Football Features

Ranking every Atletico Madrid striker of the 21st century

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 14:32, 19 May 2019 | Updated: 16:45, 14 September 2021

It goes without saying goals win games and those primarily responsible are the strikers. Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about Atlético Madrid.

Why? Well, no club this century has boasted a stellar array of number nines as prolific as Atleti’s.

Just going through the list will leave your jaw on the floor, it’s a who’s who of goalscorers. That being said, the club – which not long ago were playing in the Spanish second division and having collected one league title since 1996 – haven’t always been successful in regards to recruitment. There have been some duds along the way.

Even when they do strike gold, not many hang around long enough to take the club to even greater heights; the production line continues and the next best thing attends Atletico Madrid’s unrivalled finishing school. Or in some cases, a former prodigy who needs rehabilitating, like their latest returnee, Alvaro Morata.

So, with that being said, we’ve decided to rank their centre-forwards since the year 2000.

16. Jackson Martínez

Time at club: 2015-16
Appearances: 22
Goals: 3
Trophies won: None

One of the many South American footballers who enhanced their reputation at Portuguese giants FC Porto, having bagged 94 goals across 143 matches, the Colombian marksman’s time in Madrid was, to say the least, brief.

Martínez barely enjoyed six months at Atleti, whom he joined for a reported £24.8m, before relocating to Chinese Super League outfit Guangzhou Evergrande in January 2016. After making just 16 appearances in two seasons, he has since moved back to Portugal with FC Portimonense.

15. Mista

Time at club: 2006-08
Appearances: 45
Goals: 6
Trophies won: None

The former Real Madrid youth graduate would join Los Blancos’ fierce rivals in 2006 having enjoyed spells at Tenerife and Valencia where he collected two La Liga titles as well as the 2004 UEFA Cup under Rafael Benitez.

Mista would score in the aforementioned final against Marseille, but he must have misplaced his goalscoring boots as the Caravaca-born striker rarely found the back of the net for Los Rojiblancos. He retired in 2010 after short spells with Deportivo and Toronto FC.

14. Florent Sinama-Pongolle

Time at club: 2008-10
Appearances: 57
Goals: 7
Trophies won: None

A lot was expected of Sinama-Pongolle when he joined Liverpool in 2001 from French club Le Havre, but he flattered to deceive, not being a regular mainstay under Gérard Houllier and then Rafael Benitez played a role, though consensus suggests it was one move too big.

Nevertheless, the Frenchman had his moments, none bigger than the part he played in Liverpool’s win over Olympiacos in their 2004/05 Champions League winning campaign. After enjoying a loan spell at Blackburn (2006) he’d join Recreativo before moving onto Atlético where goals were hard to come by. He managed to squeeze nine more clubs into his CV before retiring in 2018.

13. Mateja Kežman

Time at club: 2005-06
Appearances: 30
Goals: 8
Trophies won: None

Prior to joining Chelsea, the man dubbed “Batman” was seen in some quarters as one of Europe’s most feared strikers.

His tenure at Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven helped forge that reputation, which disappeared as he struggled to adapt to the rigours of Premier League football; he’d leave Chelsea after spending one season (2004/05) at Stamford Bridge.

Kezman’s destination was Atlético, but the Spanish capital was no better than England’s as it soon became clear his prowess in front of goal was starting to wane. Again, it was a single-season stay as the powers that be at the Vicente Calderón decided to cut their losses and move him on to Fenerbahçe where he started to enjoy his football once again.

12. Adrián López

Time at club: 2011-14
Appearances: 142
Goals: 26
Trophies won: La Liga 2013/14, Copa del Rey 2012/13, UEFA Europa League 2011/12, UEFA Super Cup 2012

Signed as a free agent a few months before Diego Simeone took charge, the Teverga-born forward would become a regular presence under the Argentine tactician before joining FC Porto.

His most significant goal came against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their 2014 Champions League semi-final meeting, Atlético’s ultimate victory saw them reach a first European Cup final since 1974, but they could not bring home the big prize as arch-rivals Real Madrid – under Carlo Ancelotti – would secure a historic 10th title in Lisbon.

11. Salva Ballesta

Time at club: 2000-01 and 2004-05 (loan)
Appearances: 53
Goals: 28
Trophies won: None

An impressive spell with Racing Santander, registering 29 league goals in 52 games, convinced Atlético – then in the Spanish second division – that Salva Ballesta was the man to restore their top-flight status.

Despite bagging 21 goals across 25 matches, it wasn’t enough to see Atlético go up as they missed out on promotion due to an inferior goal difference. He’d subsequently leave for Valencia before returning on loan from Bolton for the 2004/05 season.

10. Kevin Gameiro

Time at club: 2016-2018
Appearances: 83
Goals: 27
Trophies won: Europa League 2017/18

Three productive seasons with Sevilla, whom he joined from Paris Saint-Germain where he enjoyed a modest spell, was enough for Atlético to part with £28m for his services.

An effective squad player, his tireless work ethic and willingness to chase down lost causes, as well as pressing the opposition defence, is something that attracted Atleti manager Simeone. However, the arrival of Nikola Kalinic in the summer of 2018 saw the Frenchman deemed surplus to requirements and he made the permanent switch to Valencia.

9. Mario Mandzukic

Time at club: 2014-15
Appearances: 43
Goals: 20
Trophies won: Supercopa de España 2014

A dependable member of any team he’s part of, Mandzukic, who earned 89 international caps with his native Croatia, is fondly remembered in Madrid, albeit being at Atlético for just one season.

His goal return was a modest one every 154 minutes, but he brought more to the table. It’s honestly baffling that he was only a moderate success because he and Simeone seemed like a match made in heaven. But that’s football for you.

8. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Time at club: 1999-2000
Appearances: 43
Goals: 33
Trophies won: None

Despite playing on no fewer than 23 occasions for the Dutch national team, Hasselbaink never played a single game in the Eredivisie and it was in Portugal, England and Spain where he essentially made his name.

After two seasons with Leeds United, where he bagged 34 league goals in 69 appearances, he’d move to Atlético as the year 2000 approached. It was there he filled the void left by Christian Vieri and though it was one season playing for Los Rojiblancos, the Dutchman left with his reputation as a serial goalscorer enhanced.

7. David Villa

Time at club: 2013-14
Appearances: 47
Goals: 15
Trophies won: La Liga 2013/14

Following a trophy-laden period with Barcelona, including an incredible first season (2010/11) which saw him register a Champions League final goal, the former Valencia striker joined Atlético looking to make further history.

And he did: Villa played an integral part in ending Atlético’s wait to become Spanish champions, which lasted 16 years, as well as seeing them reach a European Cup final after 40 years. Though he wasn’t as prolific as before, the experience and big match mentality he brought more than made up for it.

6. Sergio Agüero

Time at club: 2006-11
Appearances: 230
Goals: 100
Trophies won: UEFA Europa League 2009/10, UEFA Super Cup 2010

On arrival, there was no question Aguero was among the most exciting young footballers in world football. He’d ultimately reach (and surpass) his potential and the role Atlético played in his development cannot be understated.

Favourably compared to Brazil goalscoring legend Romario, the Argentine ‘number nine’ would forge a reputation that is very much intact today. His goals saw the Madrid side firmly establish themselves as Spain’s third club as well as become a presence in European football once again.

You could even argue he did not play as the main centre-forward for large parts of his Atleti career.

5. Diego Forlán

Time at club: 2007-11
Appearances: 198
Goals: 96
Trophies won: UEFA Europa League 2009/10, UEFA Super Cup 2010

Remembered in some parts for the length of time it took him to register his first goal for Manchester United, the former Uruguayan international became somewhat of a legend in Spain.

Forlan wasn’t the United version when he first pulled on the Villarreal shirt, before swapping that for Atlético’s, for one he was stone cold lethal. So much so, he bagged the Pichichi Trophy, given to La Liga’s top scorer, on two occasions (2004/05 and 2008/09) as well as the European Golden Shoe in both those seasons.

4. Diego Costa

Time at club: 2007-09, 2010-14 and 2018-present
Appearances: 178
Goals: 76
Trophies won: La Liga 2013/14, Copa del Rey 2012/13, UEFA Super Cup 2010, 2012 & 2018, Europa League 2017/18

A polarising figure, partly thanks to some notable antics, the love Costa has for Atlético is unquestionable and those who hold the club dear to heart idolise him in return. The club’s top scorer in their 2013/14 title-winning season, his 27 La Liga goals were just four fewer than Pichichi winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

Costa is a machine in front of goal, particularly during his second spell with the club (56 goals in 94 games) – before deciding to swap Madrid for west London and become a defender’s nightmare in England with Chelsea. Since returning, after falling out with Blues boss Antonio Conte, he’s picked up from where he left off. His double helped power Atleti’s first-ever win over Real Madrid in European competition as they won the UEFA Super Cup, although he’s since struggled (hence the need to sign Morata). A hernia injury means he hasn’t played since November.

3. Antoine Griezmann

Time at club: 2014-2019
Appearances: 257
Goals: 133
Trophies won: Supercopa de España 2014, Europa League 2017/18, 2018 UEFA Super Cup

Though raised in France, it was in Spain where the legend of Griezmann was born. A graduate of Real Sociedad’s esteemed academy, who signed the Frenchman after he impressed them whilst on trial with Montpellier, he’d bag over 50 goals before Atlético signed him in 2014.

Since then Griezmann has not looked back, in the process becoming the club’s talisman and poster boy. And it wasn’t just goals; Griezmann’s importance to the attacking structure of the club grew to be similar to Messi’s at Barcelona or Neymar’s at PSG.

He was Atleti’s everything. However, after a few transfer windows of persistent rumours, Griezmann eventually joined Messi at Barca, where he has missed just one game in all competitions.

2. Radamel Falcao

Time at club: 2011-13
Appearances: 91
Goals: 70
Trophies won: Copa del Rey 2012/13, UEFA Europa League 2011/12, UEFA Super Cup 2012

Before the serious knee injury, there were few strikers more powerful and intimidating than El Tigre.

The former River Plate marksman introduced himself to European audiences with FC Porto, before taking his talents to Atlético Madrid where he established himself as a ‘number nine’ par excellence.

No defender was safe with Falcao around, his most ruthless exhibition being a 39-minute hat-trick against future club Chelsea in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final (interestingly played at AS Monaco’s Stade Louis II, where he spent the next part of his career.) He moved to Galatasaray in the summer as his career is beginning to come to an end.

1. Fernando Torres

Time at club: 2001-2007, 2015-16 (on loan) and 2016-2018
Appearances: 404
Goals: 129
Trophies won: Segunda División 2001/02, Europa League 2017/18

The golden child of Atlético Madrid and unquestionably their most successful youth product. Torres, whilst a prodigious youngster, became the club’s symbol (equal to the one shared by Raul across Madrid at arch-rivals Real) and will go down as a legend for his services to Atleti’s cause.

Torres would leave for Liverpool in 2006, after representing Spain at that summer’s World Cup, but he never stopped loving Los Colchoneroes and when returning in 2015 the scenes that greeted him was befitting of an emotional homecoming.

El Niño left for Japan before retiring in the summer of 2019. However, looking back at the 19-year-old striker that captained an Atleti side which included Simeone and following his career through all the ups and downs; including an incredible return home where he hit double figures in each full season, notched his 100th La Liga goal and signed off with a brace in his final game, it is easy to see why Torres is adored.

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