Sherlock Holmes turned to Dr. John Watson. “That was no accident,” he said. “It was by design.”
Instead that for two football clubs, in two different capital cities, accidents happen as if by design. In Spain and in England, for Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspurs, there is no such thing as luck. Luck, even when it is good, is bad. Whenever things go well, they still go awry. To them, football is a shadowy game.
That is what defines these two clubs. Defeat is always a defining factor. Even when they plan to win, they go on to lose. And sometimes, when they plan to lose, they accidentally win. Only that in such an instance, the win does not help them. It inadvertedly helps a rival.
The red and white stripes of Atletico have always endured an unlucky history. For one, they share a city with Real Madrid. That means that they will never be the most famous Madrid side. Los Colchoneros also carry the tag of being utterly pathetic in the Madrid derby. They have not won it in 13 years. Such is the confidence carried by Real in the derby that form never matters. Even the slimmest of chances does not exist. If Atletico meet Real, a Real win is the only real possibility.
There is also the fact that apart from that, a good record against FC Barcelona exists. This may be commendable, only for the fact that in a league in which Real and Brca dominate, taking points off Barca means handing Real the advantage. It is a case of harming the enemy of my enemy, who is my friend.
In the early Franco years, Atleti were the preferred team of the dictatorial regime – until Real Madrid started winning European Cups for fun. In 1974, they reached the European Cup final and were minutes away from winning it only for Bayern Munich to equalize in the last minute of extra time. The replay ended 4-0 in Bayern’s favour. In 1992 they decided to close down their academy. One of their kids moved across town and joined Real Madrid. That kid was Raul.
What about Tottenham. Spurs wear the white of Real, but are nowhere close. Instead, north London is ruled by the red and white of Arsenal. That is why it becomes so painful when with a chance to deny Arsenal a Champions League place, they have failed. Twice.
In 2006, they should have, but on the last day, suffered a bout of food poisoning and thus lost to West Ham. Arsenal on the other hand would be in double celebration as a Thierry Henry hat trick not only ensured they would secure a Champions League place; it also ensured that they would leave Highbury on a high.
Then last season. At a time certainties for troubling the top two and engaging in the title race, a capitulation led to capsize that saw them finish fourth. Crucially, Arsenal beat it 5-3 at the Emirates after coming back from three goals down. And although fourth place would have been enough, Chelsea’s Champions League win meant that it would be the Europa League for Spurs.
Thus, for both teams, there is a sense that seasons start with the feeling of ‘it is going to be our year’ only to then descend to ‘no it is not.’
That seemed to change. Last season, Atleti appointed Diego Simeone as their manager. This season, Andre Villas Boas took over at White Hart Lane. Simeone and AVB have brought something new.
El Cholo managed to get the very best out of Falcao. Through that, they won the Europa League and have for this season put up a good fight in La Liga. AVB has managed to get the very best out of Gareth Bale. Through that, they have put in a good run in the Europa League and challenged for the Champions League places in the Premier League.
Simeone seems to have found a way to handle the self destructing egos. AVB seems to have brought that bit of tactical astuteness that may take them to the next level.
Except that for now, it seems to be going south. After being second for so long in La Liga, Atleti now finds itself third. Above them is that same enemy – Real Madrid. And it is not as if los merengues have produced anything particularly special – it is Atleti who have slipped down.
Spurs may have been in pole position for third spot a few weeks ago. Especially after they defeated Arsenal 2-1. But then, losses to Liverpool and Fulham have set them back. The advantage is no longer there. Arsenal and Chelsea are back in it, and remotely, so too are Everton and Liverpool.
As ironies continue to abide, it looks as if Simeone and AVB’s ultimate battle is against history and tradition. That their quest for newness is brought down by the memory of same old, same old.
It would not be a surprise if both teams blow it. They have been doing so all through their history. But it would be a surprise if they managed to change the status quo. If Atleti managed to clinch second place. If Spurs managed to deny either Chelsea or Arsenal a Champions League place. That would really be a surprise. Even if in both instances, it looks very probable.
Yet, it is the probability that works out in reverse for these two teams. That what should happen never does. And the fans are used to the disappointment.
Only time will tell what will happen. But for these two comedy clubs, time is not a friend. Timing, as they say in comedy, is everything.
Now could be the perfect timing for them to implode and disappoint. Now could be the time for them to prove their critics wrong. Who knows. As far as these two clubs are concerned, nobody ever knows. Only that everybody sort of does.