Atletico Madrid v Chelsea: Diego Simeone is Atletico's own Special One, says Tiago ahead of Champions League meeting
Midfielder sees many similarities between his former coach and his current one but aims to deal Mourinho another semi-final blow, he tells Pete Jenson in Madrid
Monday 21 April 2014
Diego Simeone has sounded a lot like Jose Mourinho at times over the last two and a half years of success with Atletico Madrid. “I like football that has substance, not teams that have never-ending possession with people asking, ‘when is this attack going to end?’” is a statement that might have been uttered by either coach.
“We want to be a nuisance for other sides, unbearable to play against,” is another.
The two managers have much in common and no one knows that better than Atletico midfielder Tiago, who played for Chelsea in the 2004-05 season and will face them tomorrow night when the clubs meet in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final here in Madrid.
“We are comfortable when the other team has the ball,” Tiago said at Vicente Calderon stadium yesterday after his team-mate Gabi had joked that when his side win possession tomorrow night they will just gift it back to Chelsea, such is both teams’ preference for counter-attacking football.
Tiago knows the likenesses between the two coaches goes beyond their styles of play. “In terms of their winning mentality and the way it comes through in the work they do every day, they are not just similar, they are identical,” he says. “Simeone’s mere presence on the touchline is enough to lift us. He lives every minute of the game and the energy he transmits strengthens us.
“Mourinho does the same but in a different way. He motivates you through the week building up to the game. It’s perhaps more of a mental thing with him because he gets inside your head.”
After Tiago left Mourinho and Chelsea he joined Lyon, where he won two Ligue 1 titles, but he had lost his way at Atletico until Simeone turned up in December 2011.
“Everyone wanted to get rid of Tiago; Arda Turan didn’t realise he was allowed to run backwards as well as forward; Juanfran wasn’t a fixture at full-back; Miranda wasn’t in the team; Diego Godin wasn’t what he is now; and Felipe Luis did not play,” Simeone says of the disaffected squad he inherited. All six of those players will be part of his starting XI tomorrow night. He has turned their careers around in the process of waking Atletico from its slumber.
He disagrees with Tiago that the key is motivation. “Motivation is making them have the will to win but top players already have that,” he says. “What you need to give them is the instructions that they can use out on the pitch that will help them win.”
The fostering of a togetherness that stays strong through the course of a season is also emphasised.
After Atletico’s Champions League quarter-final triumph against Barcelona, Simeone remarked: “One of the things that had most impact on me was the way the players who weren’t involved directly in the match lived and breathed the game. It is so important and you can’t explain it to people outside of the game. When we lose that togetherness we will lose 40 per cent of what we are.”
Tiago struggles to understand why Mourinho’s ability to bond a squad appeared to fail him in his last season at Real Madrid. “Creating unity is his strength,” he says. “It’s precisely the fact that he has a group of players that will go to the ends of the earth for him that helps sets him apart.”
The ability to sow the seeds of doubt in the opposition has also been key to Mourinho’s success and the uncertainty surrounding Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’s participation could easily have played in Chelsea’s favour before tomorrow’s first leg.
Tiago rates Courtois highly enough to understand Mourinho’s position perfectly. “He’s the best in the world at the moment as far as I’m concerned,” he says of the 21-year-old Belgium international. “He transmits an incredible sense of security to the team. He’s just a kid but you look at him filling the goal and it just puts you at ease. You know he is going to come for all the long balls and he wins points for us with his saves. He always makes that decisive stop that turns a game.
“We all know Mourinho and we all know that if it is necessary to crank up the pressure before a game in order to win it then he will do that. He just wants to win. He knows that Courtois is very important for us and he wants to weaken us, as any opposing manager would.”
Not that Tiago believes the spotlight will have any adverse effect. “Courtois is mature enough not to be affected by the situation. He knows all the attention will be on him but he responds very well to pressure,” he says.
“It would have been very cruel for him not to be able to play this game. For the good of football we all want [Petr] Cech in one goal and Courtois in the other – they are two brilliant goalkeepers and at this stage of the Champions League you want the best players out on the pitch.”
Mourinho may not share that view, especially as with two exceptions semi-finals have been unkind to him, going back as far as 2005 when Tiago was on the pitch as Liverpool reached the final at Chelsea’s expense with a controversial Luis Garcia goal. He has also lost his last three semi-finals.
“Let’s hope we make it four,” Tiago says.
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