In an era where most managers, coaches and fans are obsessed with playing styles and philosophies, Atlético Madrid head coach Diego Simeone represents something different. With Simeone you get the feeling playing style isn’t the most important. Instead, what really matters to “Cholo” is one thing and one thing only; winning.
When discussing Simeone the coach you have to start by looking at Simeone the player. After establishing himself at Vélez Sarsfield in his native Argentina, Simeone made the move to Europe and Serie A to join Pisa. An energetic midfielder, Simeone had earned the nickname Cholo from his youth coach Victorio Spinetto because of his style of play. After two seasons under the shadow of Pisa’s leaning tower, Simeone made the move to Spain and Sevilla. Two seasons in Andalucía brought 12 goals in 64 La Liga appearances.
This prompted Atlético Madrid to acquire the services of Simeone, who joined Los Rojíblancos in 1994. After a promising debut season, he really showed his quality in his second season as he led Atléti to a Liga and Copa Del Rey double in 1995-96. In 37 league appearances, Simeone scored 12 goals as the midfielder was key to the success under coach Radomir Antic. A third season at the club would follow before Simeone returned to Serie A to continue his career at the San Siro for Inter.
Simeone stayed at Inter for two seasons and made a total of 85 appearances in all competitions for the Nerazzurri with 14 goals to his name. Cholo won a big title with Inter too, after playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-0 final win over Lazio in 1998. Inter finished the following season, 1998-99, trophyless which led to president Massimo Moratti signing Lazio striker Christian Vieri for a then world-record transfer fee. Part of the deal also meant Simeone went the other way, joining up with Swedish coach Sven-Göran Eriksson to complete a quintet of Argentine players at the club. The quintet included Néstor Sensini, Matías Almeyda, Hernán Crespo, Juan Sebastián Verón and Simeone.
Simeone’s career at Lazio got off to a flyer. In his first month at the club, Lazio won the UEFA Super Cup. The season saw the club challenge Juventus for the Scudetto, but going into the last day of the season Lazio trailed Juve by two points. After Perugia beat the Turin club and Lazio won their match against Reggina, however, Simeone had led another club to a title. Not just one title, in fact, as Lazio also won the Coppa Italia to complete the double. Who Lazio played in the final? Inter, of course. Who scored the winner? Diego Simeone, of course.
At the beginning of 2000-01, Lazio won the fourth title in Cholo’s first year at the club, after winning the Italian Supercup, again versus Inter. Simeone was an integral member in an extraordinary Lazio squad including the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Dejan Stankovic, Pavel Nedved, Verón, Claudio López and Crespo. Simeone would spend four seasons at the Olimpico for i Biancocelesti, but wouldn’t win any more trophies at the club. In 2001-02 however, Simeone was once again involved in last-day drama. Inter (who else) were excruciatingly close to secure the Serie A title only for Simeone’s goal to ruin the party and see Juventus claim the title instead.
In 2003, Simeone returned to Atlético for two years before finishing his playing career at Racing Club in Argentina. A terrific career which also included 106 international caps for Argentina and two Copa América wins concluded, but perhaps an even brighter one started the following year when Cholo took charge of the same Racing as manager in 2006.
Simeone impressed at Racing, but left in early May 2006 after a presidential change at the club. He soon had a new job though, taking charge of Estudiantes La Plata on May 18th. After enjoying a terrific season, Simeone led Estudiantes to their first league title in 23 years at the end of the 2006 season. The title win demonstrated that Simeone had no problem with sharing his winning mentality to his players and inspire them to be winners. After a more difficult second season, he left to join River Plate in December 2007. Simeone led River to the 2008 Clausura league title, further emphasising the coach’s ability to motivate and create a winning team. Simeone would then leave River in november 2008 and didn’t coach until his year long spell at San Lorenzo from April 2009 to April 2010. This spell didn’t prove to be a success like his previous jobs and Simeone wasn’t seen in football until January 2011.
Now, Simeone had made his first managerial move to Europe. Just like in his playing days, he opted for the Serie A and the challenge to keep Catania in the top flight. A strong end to the season saw the Sicilians stay clear of relegation under their charismatic coach, but Simeone didn’t renew his contract and instead returned to Argentina and Racing. Only a few months into the job however, and Simeone was on the move again. This time, Atléti came calling for a third time. After a nomadic start to his managerial career, this would prove to be the club he could finally call home. So, on December 23rd 2011 Atléti fans got the news that El Cholo had returned.
Simeone took charge of a struggling team who had lost the likes of David de Gea, Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán the previous summer, but also found the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luís, Tiago, Koke, Mario Suárez, Raúl Garcia, Juanfran, Arda Turan and his future captain, Gabi who all would prove to be pivotal in the club’s future. In the squad was also Radamel Falcao, who finished the season with 36 goals in all competitions as Simeone built the attack around the Colombian. His main focus, though, was on teamwork and defensive resilience which brought results as Atléti improved as the season went on and finished fifth. What’s more, Simeone led the club to the Europa League title after beating Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Club in the final 3-0.
The following season would see further improvement. As Courtois, Godin and Miranda in particular became the key players in defence, Tiago and Gabi produced a solid midfield base and the likes of Arda and Koke became the creators for Falcao to continue his exceptional goalscoring rate as the Colombian now netted 34 goals. The season started with Falcao scoring three in the European Super Cup win over Chelsea (4-1), and ended with another trophy as Atléti beat José Mourinho’s Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernabeu in the Copa Del Rey final after a late extra-time goal from Miranda. Simeone had undoubtedly created a magnificent team spirit and a top-class team after three trophies in his first 18 months. The Real win was the trigger for Atléti as a club to realise that they don’t have to accept second fiddle to Real, and under Simeone they’ve actually been very consistent in their derby performances and have plus statistics against Real in the derbies following that cup final.
“You don’t play finals, you win them.”
In 2013-14, Simeone would go almost all the way to a league and Champions League double. After losing Falcao in the summer, not many would have anticipated that Atlético would actually be able to challenge Real and Barcelona for the La Liga title, nevermind the Champions League. Simeone showed off his man-management skills as the forgotten man Diego Costa came from nowhere to become one of Europe’s best strikers as he scored 36 goals for the club. An incredibly resilient side delivered win after win in both Spain and Europe as Simeone’s winning mentality was once again evident in one of his teams. Atletico started the season with eight straight wins, including another win at the Bernabeu against Real, before losing to Espanyol. That loss prompted a 13-game unbeaten run and a fantastic start to the season. Atleti only lost four games in the league all season, and found themselves away at the Camp Nou against Barcelona in the last game of the season needing only a point to clinch the title. This point was duly delivered, as Diego Godin’s goal ensured a 1-1 draw which saw Simeone lift Atlético’s first La Liga title since the one he won as a player for them in 1995-96.
“I want to thank all the mothers of my players for giving them so big balls.”
After knocking out Milan, Barca and Chelsea, Atleti had reached the Champions League final in Lisbon against Real. After producing an inspired performance and taking a 1-0 lead, Atleti lost the game in the cruelest of circumstances. A 93rd minute equaliser from Sergio Ramos took the game to extra-time, where the tired Atleti couldn’t cope with Real who ended up 4-1 winners. Simeone was most likely livid with the result and the equaliser, but must have felt pride in the way his players fought. They had showed all of the abilities you have come to expect of a Diego Simeone side; hard-working, intense, energetic, strong and physical.
Again, Simeone lost key players in the summer of 2014, but delivered another trophy nevertheless, this time taking revenge on Real by winning the Spanish Super Cup. They couldn’t defend their La Liga title successfully but this was to be expected when going up against the vastly superior economical powers of Real and Barca. To win the league once was an extraordinary achievement, to do it twice in a row proved to be impossible. Now, in 2015-16, Simeone will be hopeful of continuing his remarkable achievement of delivering at least one trophy a year to the Atlético fans. At the time of writing they are second in La Liga, two points off top spot, they are still in the Copa Del Rey and are safely through to the knockout-stages of the Champions League as group winners. Atlético have only conceded 6 goals in La Liga this season, which is the fewest in Europe’s top five leagues. This defensive stability ensures they can do what Simeone demands of them each week; win. It remains to be seen where the season will take them, but without doubt they will challenge all the way once again.
While Simeone is obviously an excellent motivator and has great man-management skills, he is also tactically excellent. He’s very consistent with his use of an intensely pressing 4-4-2 system where he often instructs the team to defend low and close out all space for the opposition. Atleti have often played a very direct game under him, and an emphasis on counter-attacking has been evident. This season he is altering the style slightly, with a greater focus on possession but as I said in the beginning, the style isn’t the be all and end all of Simeone’s coaching. The emphasis is always on winning, and if that means defending all game and score from a corner then he’ll be happy to do it. He represents something different from other modern coaches, and I enjoy watching his passion during games. This passion has been flowing through his veins all his life, and he really is a true winner. The Atlético fans love the fighting spirit and the never-say-die attitude he has instilled in his teams, and they love their Cholo. Diego Simeone has built the perfect team at the perfect club for the most important thing in football to him; winning.