Atletico Madrid v Chelsea: Diego Simeone, the unsung mastermind of Europe

The Atletico coach has proved his credentials by breaking the stranglehold of Barcelona and Real

Madrid

There was no place on the 10-man shortlist for 2013 Coach of the Year for Diego Simeone. Even by Fifa’s standards, forgetting about the manager who had not long since won the Europa League, European Super Cup and Spanish Cup seemed negligent.

The oversight also helped Atletico Madrid to maintain one of the best-kept secrets in football – they have not just one of the top 10, but one of the best four managers in European football right now.

Simeone’s results and the methods he articulates so well and then puts into stunningly effective practice have won admirers, convinced doubters, and pleased old friends who always knew he could become an even better coach than he was a player.

FOLLOW OUR LIVE BLOG OF THE MATCH HERE

Fernando Torres, who faces him on Tuesday night in Chelsea colours, used to jump up and down to the terrace chant of “Olé, olé, olé, Cholo Simeone” when the Argentine was captain of the 1995-96 double- winning team at Atletico Madrid. He later became a team-mate in Simeone’s second spell at the club.

 

“This [leading La Liga and being in the Champions League last four] is a triumph of his values of hard work and sacrifice,” Torres says. “He has been able to unite everyone at the football club. Without him this winning team would never have happened.”

When Simeone turned up in December 2011, Atletico were closer to the bottom than the top of La Liga. His unique management style has made them title favourites with four games left.

“I don’t know how all this will end but there are a lot of supporters from other smaller clubs watching us thinking, ‘We want to be doing what they are doing’. We are fighting against two monsters with huge squads, great players and top managers,” he says of the assault on Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Simeone’s dad Carlos is not surprised by his football-mad son’s success. “We bought a fort for him when he was a kid and he turned it into a football stadium,” he says.

Read more: Mourinho puts on a special sulk to mark Madrid return
Torres welcomed back to by delighted fans
'Courtois is focused,' says Simeone

Carlos took Diego as a four-year-old to local Buenos Aires side Palermo and he was spotted at the age of eight by Velez Sarsfield, where he stayed until he had become a regular in the first team.

The father-son relationship through his playing days – with Carlos banned from shouting advice at his young son as soon as it became apparent that no one needed to tell him what to do on the pitch – remained when Simeone became a coach.

When managing River Plate in 2008 he called his father to tell him he was set to leave out the club’s big centre- forward Sebastian Abreu so he could pick Radamel Falcao in front of the diminutive trio of Diego Buonanotte, Ariel Ortega and current Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez. His dad said he loved the team. But Simeone recounts that when River Plate lost the game against arch-rivals Boca Juniors his father called him up to say: “What kind of team selection was that? Why didn’t you play the big centre-forward?”

The next generation of the Simeone clan all look like being players too. Giovanni is a 19-year-old striker at River Plate; Gianluca a 14-year-old also at River; and midfielder Giuliano is the youngest, of whom granddad Carlos says: “He could be even better than his dad.”

There is a family feel too about the Atletico Simeone has built. Pre-match meals are eaten around one big table on the coach’s orders. And team talks are given before lights out because, according to Simeone: “It’s the best time to talk to your children; it’s when they are most responsive. I feel like the players are my children.”

Many predicted that Atletico would burn out before the end of the season but the passion of Simeone and his team has sustained the charge. His life-long friend German “Mono” Burgos is his No 2, playing bad cop to Simeone’s good cop; fitness coach Oscar Ortega has helped create the intensity of Atletico’s football. “Solidarity and commitment” will be the usual message tonight as Ortega takes the players through their warm-up.

It has been an emotional season up until now and Simeone shows just how much he loves the game when he ponders the end of the campaign. “I’m torn between wanting it to end and not wanting it to end,” he says. “When it ends, especially if it ends well, then great, but I know that it will leave a big hole.”

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible