The Argentine's incredible impact has seen him win four trophies in just two and a half years at the Vicente Calderon. His remarkable record is set to stand the test of time
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Diego Simeone is making history. In two and a half years with Atletico Madrid, the Argentine coach has led the Spanish side to the Europa League, the Uefa Super Cup, the Copa del Rey and La Liga, with the Champions League final to follow on Saturday. Whatever happens in Lisbon, his incredible impact is already historic.
When Simeone took over at the Vicente Calderon in December 2011, Atletico sat 10th in Spain's Primera Division, just four points clear of the relegation zone. Last Sunday, with virtually the same squad but this season without the player previously considered the club's finest footballer, Radamel Falcao, the Rojiblancos recorded a memorable title triumph.
Similar stories of smaller sides being transformed to winners in such a small space of time are few and far between across Europe's elite leagues.
Jose Mourinho's success in bringing Uefa Cup and Champions League crowns to Porto in 2003 and 2004 is comparable, although that team was already a force domestically.
Two of a kind | Jose Mourinho made a similar impact at Porto a decade ago
Also in Scotland, Jock Stein enjoyed spectacular success at Celtic after taking over a struggling side in the 1960s and winning 10 championships and a European Cup. Walter Smith did something similar for Rangers with seven straight titles and took the Glasgow outfit to the Uefa Cup final in his second spell, while Englishman Bobby Houghton steered Swedish side Malmo to the European Cup final in 1979, when they lost to Clough's Forest.
Ferguson's hugely successful spell at Manchester United came after the Scot lifted the club from the doldrums in the mid-1980s, while Pep Guardiola transformed Barcelona and Antonio Conte has restored Juventus to the big time in recent seasons. All of those, however, were already huge clubs with big budgets.
In the money-dominated days of modern football, such stories are harder to find among sides below the elite and that makes Simeone's success even more impressive. So how has he done it?
“His football education was in Argentina, where the value of winning is often placed above certain ways of playing," former Racing Club sporting director Gustavo Grossi, who worked with Simeone at the Argentine club, told Goal. "In his head, he tries to find the best way possible of achieving a victory. That’s how he developed as a footballer."
Simeone at Atletico Madrid
|3||Saturday's Champions League date with Real Madrid is Simeone's third final at Atleti. He won the other two.|
|4||The Argentine has won four trophies so far at Atleti: Liga, Copa del Rey, Europa League and Uefa Super Cup|
|10||The Rojiblancos were in 10th when Simeone took over in December 2011. They have just won La Liga.|
|28||The 44-year-old led Atletico to more Liga victories (28) than Barcelona or Real Madrid in 2013-14.|
|96||In all competitions, El Cholo has guided Atletico to 96 wins from his first 148 games in charge.|
"He’s not a coach who likes to try out different things," Grossi explains. "He creates small groups with the conviction that the player will fit into the system. He places the system above the individual characteristics of a player. It’s the player who has to adapt to that system, that way of playing. He is a person who pays great attention to detail, a great professional who has combined European elements with the permanent need to win which is ingrained in him from Argentina.
"At Atletico, he has been able to transmit his mystique, his passion and his knowledge to this group of players. He has the great ability to be able to get inside the player’s head and make them a winner. The key is in the head – emotionally and intellectually. He has made them stronger and created that mystique. Normally it’s said that a coach has 20 or 30 per cent of the merit, but in his case the merit is much higher than that percentage."
So how does he compare to other great coaches of the past? Conditions are different, but Simeone's place among the game's top trainers now seems guaranteed.
"He has become one of the great references for football over the next 30 years," Grossi adds. "People in football throughout the world will remember how Simeone’s Atletico played. Not many coaches in the world achieve that. People will talk about Simeone for decades."
Whatever happens in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday, that won't change.