Why Madrid is the Best City in the World for Football
As a tourist destination Madrid is a city that ticks all the right boxes, with charming squares, blue skies, late night tapas, beautiful Madrileños and some of the finest galleries and museums in the world. But alongside renowned food, weather and culture, Madrid is the home of two football teams amongst the finest in Europe, whose rivalry is both shaped by and a reflection of the social and political divides present in modern day Spain.
When it comes to crowning Europe’s best footballing city there may be cries of London, Milan, or perhaps even Manchester. But in terms of both quality and sporting passion, these cities don’t come close to matching what Madrid has to offer. Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid are two of the biggest names in European club football, and it’s easy to see why the Spanish capital captivates with a sense of theatre which transcends the terraces. The game here is so much more important to the locals than 90 minutes on the pitch every Saturday. Being a Colchonero or a Madridista is part of how people here define themselves, telling you a lot about their post Spanish civil war political affiliations in the process. The fierce rivalry between Madrid’s biggest clubs is perpetuated by a David verses Goliath dynamic. Nowhere in the world are two great sporting rivals so mismatched in terms of resources. Yet in recent years and very much against the odds, the resurgence of Atlético Madrid as a major force in European football has brought a fresh intensity to Madrid’s sporting scene.
Atlético’s renaissance has largely coincided with the appointment of Diego ‘Cholo’ Simeone, who came in as manager at the end of 2011. Since then, Simeone won the Europa League in his first season, the UEFA Super Cup, the Copa Del Rey (against Real at the Bernabeu), and the La Liga Title, as well as being a matter of minutes away from winning the Champions League in 2014. Not bad at all for a club used to being overshadowed and outspent by its city rivals. A 4-0 win over Real at the Vicente Calderon in February 2015 proved just how much things have changed.
Real meanwhile, have continued to assemble a star studded squad, and finally achieved their tenth European title, La decima, in 2014. They’ve since replaced manager Carlo Ancelotti with former Liverpool and Valencia boss Rafael Benitez, so this season will be fascinating if only to see how Real’s big names react to the sacking of a popular manager and the hiring of a rather unfancied one.
As a football destination, it looks as though Atlético’s new found competitiveness is invigorating La Liga, already one of Europe’s best leagues, whilst ensuring the Vicente Calderon stadium on the banks of the Rio Manzanares will host many big games over the next few years. What’s to be certain is that Madrid is now home to two of Europe’s best teams, and the capital and Spanish football in general are all set to reap the rewards.