Another all-Madrid final? Real loom into view for Simeone's Atletico destiny

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There is one thing that el Cholo has not managed to do at Atletico Madrid and that is to shake the sense of inferiority they have towards Real

There is a sense of destiny about Diego Simeone. The man in the dark suit operates with an unshakeable sense of belief in what he can do and what he can influence.

He barks orders for 90 minutes – every game - at every one of his players. He grimaces. He goes to his knees. He trundles from one side of the technical area to the other. He coaches the Atletico Madrid fans as intently as he coaches the players, pleading with them for more support when he sees the need.

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Antoine Griezmann at any other club, with any other manager, would very clearly be marked out as the super star. He can do things with his feet and in his head that his team mates cannot do. But what marks him out as the best player on the team is that he works just as hard as they do. If he didn’t he wouldn’t get to play under the man they call el Cholo. Against Leicester, where Atleti drew 1-1, he performed Maradona-esque slaloms through the middle and popped up in his own area for overhead clearances. 

Simeone has players who will not only run through brick walls for him but, quite literally in the case of goal scorer Saul Niguez, ones who will piss blood for him.

It is unbelievable that he has transformed that club – so long a shambling, profligate, soft-centred mess - into one of the best teams in world.

Antoine Griezmann Atletico Madrid Champions League

“When you talk about the great of Europe you have to put an economic and financial slant on things,” he says. “The greats are Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid.

"But from a sporting point of view we are definitely competitive. When I say we are not one of the greats I mean in that sense, not in a sporting sense.”

He has broken the Real – Barcelona duopoly, earned big trophies, made super stars of his players and ensured a safe passage to a new, ultra-modern stadium. He has done for Atletico what Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger did for Manchester United and Arsenal combined and has done it in about a quarter of the time.

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"It is great to be in the semi-finals for the third time in four years. Looking back at the first day I arrived at the club I said my desire was to make Atletico Madrid competitive against every team we played against. It is satisfying now to say we are a competitive outfit,” he said.

What he has yet not managed to do is to shake the eternal sense of dread that accompanies Atletico into every meaningful battle with Real Madrid on a European stage.

Three semis in four years is a formidable record but the ugly truth masking that achievement is that Atleti’s neighbours have put them out on all three occasions. The man in the dark suit is most vulnerable against the men in white.

Atletico might be the equal to their city rivals most seasons in the Spanish league these days – and have indeed won the title more recently than their more illustrious counterparts - but there is no doubting the psychological hurdle that Real present on the continent.

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Simeone was a broken man in the bowls of the San Siro last May after Cristiano Ronaldo ended their quest for a first-ever Champions League title by slotting home the winning penalty.

Atletico were the better team, subdued Real and put them on the rack. They could not however kill them off. Real proceeded to inflict more damage on a team with the world’s biggest inferiority complex. Ronaldo expects to win those games; Atletico expect to lose.

They go into those fixtures as if the script is already written but even foreknowledge is not enough to quell the heartbreak.

Simeone must have wished that Carlo Ancelotti would do him a favour against Real at the Bernabeu and have his Bayern Munich knock them out of Atletico’s path once and for all. If Real could have been taken out without Atletico even having to face them then truly it could be believed that they would win the competition.

But Real endure; they have again been spared that one, big damaging defeat that would expose them for the frail unit that many believe they are.

Cristiano Ronaldo Sergio Ramos Marcelo Real MadridCristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid Bayern Munich UCL 18042017

Simeone though has his own story to tell before upping sticks. He refused to be drawn on his future at Leicester – saying only that his focus now lay solely on Espanyol at the weekend – but it is hard to avoid the topic.

One journalist covering Atletico asked if winning the Champions League would finish his journey with the club.

Meanwhile all the British journalists at the King Power were looking for a hint as to his potential movements at the end of the season.

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One enquired whether not he spoke English well. Another asked if nights like that would inspire him to manage in the Premier League. He skilfully deflected it.

Meanwhile speculation grows in Italy that a job is lined up at mega-rich Inter. As of right now nothing is certain. There is a Champions League to be won and a new house to move into. After that, we’ll see what lies in store.

"In terms of the way forward for ourselves, we are just going to keep trying and trying and insisting and keeping going," he said.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that he is thinking of one team above all others.

Into Simeone’s visions Real Madrid loom. If the man in the dark suit is to fulfil his destiny he will have to kill the ghost. 

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