Hailed as the embodiment of pride and hard work, Diego Simeone is defined by the simplicity of his one desire – to win. Since his arrival at Atletico Madrid, the aura of resignation that clung to the walls of the Estadio Vicente Calderon has been replaced with renewed hope as for the first time in a long time, Los Colchoneros are actually challenging for honours and succeeding.
A former legend of the club, Simeone arrived at the depressed club aware of the problems within. Little financial stability, poor management and players who played as if it was merely a nine to five job, the Argentinean set about changing the environment of the team that lived in a state of mediocrity.
Working with a squad that was full of talent but that had achieved so little, Simeone set about restoring their passion for the game and their pride in the shirt: “I believe in working with the player individually. If I see that they have improved, that is the most important reward.”
As a former player himself, El Cholo is aware of how to communicate with his players. Each one is spoken to, their role within the pitch is perfectly analysed to exploit their strengths, whilst emotional needs are met to ensure optimal levels of confidence. Tactical instructions are delivered on pieces of paper that are even always the same size – life is made as comfortable as possible for each member of Simeone’s squad.
Meanwhile, those who do not start are made to feel as important as the regulars. This is to ensure competition is always alive and complacency is never felt: “Effort is non negotiable. I do not tolerate complacency.” For a club that was previously defined by their inconsistency and their quick surrender, El Cholo has made it clear that he wants to see warriors, players who are focused for the entire 90 minutes and fight for each ball, each goal and each defensive tackle. “I always refer to my friend Nelson Vivas’ rule – only in the dictionary do you find success comes before work.”
A proud man who is acutely aware of the club’s great history, Simone’s greatest achievement has seemingly been his ability to make his players feel attached to the shirt. They can see the bigger picture. If they win, they could create a legacy, further a project and ensure the club is not viewed as a mere a stepping-stone for a move to the giants. Players are consulted and their opinions sought. The Coach’s recent Press conference in which he explained he would never train Real Madrid continue to serve as a reminder to his players – he is already at a great club.
Such was El Cholo’s appeal to the fans, the No 14 shirt, the one he wore as a player, outsold practically every other jersey on sale last season except that of Radamel Falcao’s and Diego’s. Simeone was getting results and the players finally cared, inspired by the former player’s appeal to the public. A winner as well as a commercial avenue to exploit, Simeone pushed the club’s media wagon in a manner previously thought to be impossible.
Pride and passion aside, tactics cannot be forgotten. Whilst Simone has previously admitted he would rather win that play beautiful football, he has managed to achieve both so far this term. Training with intensity, pre-season preparation saw his squad of players complete up to three training sessions a day. El Cholo wanted a physical side that pressed with intensity, made the most of their pace and defended valiantly. Under his tutelage so far this season, Los Rojiblancos have conceded the least amount of shots on goal and produced the second highest number of tackles.
Players have taken on more duties and visibly work collectively as a unit to produce the results. The likes of Arda Turan may provide the creativity in attack, but can now be seen working on tracking opponents and contributing defensively.
Squad depth may see the challenge for a title prove too tough for El Cholo’s determined set of players but under his leadership, hope is alive and kicking.