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Atlético Madrid president Cerezo: "Football owes us a Champions League"

The Atlético Madrid president spoke exclusively to AS ahead of Diego Simeone's latest assault on the Champions League title in Lisbon.

Enrique Cerezo, presidente del Atlético, posa para AS

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Atlético Madrid president Enrique Cerezo travelled to Lisbon with the rest of Diego Simeone’s squad and staff for the Champions League final eight mini-tournament where he spoke to AS about the side’s chances of changing their luck in Europe’s elite club tournament, the two positive Covid-19 tests returned by Sime Vrsaljko and Ángel Correa and RB Leipzig. 

The positive results for Correa and Vrsjalko were a bit of a scare…

It’s a shame that Ángel and Sime can’t be with us in Lisbon but the main thing is that, fortunately, they are both fine and asymptomatic. Their families have also tested negative. I hope they recover as quickly as possible. They are very important players for the team.

Does it concern you that everybody is saying Atlético are favourites to reach the final?

Not at all. We have to play against Leipzig, get past them and then we’d have one more game to reach the final. But all of the other sides are looking to do the same thing. We want to be in the final but only destiny knows what will happen.

Simeone has plenty of experience in these types of games…

It’s true that Simeone knows how to go about these games. Out coaching staff and players are not novices in these sorts of fixture. We have people who know what they are doing, players who are veterans in Europe and we’ll try and get our hands on the trophy.

Do you have a feeling about any one player in particular?

No. We have a great squad and a wonderful coach, although I do think João Félix can be the star in Lisbon. He is in his environment, in his home country, in his old stadium and he’ll give it everything in these games. But there are a number of players who could also make the difference, like Llorente, Saúl, Koke, Costa… We have lots of very important players.

Keylor Navas of Real Madrid saves Juanfran's penalty during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.
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Keylor Navas of Real Madrid saves Juanfran's penalty during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.Alexander Hassenstein - UEFAUEFA via Getty Images

There is a bit of a consensus that football owes Atlético a Champions League…

We’ve played in three finals [1974, 2014 and 2016] and for a variety of circumstances we didn’t’ win any of them. Football owes us a Champions League and I hope that’s what happens. That’s the way football is, we had one hand on the trophy on three occasions and we let it slip each time. We want to erase those memories.

What do you know about Leipzig?

Everybody seems to be in agreement that it was the best possible draw we could have got. But I’d disagree, there are no easy games at this stage. We’re talking about the eight best teams in Europe and there are no soft touches. They are a Bundesliga side and as such we have to give them the utmost respect. They finished third in the league, as we did, and they have some excellent players.

Does this feel like a historic moment?

I believe so. It’s like when the league was played for the first time with three points for a win and we were champions. This feels like something similar, the location of the tournament has been changed and after everything that’s happened it would be incredible to give our supporters a moment of joy. But I ask our fans to be patient. We have tough opposition and it will be difficult, but you always have to expect the best out of this team.

As seems to be the case every summer, there are rumours over Jan Oblak…

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All I can say about Oblak is that he has a contract with Atlético and while he doesn’t suggest he wants anything to the contrary he is an Atlético player. He is the best keeper in the world and it makes sense that the five or six biggest clubs in the world would all like to have him in their side. But you don’t always get what you want in life.

There was a lot of restructuring of the squad last summer but key players like Oblak. Saúl and Giménez stayed despite having offers…

That speaks volumes of the great work done by the sporting directorship, led by Andrea Berta. And it also demonstrates that when everybody is pulling in the same direction things tend to go well. Another important factor is Cholo Simeone. He has been with us for eight years now and made us a Champions League fixture. I think I can say with pride that there are few managers in the world, maybe setting Alex Ferguson aside, who have spent so long at the same club and enjoyed so much success. And there’s more to come.

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So Simeone is staying put?

Absolutely. Despite the criticism he has received from some quarters. But one thing is clear: the results El Cholo has achieved at Atlético are indisputable. Some people criticize his style of play but he is the one who is in charge at Atlético and he does what he wants to do. And the results are good. He is the same no as he was on his first day and I’m sure he’ll still have the same enthusiasm in five or six years when he’s leading Atlético to victories and trophies.

A prediction for the Leipzig game?

Victory. That’s what we’re going to Lisbon for. We’ll win. And I don’t care if it’s through an unfair penalty in the final minute.


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