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Still a fervent fan of the team he served with such distinction, José Eulogio Gárate is hoping to see another glorious page written in Club Atlético de Madrid's history in Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final against Fulham FC.
The prolific striker was a fixture in the Rojiblancos lineup during their 1970s golden age, winning three Liga titles and two Spanish Cups, but he has had to watch more lows than highs since retiring in 1977. The clubs fortunes, though, have taken a turn for the better again with Atlético chasing a cup double, with the Copa del Rey showpiece against Sevilla FC on 19 May to follow Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final. "It's incredible," he said. "
Having gone through the desert for the last ten years – winning nothing, getting relegated and offering nothing as a team – now they are surprisingly making things happen.
"They will go down in history again for reaching two finals, both in the space of a week. That's something nobody would have believed two or three months ago. How is it possible for them to be back up there again after such a long drought? But, of course, that's the drama that always surrounds Atlético. The [semi-final second leg] against Liverpool was a great match, which had to be decided in extra time. These are the kinds of games that can turn you into an Atlético fan."
The 65-year-old believes the team's transformation owes much to the mindset instilled by Quique Sánchez Flores, who took charge in October with the club facing a battle to stave off relegation. "There's been an important mental change," said Gárate, part of the Rojiblancos side that lost the 1974 European Champion Clubs' Cup final to FC Bayern München. "When you go from nothing to everything as is happening with Atlético, you have to say it's a change in mentality. That change in psychological and motivational terms has been important as Atlético look to get these two wins, and even if they don't it's still been welcome."
He certainly believes the Vicente Calderón side have the quality to come out on top, with strike duo Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero catching his eye in particular. "They're both phenomena, each with his own characteristics," explained Gárate, three times crowned top scorer in the Spanish elite. "
You have the work, runs and shot of Forlán, while 'Kun' Agüero is strong, especially with his legs, and protects the ball well. They're two very important players and the truth is I don't see myself in either one. They have qualities I never had."
Should they both perform to their best ability, Gárate expects nothing other than an Atlético success at the Hamburg Arena. Atlético will be hoping to improve on a record of just one win from their previous four European finals. Their sole triumph came in the 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup after a replay against ACF Fiorentina, also on German soil, and they have not contested a European showpiece since losing the 1985/86 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final against FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Gárate believes Atlético's time has come. "[Fulham] are a competitive team but they haven't made the step up to become a great team," he said. "Of course, if they win in Hamburg they will make their mark and be wider known, but I think that Atlético have played some great matches, especially in Europe. I'd back Atlético – it would be nice if we win it 1-0 in the last minute, but the most important thing is to win."
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