Ahead of the Champions League final, Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago described Coach Diego Simeone as being “like a god.” Guiding the club to their first Liga title for 18 years, Simeone has clearly been an inspirational force for his players. “He arrived at the club and he changed everything,” said Tiago. We follow him – if he asks us to go and jump off the bridge, we jump.”
Simeone has certainly moulded his Atleti side in his own image. Aggressive, pressing and sometimes negative, his men play for each other and for their Coach more demonstrably than any other group of players in La Liga, showing total belief in Simeone, hanging on his every word and obeying his instructions to the letter.
Suffering the agony of seeing the Champions League slip from his grasp in Saturday’s final, Simeone’s dubious touchline antics were perhaps understandable, if not acceptable. The Coach went into full animation mode but, for the man famously kicked by David Beckham in the 1998 World Cup, this was business as usual.
Los Blancos’ Raphael Varane booted the ball towards the Atletico dug-out after Cristiano Ronaldo buried his penalty for Real Madrid’s fourth. Simeone’s anger had already been bubbling under, his first explosion directed at referee Bjorn Kuipers for the amount of time added to the 90 minutes, and the Argentine stormed on to the pitch to confront the young French defender.
Simeone has proved himself tactically astute against the best opposition. Gaining the lead in the fifth-minute of the Champions League quarter-final second leg, Simeone’s men set about stifling Barcelona’s quick-passing midfield, denying them space and isolating Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta from the strikers. Barca were forced to resort to crosses and long passes, which centre-backs Miranda and Diego Godin effortlessly intercepted.
In the semi-final against Chelsea, Jose Mourinho deployed ultra-defensive tactics to take a goalless draw in Madrid. In the return, after Fernando Torres had given the Londoners the lead, Simeone instilled a deadly counter-attacking mentality in his side and Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and Arda Turan duly swept Mourinho’s men aside as Atletico cruised into the final.
El Cholo wears his heart on his sleeve and his high-energy display on the touchline matches that of his players. The Coach kicks every ball and protests every decision made against his side. He celebrates the highs and suffers the lows, prowling his technical area, remonstrating with the fourth official and, not uncommonly, the referee.
Despite his exuberance, or perhaps because of it, Simeone’s managerial naivity frequently comes to the fore. Prolific striker Diego Costa season was effectively curtailed by a recurring hamstring injury that saw him limp off after just 15 minutes of the decisive final league match at Camp Nou. Clearly, the Brazilian should not have started, yet Simeone insisted on fielding his talisman again in the Champions League final, where he lasted just nine minutes.
In a refreshing display of honesty, Simeone admitted he had made a mistake in playing Costa and accepted full responsibility for starting with him. The Argentine accepts both credit and the blame and the fans love him.