking just a tiny step away from challenging for the Premier League title. 


Thus, both teams have often had to adopt a siege mentality trying to upset the established order and in the process, carving an identity which seeks to showcase their ideals rather than being highlighted as just another club in their city. 

Moreover, Atletico and Spurs have built state-of-the-art arenas lately, an investment that has eaten up a significant chunk of their finances.

And, while there has been a plethora of similarities since the turn of the decade, things have just started treading slightly dissimilar paths in the 2019-20 season, with both outfits on drastically different trajectories.

Atletico Madrid have coped well with the summer departures
Atletico Madrid have coped well with the summer departures

In the summer, Atletico had to let go off Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran, Lucas Hernandez and Rodri; players who were extremely vital cogs in Simeone’s dogged wheel. 

Yet, rather smartly, they resisted the temptation of asking any of the aforementioned footballers to stay put, despite them longing for a move away. Griezmann, who had famously rejected Barcelona’s advances a season ago, seemed destined to don the Blaugrana jersey whereas Godin, Filipe and Juanfran wanted to spend the twilight of their career away from the cauldron of pressure.

Astonishingly, they allowed Hernandez and Rodri to switch camps, considering the duo’s age and the value they added to the team. However, once their heads had been turned by ambitious footballing projects, the pair seemed at a point of no return. 

Spurs too found themselves at a similar crossroad in the off-season, where a few of their players harboured hopes of newer pastures, namely Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld. Unlike Atletico though, the North London outfit tried to rein in those players and eventually, kept hold of them. However, in the aftermath of that particular saga, neither has hit his straps, meaning that two of the Lilywhites’ most influential players have contributed negligibly. 

More worryingly, the above seems to have impacted the dressing room negatively, with the veils of discontent among the squad only growing louder. To compound matters, some have even gone to claim that Pochettino has lost the dressing room and is currently waging a war that is primed to spectacularly unravel. 

In stark contrast, the players acquired by Atletico have infused the surroundings with much-needed energy and a hint of freshness, especially after many had complained of the Los Rojiblancos going stale.  

Thus, over the course of the transfer window, Atletico and Spurs had deployed non-identical modus operandi. And, the results are being laid bare for everyone to witness.

While one prioritised keeping its core intact, despite the threat of it decaying, the other ripped apart that smokescreen and tore it to shreds, thereby shunting itself towards another approach.

The most damning assessment of the above would be Kieran Trippier and his decision to embrace the slightly sunnier Spain at the cost of leaving behind a club that had catapulted him to stardom.

Trippier switched Tottenham for Atletico Madrid in the summer
Trippier switched Tottenham for Atletico Madrid in the summer

The full-back recently quipped that everything wasn’t rosy behind the scenes in North London and that that played a substantial role in his transfer. Comically though, when confronted with the same question, Pochettino ludicrously remarked that a change in phone number led to miscommunication and ultimately, the Englishman’s departure.

And, that, above all, would explain the anomaly engulfing two clubs that have endured similar problems and have found a way to navigate past them, equally efficiently, until the start of the current term.

Over the past few years, Pochettino and Simeone have had their fair share of critics. And, very seldom has the Argentine pair failed to silence them.

Yet, at a time when the former’s stature was going from strength to strength, he has found himself under more strife than ever. As for his compatriot, his exemplary understanding of team dynamics has enabled him to resurrect a reputation that seemed on the verge of collapsing, especially after the defeat to Juventus in the UCL last term.

Simeone seems to have ridden the early storm well
Simeone seems to have ridden the early storm well

After all, being a manager is akin to a game of poker, where each trick unfurled is just as important as the ones that haven’t been used. 

And, at this juncture, Simeone seems to have played his cards a tad better than Pochettino, meaning that the clubs, despite being a part of similar circumstances, have just ended up portraying the two sides that exist to every coin.      

Published 17 Oct 2019, 19:06 IST
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