THE F****** BEST, he uttered as he answered a question about his opinion on the fans who had being singing his name.
As the press room sat in silence, some fans outside the Vicente Calderon had made their way to the VIP entrance of the club and could be heard chanting the manager’s name. Cries of ‘Quique Sanchez Flores’ could be heard in the silent press room.
A man who El Frente – Atletico de Madrid ultras – claimed had allowed fans to dream again. A man who had delivered two cups in a year when relegation could have been a realistic threat. But, they weren’t there to celebrate; they were there to show support. Because the axe was out and it was widely expected that Flores would be chopped following defeat against his ex-club, Valencia.
Yet, despite defeat the fans didn’t want him to go. Why would they? ‘Quique is one of us’ could be overheard on the Metro after the game. ‘He is a fan, when we lose you can the hurt on his face, it’s those b*****ds in the boardroom who should go’ replied another.
That was mid-February and the two major shareholders Gil Marin and Enrique Cerezo decided that they were already unpopular enough and so they didn’t do a ‘Freddy Shepherd’ and kill Bambi. The axe was put away.
Atletico de Madrid have seen a season that was supposed to see the club moving upwards and onwards go up in smoke and while they are still in contention for a Europa League spot, the board believe that Sanchez Flores has failed to achieve anything in a season that promised so much, Flores feels the board failed on everything he was promised.
A tighter control on transfers was ignored and a war of words over who requested players still rages on. The Atletico board is getting it from all fronts with fans groups such as Señales de Humo (Smoke Signals) gaining momentum with various protests. A green-and-gold scarf protest has gathered pace faster than anyone could have imagined. When Señales de Humo first launched the scarf campaign it was a little like a ‘Where is Wally’ picture to find someone with the scarf at the ground. But now Wally has brought all his friends, family and distant relatives and they are all angry with a board that they feel took over the club illegally.
In the middle of all this is Flores who is struggling to do his best with what is at his disposal. Although to say all fans are delighted with everything he does is a major overstatement. Almost all fans are upset at the constant rotation of the team. He seems to play musical chairs with his defence and has only repeated the same back four twice this season.
His persistence with players like Raul Garcia has baffled many fans and the behaviour of Diego Forlán hasn’t helped his case. Some would point to Jose Antonio Reyes who has re-invented himself as evidence of Flores’s man management skills but there is evidence to suggest that the dressing-room is a divided place.
So when it was announced by Marca this week that Flores had made up his mind a long time ago to reject a renewal on his contract, no alarm bells rang. The fact of the matter was that it wasn’t news but Atletico fans were still sad to hear it. Wherever he shall go, he will always be held in high esteem by Atletico fans. Ask any of them what they think about him and they will reply: The f****** best.
Around The Grounds
For those that feared that Flores would have a problem motivating his team with news of his departure, you can relax as Flores believes that all are working for the same goal. A 3-0 win saw Atleti move into seventh and nine points off the Champions League slots.
On another note, this writer asked Jose Antonio Reyes his opinion about the fans of his ex-club, Arsenal, who want the removal of Arsene Wenger. ‘They are crazy, he is Arsenal’ was his reply.
Nicknamed ‘La Catedral’, Athletic Bilbao’s Estadio San Mamés played host to Real Madrid this weekend. It was Jose’s plan B as he left many of his preferred starting 11 on the bench. A brace from Kaka and a goal from Ronaldo sealed the win in a stadium that is famous for its anti-Madridista (Anti Real Madrid) reception.
Barça win but just. As Marca were preparing to announce the league was back on after Almería scored first, Barça came back. But while the league is almost a certainty, it seems that the season is taking its toll on the players and they look to be running on empty. A cup final and a possible two games against Real in the Champions League may be too much for the Catalans.
Valencia seal the win in the battle for the third automatic Champions League spots against 4th place Villarreal. An impressive 5-0 win against the ‘Yellow Submarines’ gives hope to Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico de Madrid of maybe catching Villarreal and a Champions league spot. But Villarreal are still eight points clear but with Europa League and league games building up, they may find the going tough.
The battle to avoid the drop saw three draws and a win for Sporting de Gijon. Draws for Malaga and Hercules will come as no consolation as the rest of the table move further and further away.
Garreth Nunn is the co-founder and writer for the website www.madridatleticos.com. He contributes to a weekly podcast called ‘This is Atleti’ which gives insight into following a Spanish Club and is available via iTunes. You can find him also on Twitter: @madridatleticos and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/madridatleticos