It would not have escaped Diego Simeone's notice that, on Sunday, three of his Atletico Madrid players took part in the World Cup final: Antoine Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez for France, and Sime Vrsaljko for Croatia.
All had been integral members of their respective teams; all had performed excellently on the way to the biggest stage in football. And all will return to their club with a swagger, not least the French World Cup-winning duo.
Simeone will have watched the World Cup with a smile. It was not just in the final that his players shone. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez were imperious for a Uruguay side that, under the wily Oscar Tabarez, closely resembled Atletico. Koke and Diego Costa, too, established themselves in a Spain team without a shortage of talent—although elimination against Russia was a disappointment.
All of this will encourage those associated with Atletico. Last season, though far from a disaster, was a challenging one. The tumult of a stadium move and a summer transfer ban meant that preparation was disrupted. Simeone's options were limited and the campaign began slowly.
Atletico were out of the Champions League in the group stages and out of the Spanish title race soon after following an abundance of draws. They did, of course, recover to finish second in La Liga—ahead of city rivals Real Madrid. And they ended the season with victory in the Europa League.
But there is a suggestion ahead of the coming season that Atletico are better placed to mount a prolonged title challenge and to return with more conviction to the Champions League. It is a tournament in which, under Simeone, they have almost routinely reached the latter stages, and the knockout stages felt strange last year without them.
Now, it seems they could be set to make a bullish return. Keeping Griezmann felt seismic. The expectation had been that he would leave for Barcelona, but Atletico were able to persuade him that a new contract and a continued stay in Madrid was his best option.
Griezmann scored four goals for France at the World Cup but, more importantly, he acted as a leader. Simeone's influence was evident throughout. Griezmann was professional and, occasionally, cynical. He was clinical and played with a sense of assurance. If he brings that form into the new season, alongside Costa, Atletico will be a force.
Atletico's purchases in the transfer market appear sensible too. Midfielder Rodri, signed from Villarreal, is a player of great promise, and winger Thomas Lemar has excelled in Ligue 1 with Monaco in recent years. Both should be valuable additions.
The focus throughout the summer has, inevitably, been on Europe's big spenders. Eyes have been drawn towards Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo: the high profile players at the World Cup who have been at the centre of transfer speculation.
Quietly, Atletico have gone about their business. They will not capture the imagination as Real Madrid and Barcelona do. But it would not be surprising if they remain fiercely competitive, against the odds, again this season.
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