Atletico Madrid go back in time with debut of new stadium (photos)

Photo credit: Wanda Metropolitano / @Metropolitano

MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid will get closer to the past when it moves into its new stadium this weekend.

The state-of-the-art venue inaugurated on Saturday will thrust the traditional Spanish club into modernity while not letting go of its rich history.

The 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano, named after the Estadio Metropolitano where Atletico played more than half a century ago, will give fans plenty of comfort and luxury.

Wanda Metropolitano also will feature references to Atletico’s history, including four other stadiums where the club played in its 114-year existence. It highlights the small site where it was founded in 1903 to the beloved Vicente Calderon where it played from 1966 until last season.

“The fans obviously will never forget the memories, the nostalgia and the love that they had for the old Metropolitano or for the Calderon,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “And they will fall in love with the Wanda Metropolitano as well, because what makes them fall in love is actually the team and its jersey. And that will never change.”

Fans will be reminded of Atletico’s past when they arrive at the venue in northeastern Madrid.

The subway station inside the stadium is also named after the old Estadio Metropolitano, and the roads leading to the venue all refer to the team’s history. One is named after Atletico great Luis Aragones, a former player and coach, and another makes reference to the team’s foundation date, April 26.

A large statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid’s city symbol, will welcome fans outside, with five tree roots symbolizing the team’s five stadiums. The symbol is also part of Atletico’s shield.

A huge flag with Atletico’s red, white and blue colors will be outside, measuring 3,638 square feet and touted as the biggest in Spain. It will be hoisted on a 131-feet mast in tribute to the team’s supporters.

As fans advance toward the main entrance, they will go through the “Walk of Legends,” where plaques on the ground will honor each of the more than 150 Atletico players who have 100 or more appearances with the club, including some from the current squad.

Photos of Aragones and Simeone will be on display in the entrance of the locker rooms, along with motivational phrases by the two Atletico greats.

Inside the $286-million venue, fans will have access to modern facilities and top-notch video and sound systems. The club has promised to try to replicate the type of atmosphere that they had in the 55,000-capacity Calderon.

Nearly all of the seats will be covered by an elegant round-shaped roof that can be lit up in different colors. The red-colored seats will be bigger and more comfortable than they were at the rundown Calderon.

Atletico said the Wanda Metropolitano will be the first stadium in the world to use LED technology in its entire lighting system. It will be visible from far away at night and is expected to quickly turn into another city landmark.

There were mixed feelings among fans when Atletico decided to move away from the Calderon, which was outdated but delivered one of the greatest atmospheres in soccer and symbolized Atletico’s persevering spirit.

The fans gradually got behind the idea of the new stadium, and there is already a waiting list to get season tickets.

“Usually there is some initial discontentment when you change stadiums,” Simeone said. “But when you see the new venue, when you see that the club is growing, you are happy and you want the club to keep growing.”

A 12-hour party is planned for Saturday’s opener, starting well before the Spanish league game against Malaga. There will be fan zones and concerts to keep fans entertained throughout the day, and light shows and fireworks are expected just before and after the match at night.

Atletico played its first three league games away to make sure there was enough time to prepare the new stadium. Not everything will be done, but the club said none of the delays will significantly impact the inauguration.

The new venue, which gets the Wanda name from the Chinese company that has a stake in the club, was built around the La Peineta complex in the outskirts of the Spanish capital. It’s near the city’s airport and far from the Calderon’s neighborhood or from where the old Metropolitano stood.

The complex was originally supposed to be upgraded into an Olympic Stadium, but Atletico took over after Madrid lost its bids to host the games in 2012, 2016 or 2020.

“We will forever hold on to the memories of going to the Calderon with our parents or our grandparents,” said Atletico striker Fernando Torres, a club fan since his youth. “And now it’s time for us to go to this new stadium, to take our children to this new stadium.

“It will be up to us to explain to them who was Luis Aragones, explain to them that there was a time when this stadium didn’t exist, but we felt the same way about the old one as they feel about this new one.”