Madrid: For an off-season that began by losing an appeal against a one-year transfer ban, Atletico Madrid have emerged impressively unscathed as they welcome in a new era by moving to the newly built Wanda Metropolitano.
The challenge for a club revolutionised since Diego Simeone took charge nearly six years ago remains a daunting one.
Despite Atletico's significant financial growth off the field in recent years, their budget still lags hundreds of millions of euros behind their competitors for domestic and Champions League honours in Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Since stunning Real and Barca to win La Liga in 2013/14, Atletico have finished third for the past three seasons but were 15 points back on champions Real last season.
However, it is a sign of Atletico's progress that having to rebuild every summer after cashing in on their best players is now a thing of the past.
Antoine Griezmann, Atletico's top scorer for the past three seasons, resisted the advances of Manchester United to commit his immediate future to the club in June.
And in a major coup, in-demand midfielder Saul Niguez also signed a nine-year contract extension after a starring role for Spain in the Under-21 European Championship.
"The club have made an important effort to maintain the players that the best teams in the world want," said Simeone.
Holding onto their best players was more important than ever as Atletico can't register new signings until January.
"Maintaining the group that managed to have a fantastic season is not a problem. I see it as a success," Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil told the club's website.
"We should be proud to be able to continue counting on a group of players that have given us so much in the past few years."
Costa to come?
Atletico's ban also hasn't prevented them from strengthening for the upcoming season.
Spanish international winger Vitolo will join in the new year following six months on loan at Las Palmas after Atletico paid his 37.5 million-euro ($43 million) buyout clause to release him from Sevilla.
And a return for the hero of Atletico's title-winning campaign three years ago, Diego Costa, is expected to be completed with the Brazilian-born striker refusing to train with Chelsea.
Those reinforcements should make Simeone's men serious contenders to finally land the Champions League after being eliminated in each of the past four seasons by Real.
However, they may come too late for Atletico to mount a realistic title challenge, especially as they get used to their new surroundings at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico will play their first three league games away from home to allow construction to be completed.
Meanwhile, there are fears the intimidating atmosphere created at the Vicente Calderon won't be repeated after the move nearly 20 kilometres northeast to an out-of-town location by the city's airport.
However, Gil Marin insists Atletico's fans' enthusiasm hasn't been sapped by the move.
"Before opening, we have more season-ticket holders than the capacity of the Vicente Calderon which confirms the enormous social growth of Atletico Madrid."
Published Date: Aug 17, 2017 07:14 pm | Updated Date: Aug 17, 2017 07:14 pm