ONE OF the big success stories of the 21st century in European football has been the rise of Atlético Madrid, who are currently ranked number four in UEFA’s team rankings.

Los Rojiblancos are poised to relocate to a new stadium, Estadio La Peineta, for the 2017-18 season. The capacity will eventually be just under 74,000 – somewhat more than their current home. The move will continue the momentum the club has established over the past few years, something which has not gone unnoticed in Football Benchmark’s latest report on Spain’s third club.

Just five years ago, Atlético were not in particularly good shape and were some way behind Spain’s duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona. At the same time, the potential of the club was clear to see – two Europa League wins in 2010 and 2012 providing firm evidence.

But Atlético’s domestic success since their last La Liga triumph in 1996 had been fleeting. Indeed, in 2000, they were relegated to the second tier of Spanish football.

As Football Benchmark points out, the relative lack of success was accompanied by a significant tax burden and issues around future revenue generation. Atlético has since reduced debt to the authorities from EUR 205m to EUR 86m and are aiming to clear it by 2017-18.

  La Liga Copa Europe Av. Att.
2006-07 7 R/16 N/A 42,316
2007-08 4 QF UC R/32 45,253
2008-09 4 R/16 UCL R/16 44,605
2009-10 9 Final EL Winners 40,815
2010-11 7 QF EL Group 41,526
2011-12 5 R/32 EL Winners 43,038
2012-13 3 Winners EL R/32 44,296
2013-14 1 SF UCL Final 46,247
2014-15 3 QF UCL QF 46,532
2015-16 3 QF UCL Final 47,113

When did it all change for Atlético? There were two important appointments have proved to be the catalyst for the renaissance on the banks of the Manzanares. In December 2011, Diego Simeone took over as manager and he took them to fifth place – distinct progress after finishing ninth and seventh in the two previous seasons – and triumph in the Europa League. Simeone – love him or hate him – has been spectacularly successful. His teams adopt a traditional 4-4-2 formation, with a deep-lying defence and a slow and deliberate approach to attack. When the club won La Liga, the 10th in their history, most people expected it to be a flash in the pan, but they were not far away from a second title in three years in 2015-16 and they reached their second Champions League final in a similar timeframe.

Off the pitch, in October 2014, the club hired Peter Kenyon, the much-maligned former CEO of Manchester United and Chelsea. As Simeone made progress, Atlético  also established a sound approach to finance. Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the club increased its operating revenue from EUR 108m to EUR 175m, a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 13%. Says Football Benchmark: “This positive momentum was essential to provide the financial support for the sporting element of the club’s business plan, focused on: extending the contract of key squad members, such as Diego Godín; the promotion of young academy players of the quality of Koke; and the acquisition of top players – for example, Antoine Griezmann – that could match the Atlético’s ambition for their first team.”

Kenyon ’s commercial prowess has been used to good effect, as has his ability to leverage contacts like high profile agent Jorge Mendes. Atlético have benefitted from a robust transfer policy in recent years which has seen players leave but instantly replaced with others that would also accrue healthy transfer income: Antoine Griezmann replaced Diego Costa who replaced Rademal Falcao who replaced Sergio Aguero who replaced Fernando Torres. There are few clubs that have had such an impressive list of striking talent.

With La Liga’s regulations compelling clubs to pay off their debts, Atlético have behaved shrewdly in the market, running a surplus on their player transfer accounts, spending EUR 34m less than they received – a stark contrast to the EUR 204m and EUR 183m deficits generated by Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Part of Kenyon’s brief was also to internationalise the Atlético brand. The club has entered a strategic alliance to create its first overseas franchise, Atlético de Kolkata (Indian Super league), which has the potential to develop a market of some 1.2 billion people. Similarly, Atletico are reaching out to the huge Chinese market thanks to a 20% equity stake being taken by Wang Jianlin, the owner of property company Dalian Wanda for EUR 45m.

The strategy to expand the club’s footprint also includes the purchase of a 34.6% stake in Racing Club de Lens, who possess one of the best youth set-ups in France. This may provide Atlético with competitive advantages for talent recruitment outside their own market,” said Football Benchmark.

How they shape up: Atlético, Barca and Real

  Revenues 2014-15 Av.Att 2015-16 Twitter followers
Atlético Madrid EUR 187m 47,113 1.9 million
Barcelona EUR 561m 79,724 16.6 million
Real Madrid EUR 577m 71,280 18 million

Although Atlético’s story over the past half decade has been notable, the club will continue be challenged to keep pace with the big two in Spain. Nevertheless, Football Benchmark points out that, the implementation of a sustainability programme, with new and stricter financial controls, provides a positive backdrop for further growth. Furthermore, with one of European football’s most coveted coaches still in the dugout (Simeone has a 62%-plus win rate) the future for Atlético Madrid looks bright.