The Argentine manager deserves praise for his work with the Spanish side after leading them to yet another successful campaign despite the obvious limitations...
By Shikharr Chandra
As Arda Turan left the pitch in agony, the camera panned towards Diego Simeone. The Argentine looked towards the heavens hoping for divine intervention. This was after having lost Diego Costa who had limped off the pitch earlier in the game.
It seemed one of those days when nothing was going Atletico’s way which was indeed cruel given the manner in which they have enchanted everyone for the best part of 37 games in the La Liga.
If this was not it, Alexis Sanchez’s out of the world goal put Barcelona in the lead before half-time and the 1-0 scoreline would have suited the Catalans to retain their title.
This was a test for Simeone and his squad where he needed to motivate them for the final 45 minutes of the campaign and get the desired result. Battered and bruised, the Rojiblancos fought back thanks to Diego Godin's header to script one of the most historic days in the club's history which ended their 18-year wait for the league title..
Simeone's achievements surely rank among the finest, if not the best. He did something very few managers have done before. Sir Alex Ferguson did it with Aberdeen, Jurgen Klopp did it with Dortmund and as Rafael Benitez with Valencia.
The former Manchester United manager took over an Aberdeen side who were in the shadows of the big guns in the league, namely Celtic and Rangers. The Scot ended a 15-year barren run for the club that saw them win the league and the European Super Cup the following season.
Similar to Simeone's achievements this season, Benitez was the last man to end the two-horse race in the Spanish League. The former Liverpool manager took over a Valencia squad who had lost their talisman Gaizka Mendieta to Lazio. But that was hardly a worrying factor as Benitez guided the club to their first league title in over 30 years and followed it by another in his third and final season at the club.
One of the more recent examples though, is of young and zealous, Jurgen Klopp. The Borussia Dortmund manager took Bayern Munich to the sword, beating the Bavarians in the Bundesliga and adding the DFB Pokal to his list of honours as well. Klopp who has seen Bayern snap up his players, has hardly given up and has made 'Die Borussen' a force to be reckoned with over the years.
|Landmark moment for Simeone and the side|
Before Simeone took over, Atletico found themselves in the midst of mediocrity. Ranked 10th in the league and beaten by second division side Albacete in the Copa Del Rey, they needed something special to stop the rot and regain their lost demeanour which was last seen under the tutelage of legendary Spanish coach Luis Aragones.
In his first season, Simeone guided the club to a UEFA Europa League triumph beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the finals and finishing fifth in the league. The following season, the club humiliated Champions League winners Chelsea, 4-1 in the Super Cup and finished in the Champions League spots along with winning the Copa Del Rey at the expense of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
This was the first time in 14-years that Atletico had triumphed over their decorated neighbours. Now exactly a year later, the club was crowned the La Liga winners and the Argentine manager could add the Champions League to his resume in a few days time.
And mind you, Atletico have woken up from their slumber with more or less the same squad his predecessor had. The squad was "hell" as the players would go on to describe it before the Argentine took over.
Simeone as a player was part of the fabled Atleti side that did the double by winning the La Liga and Copa Del Rey in 1996.
But for Simeone, the road to success with Atletico as a manager was never easy. Spanish league over the years has been a duopoly between Real Madrid and Barcelona over the years. The two clubs have broken records after records and the rest of the pack have just watched them dominate. Rafa Benitez's Valencia came close by winning back-to-back titles over a decade ago but they could not sustain their momentum following the manager’s departure.
In the last summer window, Radamel Falcao was sold to Monaco and Simeone put his faith in Diego Costa who had always been away on loan. The Brazilian-born Spaniard responded in style by repaying his manager’s trust with 35 goals in 42 appearances. It is little secret that even their new top scorer would leave the club this summer, but one can count on Simeone to find his successor.
Atletico Madrid's starting lineup at the Camp Nou was priced just below €35m, equivalent to the amount of money the Catalans had paid for the services of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal.
Atletico aren’t a financially stable club as they have huge debts. "There is only a €400m difference", Simeone said when asked to compared his side to the big two in the La Liga.
But despite the obvious weaknesses in the side, Simeone did not lose faith in his side. His counter attacking, high pressing mantra was brilliant to watch and certainly worked for them. Atletico Madrid did not lose at home and won crucial games against the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan.
Following the La Liga triumph, rival fans gave him a standing ovation, and the chants of 'Atleti’ were ringing around the stadium.
"I want to share this moment with my people. They might not appear on the television but they work every bit as much, or more, and I want to tell you how much I admire them. And the players too. I am proud of the group that we have built."
Atletico Madrid were not presented with the trophy that day as the president of the Spanish FA was travelling.
"That doesn't matter. They can't take it off us". Thousand of Atletico Madrid supporters were present on the street the following day to welcome their heroes and none bigger in that side than the man who masterminded it all, Diego Simeone.