When Atlético Madrid walk out to face Malaga at their new Wanda Metropolitano home on Saturday evening they will be doing more than simply playing their first game at a new stadium.
Atléti will be leaving behind the bare concrete walls, the roofless stands and the backless seats of the Vicente Calderón in favour of a new, modern-day multi-purpose football arena 14 kilometres away in the west of the city.
The Calderón was practical. It did the job it was built for – and did it well – but it did little else. Even the hospitality suites attached to the very back of the top tiers on three sides of the stadium look like an afterthought.
The practicality of the stadium even extends beneath the main stand, where the M-30 dual carriageway runs unapologetically on the banks of the Manzanares river. It is as iconic as it is amazing – an impressive piece of construction which is set to be confined to history on Saturday evening.
Opinion on the move was split from the very beginning among Atlético fans, with some believing a move away from the aging Calderon was necessary if the club was to progress with the times while others were against the idea of moving away from a home which has served the club well over five decades.
The Calderon was in many ways symptomatic of Atléti as a club. There were no frills, no fancy facades and no pretences – it was a place where people went to watch their team play football and then carried on with the rest of their day.
Turn to the Wanda Metropolitano and you can bet the guides will know exactly how many seats are in every section of the stadium – a difference in mindset stemming from a difference in surroundings.
The stadium’s museum wasn’t show-offish despite the healthy trophy cabinet contained within it. It was as practical as the Calderon itself, artefacts and exhibits laid out in an easy to follow route, with medals and trophies modestly intermingled.
The main space within the museum was a simple 10-by-20-metre square with glass cabinets on all four walls, historic moments remembered by small images or objects – compare that to the interactive, full-in-the-face experience of the Santiago Bernabéu museum and you soon understand the differences in mentality of both clubs.
The brand-new, shiny white Metropolitano is a nod in the direction of Real’s way of thinking – although that is not to say it is in any way an attempt to replicate it.
The new stadium is proof that the decision makers at Atlético understand the need to move with the times. It is true that staying at the Calderon as it existed during its last season was not a viable option for a club which continually competes in the latter stages of the Champions League – crumbling staircases and rusting iron fences are hardly befitting on Europe’s biggest stage.
There is no doubt that Saturday evening will be a joyous occasion for the club, but it is hard to believe that there won’t be a tint of sadness that their first game at the Wanda Metropolitano marks the end of the club’s time at the brilliantly unique Vicente Caldéron.