Take a look at the current roster of Champions League Finalists Atlético Madrid and you’ll notice a strong South American influence running through it. In total there’s eight players from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina – roughly a third of the squad – and it’s fair to make the case that Los Rojiblancos would not have enjoyed the wonderful season they have without them – especially the Brazilians Miranda, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa (Brazilian born, if now a naturalised Spaniard). And then there’s the man in charge too of course.
Same as it ever was and all very much in keeping with tradition at the Vicente Calderón. Atléti is a club that historically has been at its most competitive when able to call upon a strong South American contingent. Simeone is just the latest in a long line of celebrated Argentinian coaches that have included Herrera, Lorenzo, Menotti, Basile and Bianchi; Diego Costa has inherited the main striking role vacated by the Colombian Radamel Falcao, who in turn had taken over from the Argentinian Sergio Aguero. So profound has that Latin American influence been that even José Gárate and Rubén Cano, both Spanish internationals and prolific scorers for Atlético in the 70s, were actually Argentinian-born too.
So in the latest edition of our regular Eleven series, BTLM has set out to create a fantasy Atlético side starring the club’s best South American imports. Our team features half a dozen Argentinians, two Brazilians, a Uruguayan, a Colombian and a Paraguayan and we’ve set it up in a bold 3-4-3 formation.
Read about our player choices below.
1. Leo FRANCO (2004-09) 153 appearance
Less of a stellar name than the other Argentinian Atlético keepers Fillol and Burgos, Leo Franco nonetheless proved himself a solid and dependable last line of defence during his five seasons at the Vicente Calderón.
2. Luis PEREA (2004-12) 224 appearances
Equally comfortable at right back or in central defence, this athletic Colombian international and double Europa League winner would fit our set-up perfectly. Perea holds the record as the foreign player with the highest number of Atlético appearances.
3. Luis PEREIRA (1974-80) 143 appearances / 14 goals
An effective central defender who mixed Brazilian ease on the ball with European power and pragmatism. Luis Pereira spent six good seasons with Atlético at the peak of his career, was capped 36 times for his country and played at the 1974 World Cup.
4. Diego SIMEONE (1994-97, 2003-05) 134 appearances / 23 goals
The current manager is our only selection to have played in two different spells for the club. Simeone was the hugely influential midfield powerhouse who drove Atlético to their surprise 1996 Spanish double success.
5. Jorge GRIFFA (1959-69) 227 appearances / 6 goals
The Argentinian defender was signed after impressing in his country’s 1959 Copa America win and he proved just as effective during his decade-long stay in Spain. A good anticipator who saw danger early from deep positions as a central defender or sweeper.
6. Domingo BENEGAS (1969-78) 214 appearances / goals unknown
One of the more understated members of this team, Benegas was Paraguayan-born but gained Spanish nationality. A holding midfielder who would drop deep to become an auxiliary central defender when needed, Benegas was an integral member of two title-winning Atlético teams and played in the European Cup Final of 1974.
7. Maxi RODRIGUEZ (2005-10) 121 appearances / 32 goals
A tactically intelligent and mobile Argentinian midfielder who was an astute passer and strong finisher. Spent the peak years of his career with Atlético and won a Europa League title with the club.
8. DIRCEU (1979-82) 84 appearances / 18 goals
The gifted midfielder who was most famous for being part of that wonderful Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup. He was a Madrid player at the time of that tournament and while he made fewer appearances than any other player we’ve selected here, the impact of his skilful contributions still lingers in the memory of older supporters.
9. Sergio AGUERO (2006-11) 175 appearances / 74 goals
Aguero had a lengthy and very successful spell with Atlético after joining them at the age of 18. A clever and agile forward and a deadly finisher who was equally adept playing as a main or second striker.
10. Diego FORLAN (2007-11) 134 appearances / 74 goals
The Uruguayan arrived in Madrid as La Liga’s top scorer and showed all of his customary sharpness in front of goal during his spell with los rojiblancos. Commendably adapted his game to become a deeper lying number ten in his latter years and formed a wonderful partnership with Aguero.
11. Ruben AYALA (1973-79) 169 appearances / 45 goals
The Argentinian winger famed for his flowing locks and fluid football; Ayala was a real throwback winger full of clever tricks and a devastating burst of place that demoralised many an opposing defender. Won a Spanish title and an Intercontinental Cup and was a key member of the Atlético team that came close to winning the European Cup in 1974.