Considered the pantomime villain by some, yet admired and respected by many for his managerial achievements, Diego Simeone is definitely a man that has won over even his fiercest critics. His time at Atletico Madrid has brought about an era of prosperity that has seen Los Rojiblancos achieve much more than anyone thought possible.
Unanimously loved and revered by the Atletico faithful, his position within the club has reached cult status, with his policies of collectivity and consistency finally bringing footballing success back to the working class suburbs of Madrid.
Simeone’s impact on Atletico’s success has been monumental. For a club of their size and with a limited availability of financial resources, many would have thought it unprecedented for Atleti to go on to win 4 trophies in 4 years. During this time Simeone has lead his team to the UEFA Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup, the Copa Del Rey and of course the La Liga title in 2014 (not to mention reaching the 2014 Champions League final).
Atletico would be gifted with a talented defence, with the likes of Felipe Luis, Diego Godin, Juanfran and Thibaut Courtois
However, where has this success stemmed from? It is true to say that Simeone was helped by some talented players at his disposal, most notably the then talismanic striker Radamel Falcao who spearheaded the team between 2011-2013, scoring an incredible 52 goals in 68 appearances for Atleti.
Moreover, Atletico would also be gifted with a talented defence, with the likes of Felipe Luis, Miranda, Diego Godin, Juanfran and Thibaut Courtois in goal serving as a sturdy buffer. Simeone’s signings of David Villa from Barcelona and the recalling of Diego Costa from his loan spell at Rayo Vallecano would also prove to be pivotal in Atletico’s title winning season of 2013-14.
However even with a fairly talented group of players at his disposal, this would not be enough for Simeone to usurp the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, which he successfully did on more than one occasion. The key to his success lies in his tactics, essentially taking what Mourinho has done at Chelsea but adapting it to accommodate vastly inferior financial resources. The mantra of his system is therefore 3 fold.
Firstly, Atletico’s default structure during a match is to sit deep and compact, thus doing everything in its power to stop the opposition from creating any chances. Secondly, Simeone instructs his team to only change this default shape to press the ball when there is a very high chance of success and a minimal chance of failure. Then when the ball is won, Simeone wants his team to move the ball swiftly forward in a fast attack that throws the opponent of balance and ideally results in a goal.
In essence, Simeone’s system is one that relies on luring the opponent into a trap and then uses intense pressure to kill them off so to speak. In addition, Simeone orders his whole team to assist defensively and sacrifice any individual expression for the sake of his system.
“No one would have predicted that this system would bring about the success that it did it 2014”
Simeone’s Atletico are therefore organised and compact, ruthless on the counter and almost impossible to break down due to their tireless defensive work rate. This is why against tougher opposition like Real Madrid and Barcelona they are often effective, soaking up the attacking quality of these teams and then pressing the ball up field with devastating effect.
However no one would have predicted that this system would bring about the success that it did in in 2014. For a team of Atletico Madrid’s size to snatch the La Liga crown from under the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid was a colossal achievement, especially considering the fact that not long before this they were a mediocre mid table side who’s domestic ambitions stretched little further than reaching the Europa League spots. Not to mention they had an excellent Champions League run which saw Simeone’s men come agonisingly close to claiming their first title at the expense of their crosstown rivals.
Moreover, a great deal of what was achieved in their 2013-14 season has to also be attributed to Diego Costa. Atletico Madrid have a rich history of producing talismanic strikers, with likes of Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa serving as prolific goal scorers for Los Rojiblancos. It must be said that Costa’s 27 goals during that season was certainly a defining factor in Atleti’s title success that year.
Nonetheless as it is well known in football, success often leads to sales. The 2014-15 season saw goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, left back Filipe Luis and striker Diego Costa all leave for Chelsea, as well as influential forward David Villa leaving to play in the MLS. Coupled therefore with the fact that Barcelona were back to their imperious best, it would be foolhardy to think that Simeone could repeat what he had achieved the previous season.
“Despite the sales, Simeone did manage to rebuild his squad”
However he has managed to keep hold of key centre back and vice-captain Diego Godin, as well as the creative midfielder Koke, who vowed when interviewed that he ‘will not leave Atletico during their best years’. Despite the sales however, Simeone did manage to rebuild his squad, bringing in attacking flare in the form of forward Antoine Griezmann, as well as replacing Diego Costa with Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic. January 2015 would also see the return of Fernando Torres to Atletico, who would be looking to revive his faltering career after baron spells in the Premier League. Simeone has therefore managed to restore to an extent what he had during his title winning season; enough to mount a moderate title defence which would predictably fall short.
Nevertheless, although it is unlikely that Atletico will repeat their domestic triumph of 2013-14 any time soon, what the manager is more focused on is creating a consistent level of achievement at the club. Simeone believes that maintaining a place in the Champions League year after year is likely to keep attracting talent to the Calderon, as well as generating enough revenue to help Atletico compete financially with top clubs in La Liga and all over Europe.
Atletico also have plans to move out of the ageing Estadio Vicente Calderon and into a brand new 70,000 seater stadium which is due for completion come 2016. This move has subsequently meant the club has secured a stadium management deal with ‘CenterplatelSG’, a company that has worked on stadiums that include London’s Wembley. This deal will certainly help to boost the club’s match day revenue.
In addition to this, Simeone and club owner Miguel Angel Gil have made moves for Atletico to go global. In January 2015, Atletico announced that Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group had purchased a 20 percent stake in the club for 49 million euros, which was a significant move designed to promote the clubs growing international brand. Atletico’s annual revenue of 169.9 million euros however is still only a quarter of that of Real Madrid and Barcelona; ground is being made, albeit slowly.
With revenue on the rise and an array of talent still at Simeone’s disposal, El Cholo’s project at Atletico Madrid is very much on the upsurge. His management of the club both on and off the pitch is second to none, and with a new 5 year deal signed earlier this year he will not be leaving anytime soon. Diego Simeone’s marriage with Los Colchoneros has truly been a fruitful one, and if all carries on as planned, Atleti will continue to thrive and will remain hot on the heels of their glamourous crosstown neighbours for some time to come.
Image: Tom Brogan via flickr