Win or lose in Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid, this has been another outstanding season for Atletico Madrid.
Reaching European club football’s showpiece event for the second time in three years is a major achievement by any standards, especially as it coincided with a serious title challenge against two of the most wealthy and powerful teams in the world.
And the good news for Los Rojiblancos is that their success is not a one, two or even three-season wonder: they are here to stay.
For starters, of course, they are blessed by the presence of a remarkable manager in Diego Simeone, whose commitment to the club in the face of interest from richer teams is as admirable as the organisational and motivational skills he imparts to his squad.
Atletico are also narrowing the financial gap between themselves and the rest, thanks to the club’s ongoing relationship with massive Chinese property company Wanda Group, and a realignment of La Liga’s television revenue distribution which is likely to increase their earnings by around 50 per cent to pass the ¤100 million (Dh409m) barrier next season.
But perhaps the biggest cause for optimism is the age of the team, which suggests they could get even better, with 11 of Saturday’s likely 17-man squad 25 or under.
Saul Niguez, scorer of the brilliant winner in the semi-final home leg against Bayern Munich, is only 21. So too Uruguyan Jose Maria Gimenez, who has learned so much alongside his compatriot and fellow centre back Diego Godin.
Jan Oblak, at just 23, can be one of the world’s top goalkeepers for another decade or more; Spain
international Koke, despite having already recorded nearly 300 senior appearances, is still only 24.
There are more top talents bubbling below the surface, including Yannick Carrasco (22), Thomas Partey (22), Angel Correa (21), Oliver Torres (21) and Lucas Hernandez (20) all poised to make a bigger impact in the coming years.
Atletico’s ability to develop homegrown stars ensures a steady supply line of talent which forms the basis of a very strong team.
Throw in the new-found TV and sponsorship riches and, assuming they spend well in the transfer market, they have everything in their favour to remain in the elite.
There are, of course, a few caveats. Full-backs Juanfran and Filipe Luis, and captain Gabi, are all in their 30s and will soon need to be replaced, and another top-class striker will also be required as Fernando Torres declines.
There is also the danger that stars such as Antoine Griezmann, Koke or Saul will be tempted away – money talks, even with players tutored by the team-first ethic of Simeone. And most alarmingly, the manager could leave to take over the Argentine national team or return to Internazionale.
But those dangers are present at every club – imagine Barcelona without Lionel Messi, for instance.
Long-term success can never be guaranteed (just ask Manchester United) but with all the ingredients at their disposal, Atletico Madrid are as close as it gets.