MADRID, Spain, Sep 26 – It may lack a final lick of paint but “it appears like the Circus Maximus,” crowed proud Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone at the special atmosphere already produced by his club’s new Wanda Metropolitano home.
The opening of the 68,000 capacity stadium marks heady days for a club that has traditionally lived in the shadow of neighbours Real Madrid, none more so in the Champions League in recent years.
Atletico have fallen to Real in the quarters, semis and twice in the final in the past four seasons, but there is a sense of optimism flowing through the red and white half of Madrid as Chelsea travel to the Spanish capital for the Wanda’s Champions League debut on Wednesday.
“Right now it is the best stadium in Europe,” said Atletico president Enrique Cerezo ahead of its opening in a tense 1-0 win over Malaga 10 days ago.
“On the outside it is spectacular. On the inside it is the business.”
Fears that Atletico’s form could slump due to the move in a manner suffered by the likes of West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur in recent times have been blown away by back-to-back wins over Malaga and Sevilla.
“The more and more the fans adjust and involve themselves the stadium will be tremendous,” said Simeone as the decibel levels soared after goals from Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann saw off Sevilla on Saturday.
“When the fans shouted it was tremendous, down there it appears like the Circus Maximus.
“It made me emotional. I am very moved.”
If Atletico are to finally land a first ever Champions League, maintaining their sensational European home form under Simeone at the Calderon is essential.
In 23 Champions League home games under the Argentine, Atletico have won 18, lost only once and kept 18 clean sheets.
Chelsea were one of the few sides to escape without defeat with a 0-0 draw in the semi-final, first leg between the sides in 2014. Atletico, though, had the final say as Simeone famously charged down the Stamford Bridge touchline in celebration during a 3-1 second leg win for the Spaniards.
– ‘Pressure cooker’ –
A modern new home is a symbol of how much Atletico have grown on and off the field since that last meeting between the sides.
Chinese conglomerate Wanda, who bought a 20 percent stake in the club in 2015, have paid for the naming rights to help with the 310 million euro ($370 million) bill.
But the club have tried to maintain links to Atletico’s history by also adding Metropolitano, their ground prior to the Calderon, to the name.
“It has a different concept in terms of technology and digitalisation,” continued Cerezo.
The stadium design aims to match modern convenience with an intimidating atmosphere.
It is the first in the world to be fully LED lit and counts on far greater leg room for supporters than at the Calderon.
However, despite initial plans for the stadium being tied to Madrid’s unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Olympics, the stands hug the touchline.
“This will be a pressure cooker because the fans are glued to the pitch,” added Simeone.
UEFA have even given their sign of approval by awarding the Wanda the 2019 Champions League final.
A fiery atmosphere could be fuelled even further by the presence of Diego Costa in the stands fresh from ending his standoff with Chelsea to force through a return to Atletico.
Costa can’t play until January, but his move for a club record fee is a further sign that Atletico feel they now belong among Europe’s elite.
Despite the cost of the stadium, Atletico rejected lucrative offers and tied Griezmann, Saul Niguez, Koke and Simeone down to new contracts in recent months.
“For me it is the best stadium I have played in, and I don’t just say that because it is my club,” said Griezmann fresh from netting the Wanda’s first goal.
A spectacular fireworks show followed the inaugural match in an unusual show of bravado from Atletico.
Griezmann and co will be charged with providing the spectacle on Wednesday to ensure the Wanda’s European bow isn’t a damp squib.