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Mixed emotions as Atletico Madrid says adios to Vicente Calderón stadium

Atletico Madrid's mythical Vicente Calderón stadium will soon be history: sad news for supporters of Real Madrid's rivals but not so for locals who hope the neighbourhood will improve once noisy fans are gone.

Mixed emotions as Atletico Madrid says adios to Vicente Calderón stadium
Photo: AFP

This weekend spells the end for the ageing structure that for over 50 years has housed Atletico — not as well known abroad as the world-famous Real Madrid despite fielding players like French star Antoine Griezmann but with a huge following in the Spanish capital.

Fans will watch Spain's Copa del Rey final between Barcelona and Alaves on Saturday and a charitable match on Sunday.   

Next year, the stadium that currently stands on the shores of the Manzanares river in southern Madrid, surrounded by blocks of flats and cheap cafeterias, will be razed to the ground.

“I've been a member since the 2001-2002 season, when the Atletico was in second division,” says Oscar Fernandez, 23, standing near the stadium in Madrid's Imperial district.

Wearing the red and white shirt of a club that has since risen back to dizzying heights, winning the La Liga top division in 2014 and reaching Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016, Fernandez says he lives in Rome but returned expressly to see the final games at the Vicente Calderón.

The stadium “is part of my life,” he says. 


Fans wave flags and scarves during a celebration bidding farewell to the team's stadium. Photo: AFP

A visceral attachment

From next season, Atletico – which ended third in La Liga this year – will play on the other side of the Spanish capital, at a stadium called the Wanda Metropolitano.

Still in construction, it has a capacity for 70,000 people, 15,000 more than the Calderón.

But fans are hugely attached to the worn stadium, under which passes a ring-road that circles Madrid, where Atletico played for the first time on October 2, 1966.

Javier Fischer, 30, is so nostalgic that he has reserved three stadium seats to take away as a souvenir, one of them in memory of his father who died a year ago.

Last Sunday, he was there for Atletico's last La Liga game in the Calderón — “the saddest day ever here,” he says, despite his team's 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao.

Standing in front of the club's office, Valentin Hernandez agrees with Fischer, but he also acknowledges that “the Calderón was too small.”    

“Atletico needs to change with the times, like the big European teams,” he says.

In order to help finance the stadium, the club sold the naming rights to China's multinational Wanda Group, which also owns 20 percent of the club.    

With help from Wanda and the increase in capacity, Atletico hopes to increase its annual budget from the current 280 million euros to €400 million in the 2019-2020 season.

READ MORE: New Atletico stadium to be named Wanda Metropolitano

By so doing, it hopes to close the gap with Barcelona and Real Madrid, which made more than 600 million euros each this season.    

Still, the new stadium in the San Blas district is in a remote area in eastern Madrid, far from southern parts of the Spanish capital which traditionally support Atletico more than Real Madrid.

And the €60-million cost of the stadium also has supporters up in arms.    

They worry that the ensuing debt will stop the club from being able to pay the €80 – 90 million needed “to bring first-class players,” says Ricardo Menendez, a journalist for the Atletico-specialised website Esto Es Atleti.

Locals rejoice

But the mood among locals in the Imperial district is much better.   

The stadium itself will be torn down to make way for some 1,300 flats and a large green space.

READ ALSO: Ban on sky-scraper plan for Atletico stadium

Locals hope that the departure of Atletico – and the new flats – will revitalise the neighbourhood.

Many are also happy the commotion of fans and match days will now be a thing of the past.

“I'm delighted it's going,” says Jesus Ferro, 83, complaining about the “filth left” by fans as well as the noise.

Ernesto Ortiz, manager of a hardware store, also thinks things will be better after Atletico leaves.

“On match days, if there was any repair or maintenance work to do, we couldn't move around as the area was so full of vehicles,” he says.

By Álvaro Villalobos and Anouk Passelac / AFP

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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