“I hope the fans blow up the Wanda Metropolitano, that it explodes,” said Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone at the news conference following his side’s 1-1 Europa League semifinal first-leg draw at Arsenal last week.
“There must be positive energy to accompany these kids. I get goosebumps thinking of how next Thursday could be.”
Simeone was still pumping as he spoke — having watched from the stands as Atletico’s 10 men battled to a 1-1 draw at the Emirates following Sime Vrsaljko’s early red card, with the Argentine also sent off for abusing the referee soon afterwards.
“Hopefully our fans can help us to go through in the return,” Antoine Griezmann said. “We must do it now, we expect a euphoric atmosphere at the Wanda.”
It seemed, maybe, as if Simeone and Griezmann had momentarily forgotten their team had moved home last season. Atletico’s old, crumbling Vicente Calderon stadium was a place that exploded and grew euphoric — especially on big European nights when Barcelona [twice], Bayern Munich [twice], Juventus and Milan were among the teams who could not live with the pressure exerted.
This season at the Wanda, things have been quite different, with a defeat in their first Champions League group game to Chelsea and a loss in the Copa del Rey to Sevilla. Generally, Atletico fans are still waiting for their first big memorable occasion at the Wanda, says Emilio Abejon of fans group Senales de Humo (“Smoke Signals”).
“This year, apart from the win over Roma, we have not had an important result against a strong team like Arsenal,” Abejon says. “But Simeone has shown that this team can overcome the worst streaks, even with a squad low on numbers, and the fans will believe until the end that they can reach the final.”
Abejon’s group were critical of the move from the Calderon to the Wanda as it was pushed through and he says problems have continued at their new home.
“The majority of fans did not back the move, and have not settled properly yet,” Abejon says. “The atmosphere is different to the Calderon. There have even been protests about the club’s lack of respect for its traditions and change of badge. Fans have complained about chaos at the entrances, that there are no bars nearby to get ready for kick-off, or enjoy the postgame. The support from the Ultras section has also diminished.”
Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin argued the move to the 67,000-seater Wanda was necessary for financial reasons, and the club regularly trumpet the stadium’s new modern facilities.
But local pundit and Diego Costa biographer Fran Guillen is still more concerned with what has been lost.
“Atletico have won in terms of modernity, that is undoubtable, but they have lost soul,” Guillen said.
“And that for a team said to be the ‘most Argentine in Europe’, is a huge loss. The same as Boca Juniors would not be the same playing at home in a stadium like Wembley, away from their “boiler”, Atletico have become colder at the Metropolitano.”
Simeone has maintained through the season it is not a stadium that makes an atmosphere, but the people inside it, and the Argentine is likely to be on his feet as usual early on Thursday to exert his team’s supporters to make more noise.
“It is not about being modern, more that it is much bigger and more open,” says Inako Diaz Guerra of El Mundo. “So you have to make much more noise to provoke the same sensation as the Calderon. And that is difficult, even more in a season as strange as this, where everything has been very tepid, a good years, but without peaks of emotion.”
Arsenal may be going through a down period historically, and entering into a period of transition with long-serving manager Arsene Wenger finally moving on, but they are still seen by Atletico fans as a bigger club. This is backed up by UEFA’s official financial rankings which have the Londoners seventh by revenue [€477m] compared to the Madrilenos’ 14th [€229m], while Arsenal’s wage bill of €263m is also almost double Atletico’s €137m.
Thursday, therefore, offers a perfect opportunity for Simeone and his team to write the first important chapter in their new home’s history by making a European final at the end of what has been a very challenging season for many reasons.
“Simeone has made a call, and normally, that is the word of God for the Atletico fans,” Guillen said.
“In the end the Metropolitano needs to start to write its own history, and accumulate historic nights which build its DNA. And Thursday has all the ingredients for one of them.”