In the early afternoon of May 25, 1996, Diego Pablo Simeone pounded on the doors of the Atlético hotel rooms in Los Angeles de San Rafael (Segovia). He did not understand that his teammates wanted to take a nap when they were only a few hours away from being able to give the club its ninth league title, 19 years after the last. It was the last day and the rival was Albacete. The rojiblancos, led by Radomir Antic, depended on themselves. If they won, the result that Luis Aragonés’ Valencia reaped, a chaser two points apart, did not matter. Simeone opened the scoring with a classic from that team. Pantic poisoned a falling thread on a lateral foul. Cholo touched it just enough with his head to cross it to the far post. “I finished it off with the parietal and saw how the field collapsed,” recalls the technician in the documentary The Atleti of the double that Movistar will premiere on the occasion of the 25 years that the milestone meets next Tuesday.
This Saturday, as in nine of the ten leagues it has conquered, Atlético appears in Valladolid with the possibility of adding its eleventh title on the last day. Against the legend of pupae that spawned in the final of the European Cup in Brussels (1974) against Bayern and amplified in Lisbon and Milan (2014 and 2016), against Real Madrid, the League has not been elusive to the rojiblancos when they have had it or victory or draw stroke. The only league title they won before the last day, in the penultimate of 76-77, even had a point to spare in the figure of Luiz Pereira at the very Santiago Bernabéu. Atlético took three points from Barcelona and was worth the draw. With the final 1-1 already on the scoreboard, a beer can flew from the stands and passed a few meters from the great Brazilian libero. “I dribbled on Jensen and people got mad at me, I took it and drank it. Madrid fans were congratulating us on winning the title. It was a very fought league, like this one ”, Pereira recalls with irony.
“Nine out of ten leagues won in the last day is a wonderful statistic, not to break it, as they say, but to make it fat. None of that that with defeats you learn. We, in 1996, beyond the tension prior to a game in which you played the season, we were clear that we could not escape, ”says Juan Vizcaíno, a member of the double squad and Simeone’s coaching staff in the season 13-14. “Perhaps it is despite the fact that Atlético do not have many opportunities to win leagues so as not to have lost them in the last game. In the goal of Godín’s goal in 2014, we were also convinced that we could get the tie we needed at the Camp Nou ”, abounds Vizcaíno, who in the morning before the game saw a Simeone very different from the one 19 years earlier as a player:“ You do not experience it the same as a coach. I remember Diego calm in the talk. He had a very clear approach ”.
There is only one exception to the infallibility of Atlético to win the League in the last day. In the 70-71 season, the leader Valencia, coached by Di Stéfano, led Barcelona by one point and the rojiblancos by two. Espanyol defeated Valencia in Sarriá (1-0) and Barça and colchoneros tied (1-1) at Calderón. “I remember that Espanyol’s goal was scored by Lamata, who was on loan from Atlético, with about 25 minutes to go,” says Jabo Iruteta. “From that moment on, neither we nor Barcelona knew how to win. We talked between the two teams and even, half jokingly or half seriously, it came out to play heads or tails to see who would let the other score a goal. When the game ended we put our hands to our heads and both teams reproached each other for not leaving the Calderón ”.
Two seasons later, in 72-73, Atlético lifted its seventh league. Again, in the last game. The rival was Deportivo, who was visiting the Calderón, and the chaser was Barcelona, at one point. “We won 3-1, but they missed a penalty at the beginning. There has always been some suffering at Atlético and it was said that something was missing. Also in the one that we won in the 70’s we struggled. We played in Sabadell (0-2) and Athletic, which was one point away, in San Mamés, against Celta. We scored the first goal about 20 minutes from the end “, recalls Irureta, who does not see a coincidence the nine out of ten leagues won by Atlético on the last day:” It is a club with character, the same one that Simeone now transmits and that is good against the Valladolid game “.
If Atlético are proclaimed champion, they will do so in empty stands. Few like Simeone will dislike that landscape so much. Also 25 years ago, Atlético del doublet had the opportunity to be proclaimed champion on the penultimate day. He had drawn in Tenerife (1-1) if Valencia did not beat Espanyol at Mestalla, the League was already his. El Cholo, while the rest of his teammates made plans for the party, did not stop telling his teammates that winning a league on the couch at home was not ideal. He preferred the last day and before his fans.