Power of simeone
David Nash takes a look at the impact of the Atletico Madrid manager – and wonders where he will go next…
The impact of the Atletico manager
IT’S sometimes hard to assess a manager’s credentials when they’ve only managed just one European club, but for Diego Simeone this need not apply- his impact on Atletico Madrid has been transformative.
We almost take it for granted now that Atleti will be present in the latter stages of the Champions League – two finals and a semi in the last four seasons – but not so long ago this seemed like a pipe dream for the Rojiblancos.
There can be no doubting it, he is up there with the best managers in the game at this time and it is perhaps surprising that he has not been courted more by the continent’s elite over the past few years.
For many years you could have forgiven the faithful at Vicente Calderon for holding something of an inferiority complex when it came to their better-known, star-studded neighbours across town.
With Diego Simeone at the helm, this soon evaporated. Going in to the Copa del Rey final in May 2013, Atleti had not defeated Real Madrid since 1999, an epic run of painful derby failings.
But that desperate record came to end in the fortress that is the Bernabeu, an extratime goal clinching a precious cup win against their biggest rivals, and in said enemy’s own back yard to boot.
It was the club’s first triumph in the competition for 17 years.What happened soon after was remarkable - between March 2014 and April 2015, they went nine successive matches without losing to Real in 90 minutes, the crowning triumph a 4-0 demolition in a league match at the Calderon.
Had there been a power shift in the Spanish capital? Looking at the matter now in 2017 shows that hasn’t been the case, but the fact that the question was even on people’s lips was an achievement in itself. Following on from the aforementioned cup win, even better things were to come. Twelve months after that memorable final, Simeone’s team stunned Europe. Remarkably, they broke La Liga’s Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly that had stood for a whole decade. It could hardly have been sealed in a more dramatic fashion. At the Nou Camp for the campaign’s final fixture, 1-0 down deep into the second half and the league looking set to slip away, Diego Godin’s header saved the day, a 1-1 draw enough to confirm the Rojiblancos as domestic champions for the first time in 18 years. As a result of his team’s exploits and superb individuals, Simeone has had to cope with losing key personnel over the years, such as Filipe Luis (since returned), Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao and Arda Turan. Each time, the recruitment has been such that the loss is not felt as harshly as it should have been. Current star man Antoine Griezmann looks set to stay put now this summer, but as magical as he is, there remains a feeling that the departure wouldn’t have been terminal for the team anyway. This is another example of how the fomer Argentina international – he earned more than a century of caps – has evolved his charges over five and a half years in Madrid. They’ve recently become more expansive and adventurous, something the side have previously been criticised for not having in their armoury.
At the same time, the steel and tenacity that has become this team’s hallmark remains.
Last year, Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport published a front page depicting Simeone as Che Guevara, dubbing him the leader of the war against tiki taka.
In a period where top-level football has been characterised by an obsession with possession for most of this decade,‘El Cholo’ showed there was still another way to play and, perhaps most importantly, another way to win.
In the interests of fairness, this will to win has sometimes boiled over and led him to behave in a quite unseemly manner on occasion.
The 47-year-old’s conduct in the extra-time defeat to Real in the 2014 Champions League final was especially wince-inducing. But anyone hiring him knows that this is what you will get.
As incredible a job as Simeone has done with Atletico, it was up until recently starting to feel like the relationship was coming to the end of its road.
A fourth successive Champions League loss to Real Madrid must have been enormously difficult to stomach and the dejected look on the boss’ face after this year’s 4-2 aggregate defeat to their bitter foes said it all.
Many pondered if he’d taken the club as far as he could, and there was some anticipation that the Atletico board would have to search for a new manager this summer. However, following the club’s emotional last match at their historic home, a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in May,‘El Cholo’ announced that he would, in fact, be staying put in Madrid.
The announcement was received with relief from supporters, but it does still only seem like a matter of time before the boss departs for pastures new.
Where Simeone will end up next is the subject of much debate.
David Beckham’s old pal would no doubt be a fantastic addition to the Premier League, his organisational skills much needed in a league that seems to be gradually forgetting what defending actually means.
However, it is hard to see any of the top six disposing of their manager any time soon, with the possible exception of Chelsea and Antonio
Conte going separate ways.
Recent speculation has him linked with Inter, and this is nothing new. Such rumours have cropped up every so often over the course of the last few years, never seeming to fully subside.
To some this would appear to be a step down, with the Nerazzurri having languished nearer mid-table than the top of Serie A in years gone by.
What’s more, many recent incumbents in the San Siro hotseat have found the job very tricky indeed, with board expectations seemingly far higher than the quality of player that Inter currently possess.
Just this year, Frank de Boer, who resurfaced at Crystal Palace, and Stefano Pioli have been axed.
However, a man like Simeone would surely relish the challenge of reinvigorating such a huge club, one that lifted the Champions League just seven years ago.
He did, of course, play for Inter too, and perhaps the connection he felt there has remained to this day, as it did with Atletico.
When he does finally leave, be it in a year’s time or even further into the future, the fortunes of his potential successor will be fascinating to follow.
Atletico fans no doubt harbour serious hopes of continuing to take the fight to Spain’s ‘big two’, their expectations raised by a string of successful campaigns.
With the players they have at their disposal and the fresh dawn of a new stadium soon upon them, there is still space for the Rojiblancos to grow further, but Simeone will no doubt leave big shoes to fill.
Once the main man departs, will his replacement continue to build on the foundations he has set?
Or will we only then start to truly appreciate what wonders he has worked?
Anyone seen Beckham? Simeone playing for Argentina
Top of the pile: Atletico Madrid’s players lift Simeone aloft Winner: Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone