Is it last orders for Atlético’s leaders?

A fortnight ago and everything was smelling of peaches and Pimms in Atlético Madrid’s fragrant garden.

Qualification to the Champions League had been achieved for another year and the club had managed to hang on to the formidable front-line of Diego Forlán and Kun Agüero.

The future could even have been described as bright.

But fast-forward two weeks and the rojiblancos are facing a barrage of attacks in the Spanish press, a peasants revolt and the very real possibility of the team’s owners being hung, drawn and quartered.

And all because of the curious combination of Málaga, Johnny Heitinga and some big mouth boasting in the press, it would seem.  

Atlético Madrid have all too often been the easiest of targets for p*ss takes and fun-poking by Spain’s football media. And La Liga Loca, to be fair.

But it has never been the club itself that was the real focus of the attacks.

Instead, it has always been Atleti’s two incompetent and unpopular owners, Enrique Cerezo and Miguel Angel Gil Marín - the gentlemen who “bought” 94.5 percent of the club’s shares at the beginning of the decade by illegal means with “fictitious credits” through “never having deposited any money with anyone,” writes Javier Gómez Matallanas in Marca.

Indeed, it’s a crime the pair were found guilty of in 2004 by Spain’s high court, who ruled that the takeover took place in a “suspicious and irregular manner.”

Cerezo and Gil Marín - who somehow survived this unfortunate ruling - do not exactly see eye-to-eye and rarely communicate.

All-in-all, it’s a fairly dysfunctional state of affairs for those supposed to be running a top flight football club.

Managers are frequently hired and fired without the other one’s knowledge - as happened with Javier Aguirre last season - and the club’s transfer policy is less than coherent.

The perception among suspicious Atlético fans is that Cerezo is only at the club to make a bit of money on the side and Gil Marín is a criminal from a long line of criminals - not a controversial notion considering the background of his despicable father, Jesús.

Indeed, a poll in Tuesday’s Marca sees 83 percent of rojiblanco supporters calling for the duo to sell up and shoo from the Vicente Cálderon.

“There is a deep discontent which stems from (the pair) not being recognised as the legitimate leaders,” wrote AS editor, Alfredo Relaño.

And this is the fundamental reason Atlético fans are so notoriously quick to rebel and revolt when the good times go bad.

While no-one realistically expects the club to be competing toe-to-toe with Barcelona and Real Madrid, followers feel that the rojiblancos are under performing massively considering the potential of one of Spain’s best supported clubs.

A leaflet set to be handed out to fans during Saturday’s home clash with Racing Santander complains of o“14 years without a trophy... the theft of the club... relegation to the second division... the sale of Torres... 200 players... 45 coaches and €500 million of debt.”

And that was just a sample of the average supporter’s complaints.

The first round 3-0 defeat at hands of Málaga for the rojiblancos was merely the start of what has been a terrible time for Cerezo and Gil Marín.

The following Monday, the club failed to make a single move in the final hours of the transfer market in Spain and then sold Johnny Heitinga to Everton a day later, leaving the squad almost out of full-backs.

Stung by criticism of this transfer, the side’s sporting director Jesús García Pitarch came out on the offensive with a lengthy - and somewhat unconventional - press conference complaining of a lack of funds and wishing he had never signed Luis García.

“If we don’t have any money then why do we have a sporting director?” shrugged Cerezo as a response to a figure who is very much Gil Marín’s man.

However, Cerezo was not going to answer a question on why the club could not afford a new full-back but was willing to sponsor two race cars in a Formula One style competition.  

“I’m not going to talk about economic affairs with sports journalists,” snapped the Atlético president, refusing to reveal the sponsorship costs to the club.

On Monday, Gil Marín wrote an open letter to the fans, published in AS, complaining of the treatment received by the club in the press and praising the current regime’s achievements.

The Director General claimed that he wanted “everyone to be happy and live together in a world of peace of tolerance,” while grumbling over how football has lots its sporting values and was obsessed with money  - a little bit rich considering how Gil Marín gained control of the club, really.

“They don’t want a spiritual guru, they want titles,” was the terse response of Atlético correspondent for AS, Iñako Díaz-Guerra.

Gil Marín’s letter was the spark that set off Atlético fans’ powder keg of fury with large scale protests expected on Saturday, including a call for supporters not to enter the stadium until five minutes after kick-off.

The local press have smelt insurrection in the air and are calling for Cerezo and Gil Marín to go.

“It seems that the club will never recover until the Gil family sells its shares,” was the opinion of Marca’s editorial on Monday.

While it is still hard to see that day coming anytime soon - they have both survived similar times of crisis - if the protest on Saturday is big enough and events on the pitch go poorly, then the pair’s grip on power will be that little bit looser.

And that can only be a good thing for one of Spain's great clubs.


You can following the events at what could be a stormy Vicente Calderón on Saturday, with La Liga Loca’s live stadium twitter from 17.45 CET. Atlético Madrid v Racing Santander v The Fans.

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