How Atletico Madrid’s Simeone grew to become king of LaLiga

Football

There will be just one desk. Only one, within the form of a sq., and it should be sufficiently big to accommodate all 24 gamers who’ve made the journey. Please put six chairs on both sides, so everybody can see everybody else, and no place is healthier than one other. If you cannot assemble a desk sufficiently big or you do not have a banquet room to suit it, we’ll discover a totally different resort.

The directions have been clear, handed down from Diego Pablo Simeone, the Atletico Madrid supervisor, to Tomas Renones, the membership legend who handles all features of first-team life, after which to the catering director on the Courtyard by Marriott in Wolfsburg, Germany. It was solely a preseason pleasant that Atletico have been enjoying in opposition to VfL Wolfsburg, a nothing sport for which half of the first-team squad had stayed in Spain, however that did not matter.

Since taking on Atletico a decade in the past, Simeone, 51, has left nothing to probability. For each sport, from friendlies to the Champions League finals that the membership has reached twice throughout his tenure, he proceeds in similar style. He sits in the identical seat on the left aspect of the entrance row of the crew bus, no person beside him. He prefers these rides to be as brief as potential, so he asks his journey division to search out him not essentially the most snug resort within the space, just like the Ritz-Carlton the place practically all the highest groups that go to Wolfsburg keep, however a wonderfully acceptable possibility nearer the stadium. He likes to spend the hour earlier than a sport alone together with his ideas, so his employees works prematurely to safe a non-public house aside from the visiting altering room.

“Nothing is casualidad,” Simeone says, utilizing the Spanish phrase for happenstance. “It’s causalidad.” Purposeful.

The desk? When Simeone arrived at Atletico, gamers grouped themselves in cliques. He understood that the problem he confronted — competing in a league in opposition to Barcelona and Real Madrid — demanded absolute unity. It was the one approach that Atletico, who had managed to win LaLiga solely as soon as in additional than 30 years, may compensate for the inevitable hole in expertise. The desk compelled everybody to combine.

“On the sq. desk, for those who do not feel like speaking to me, I increase my head and I’ve to take a look at you,” Simeone says. “It’s an obligation that they have a look at one another. That they sit collectively. That they be collectively.”

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By 2013-14, his third full season as Atletico’s supervisor, Simeone had cast a gritty crew that ceded possession for almost all of every sport, but usually discovered a strategy to win. It rode cohesiveness, emotion, health and the occasional miraculous aim to a title — Atletico’s first since 1996.

“We used the counterattack,” Koke, Atletico’s captain, says now. “We defended, typically excessive and typically low. We dominated with out the ball.” That grew to become referred to as Atletico’s model — and Simeone’s — however Simeone insists that what reveals itself on the sector is simply the seen manifestation of a deeper understanding.

“Our essence just isn’t the model of the sport, however the best way we stay the sport,” he says. “When somebody new comes into our locker room, it may be onerous for him to adapt. He does solely when he understands that if you end up enjoying right here, you are not simply enjoying together with your expertise. The distinction just isn’t expertise. It’s our character, our safety, our conviction. Our dedication.” As if to show his level, an nearly fully totally different Atletico crew — one which performed in a special form with a modified system — rose up and did it once more final season. Solely that absolute dedication to the trigger was unchanged.

“Crucial factor at Atletico is that no person right here thinks he is higher than another participant,” Luis Suarez mentioned to ESPN earlier this month. He’d simply arrived at Atleti’s coaching facility, every week sooner than required. Discarded by Barcelona earlier than final season, the Uruguayan striker performed a essential position — maybe the essential position — in Atletico’s profitable pursuit of one other title. “Each single participant right here has confidence in each different participant,” Suarez added. “And that,” he mentioned, utilizing Simeone’s nickname, “is Cholo.”

Clearly, Atletico’s groups have their stars. Throughout Simeone’s tenure, he has relied on Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Antoine Griezmann, amongst others. Then he moved them on to soccer’s most essential golf equipment with the intention to finance their successors. The 2021-22 crew consists of Suarez, one of many sport’s prime goalkeepers in Jan Oblak, and the terribly gifted Joao Felix.

Nonetheless, throughout a decade when Barcelona was epitomized by Lionel Messi and Actual Madrid by Cristiano Ronaldo, two of essentially the most recognizable individuals on Earth, Atletico’s face has been its supervisor. That, too, is not happenstance. Ultimately, Simeone’s strategy has confirmed extra impactful than any of the gamers charged with implementing it.

“Cholo is past a supervisor,” says the mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, who makes no secret of his affection for his metropolis’s second crew. “He has reworked our membership from unstable to at least one that may compete with any on the planet. That is why we worth him a lot.”

To Simeone, the duty is simply starting. “To keep up means to go a long time like this, doing what we’re doing,” he says. That features persevering with to parlay aggressive success into financial progress, as a result of one is unsustainable with out the opposite. “And that progress isn’t just primarily based on cash,” Simeone stresses. “It’s primarily based on successful.”

Following the crew meal in Wolfsburg, Simeone gathered the gamers for a short discuss. Then they walked by means of the entrance door towards the crew bus. A small group of followers had gathered, resort staff and others who’d been strolling by. It was an orderly scene. Because the gamers handed, some names have been spoken aloud, as if somebody have been narrating a film. There’s Oblak. Hey, is not that Thomas Lemar, who received the World Cup with France? Ah, Saul — Saul Niguez. That is him!

Then Simeone burst by means of the doorways, strolling with intent. “It is Cholo! It is Cholo Simeone!” a girl shouted in Spanish. “There he’s, Simeone!” one other swooned in German. Simeone signed an autograph. He posed for somebody’s selfie, flashing an electrical smile. (When he chooses, he will be as charismatic as anybody in soccer.) Then, with the clicking of the cellphone, his face snapped again right into a line. He boarded the bus and went again to work.


The Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico’s dramatic, four-year-old stadium, appears to billow over the flatlands northeast of town. Inside it, the membership constructed a museum. It occurred in the course of the previous 12 months when followers have been barred from attending video games due to COVID-19, so few have had the chance to go to it. After they do, they will discover multimedia displays, equivalent to a theater that replicates the bed room of a small boy. Throughout a sequence of screens, an emotional video chronicles the handing down, one era to the following, of the custom of help for this distinctive membership. The boy, it turns into clear, is the Atletico icon — and former Liverpool and Chelsea striker — Fernando Torres.

What the followers will not see on the new museum are the trimmings of many precise accomplishments, a minimum of not from the trendy period. For a membership with such a broad and passionate following, its trophy case is noticeably naked. Its glory days have been the Sixties and Seventies, however even that meant simply 4 league titles over 20 years, together with 5 Spanish Cups. Since then, Atletico have received LaLiga thrice: 1996, when Simeone starred for the crew in midfield, then 2014 and final season with him as supervisor. The explanation for the shortage of {hardware}, after all, is the presence of two groups that, by most measures, are the largest on the planet.

“It is the principal downside that I’ve,” says Miguel Angel Gil, the proprietor. “Atletico can put money into our crew lower than half of what Actual Madrid and Barcelona do in theirs — and, by the best way, lower than half of eight others in Europe.”

Gil was speaking with full information of the latest financial disaster that has hit each golf equipment, necessitating the departure of Lionel Messi from Barcelona and placing Actual Madrid greater than a billion {dollars} in debt. How every of them proceed from right here is unsure, however their means to generate income — $832 million for Actual Madrid within the pandemic-affected 2019-20 season; greater than $1 billion for Barcelona, in line with printed stories — offers them a minimum of the potential for a swift restoration.

That very same season, Atletico introduced in $403 million, which ranked simply thirteenth in Europe. But their UEFA coefficient, as excessive as second below Simeone, is sixth. And in every of the previous 20 seasons till the final one, when COVID-19 mandated video games with out spectators, they turned a revenue.

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Gemma Soler particulars Atletico Madrid’s possibilities to defend their La Liga title in 2021-22.

Gil’s father, a larger-than-life entrepreneur named Jesus Gil y Gil, was elected president of the membership in 1987. Gil y Gil served as mayor of the seacoast resort metropolis of Marbella, then served time in jail after accusations of cash laundering and embezzlement. Ultimately he was barred from holding public workplace and, in 2003, he was stripped of his affiliation with Atletico. By then, the membership had been demoted to Spain’s second division, a humiliation from which a lot of its supporters nonetheless have not recovered.

With assist from buyers, management of the membership landed together with his son. One among Miguel Angel’s first assertive acts was to dismantle the shocking 2010 crew that had received the Europa League below Quique Sanchez Flores. That crew had two dominant gamers, Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero. Each have been feuding with Sanchez Flores and with one another. Moderately than select sides, Gil fired the supervisor and removed each gamers (Forlan went to Inter Milan, Aguero to Man Metropolis).

Atletico had at all times seen themselves because the crew of the individuals, versus Actual, the purple-and-white bastion of Spanish royalty that performed uptown, and if anybody personified that ethic, it was Simeone. Born and raised in Argentina, he’d anchored the staunch Atletico sides of 1994 to 1997 together with his unyielding dedication to the trigger. After enjoying in Italy, he returned in 2003 for 2 extra seasons. As soon as he completed enjoying, Simeone managed 4 Argentine golf equipment with blended outcomes. He spent six months attempting to maintain overmatched Catania in Serie A, then returned to Argentina once more to imagine command of Racing in June 2011.

Atletico took a threat hiring Simeone. If Gil did not perceive that already, it grew to become clear that fall when he began calling his earlier employers. Simeone had guided Argentina’s mighty River Plate to a title in 2007, then stumbled to a last-place end and the membership’s nearly unthinkable relegation the next season.

“The president of River spoke of him very badly,” Gil says. “In Italy, they spoke of him the identical approach. A catastrophe.” Everybody warned Gil to remain away. Nonetheless, Gil could not cease recalling the dedication Simeone had displayed as Atletico’s captain, and his cussed refusal to simply accept something much less from his teammates.

“He was already a supervisor then,” says Renones. Recognized merely as “Tomas” whereas a participant, Renones was 35 and in his final season with Atletico when Simeone willed the crew to that 1996 title. “Cholo was a supervisor on the sector,” he says. “He directed. He mandated. He had the identical demand that he has now. You win. You win. And you then win once more. You play effectively and win, that is good. You play badly and win? That is good, too.”

Like Gil, Simeone understood that the attractive a part of the attractive sport was a luxurious this membership could not afford. He was keen to have his groups play defensive soccer, which is nearly a necessity while you’re invariably outmanned by your rivals. He appeared to thrive on the devotion that Atleti require from their gamers, but additionally their followers. “When it comes to advertising,” Gil says, “he’s our greatest potential messenger.”

Simeone acknowledges that he did not have the expertise to handle a membership with the dimensions and ambition of Atletico, “however Miguel Angel knew me higher than the others,” he says. “And he noticed one thing in me that the others did not see.”

When Simeone assumed management of the membership in the course of the Christmas break of 2011, Atletico have been tenth in LaLiga and had crashed out of the Copa del Rey. Over the three,500-odd days that adopted, a span during which Actual Madrid have modified managers eight instances, he received 317 video games, drew 121 and misplaced 89. Two of these losses have been the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals — each of them, agonisingly, to Actual Madrid.

It’s not with out irony that the fame of a supervisor obsessive about successful was enhanced extra by two losses than something extra he has completed. Competing within the ultimate twice in three years raised Atletico’s profile. It additionally attracted the curiosity of gamers who beforehand by no means would have thought-about it. “Now, the nice ones wish to come right here,” Simeone says. “Those who may need solely chosen Actual Madrid or Barcelona and never Atletico, now in addition they wish to come to Atletico.”

Which gamers? At no level did Simeone give sporting director Andrea Berta a reputation. All he requested for was a star or two who would make the identical dedication he demanded from everybody else. “Diego mentioned to me, ‘Andrea, if we will get somewhat extra money, we will get gamers of a fair greater high quality,'” Berta says. “He is aware of that it is simpler to win with higher gamers.

“Nonetheless,” Berta provides, waving a finger, “additionally it is extra sophisticated.”


It is 6:30 on a heat August night. The Madrid solar continues to be excessive within the sky. Simeone’s gamers are doing what Simeone’s gamers do on August afternoons — and can proceed to do all season. Atletico’s health coach Oscar Ortega — known as “Profe,” for “Professor” — has laid out a line of BOSU balls on the turf. One after one other, his prices strategy, then alternate between one foot and two as they hop and bounce on the half-globes to the end.

It is an train that calls for physique management and agility and, after the fifth or sixth repetition, sheer will. Right here comes Angel Correa, new signing Rodrigo de Paul, Suarez and the standout defender Jose Gimenez, hopping and panting and sometimes stumbling. “One, two,” Profe says calmly as they move him. “One, two.” Profe is aware of that is merely the start. So do the gamers. Berta places it succinctly: “Run, run, after which run extra,” he says. “As a result of we’re not Barcelona.”

Inside soccer, these exercises have turn into legendary. They mimic the bodily exertion obligatory for a method of play that forces even strikers to trace again and defend. Watching rigorously, noticing every part, Simeone decides who can take it.

“It was very onerous for me,” says former Atletico midfielder Josuha Guilavogui. “He has one strategy to go, and both you might be in or you might be out.” Now Wolfsburg’s captain, Guilavogui arrived at Atletico in 2013 from St. Etienne. Early in these summer season periods, Simeone noticed one thing he did not like. Guilavogui began one match and performed two minutes in one other. “And it wasn’t simply me,” Guilavogui says. “On the time, there have been gamers on the crew who have been higher than I used to be, who have been already having massive careers.”

One among them was Jackson Martinez, the previous FC Porto attacker. Nicolas Gaitan, who’d starred at Benfica, was one other. The experiences of all three males had the identical downward trajectory. Simeone watched them coaching, then wrote them off. By no means thoughts that the membership had spent liberally to convey them in, together with $38.5 million for Martinez and $33 million for Gaitan.

“Expertise is essential,” Berta says. “However with out the precise mentality to play for Diego, they can not succeed at Atletico.”

Different gamers perceive that Simeone can maximise their potential. Filipe Luis joined Atletico in 2010, previous to Simeone. After the championship in 2014, he signed with Chelsea. It meant extra money and, he figured, a better life. Inside a couple of weeks, he realised he missed the rigour that Simeone imposed.

“With out him, I could not be the perfect left-back on the planet,” he says. “In his fingers, I used to be. So I had to return. Solely he may extract all of the soccer that I had in my physique.” Filipe Luis begged Chelsea to return him to Atletico. Chelsea did. He stayed and thrived till 2019.

Simeone appreciates that the majority our bodies aren’t meant to function repeatedly at such a excessive degree of depth. He tells Berta that ideally they’d renovate the roster each few years, simply as armies rotate regiments out and in of fight. Exceptions, maybe, are a number of the gamers who arrive as youngsters, like Koke and Correa and Gimenez, and appear preternaturally fitted to the routine. Partly, it’s as a result of they know no different approach. But each new arrival is a possible flop.

“With some gamers, we lose 100% of our funding,” Gil says. “Why? As a result of they do not adapt to this method. Each participant should run, run and run. If they do not, they do not play. And when you could have gamers with excessive expertise, it is nearly incompatible with run, run and run.”

So when Atletico signed Felix in 2019 for a membership file $140 million, eyebrows have been raised. “He was very technical,” says Martinez-Almeida, the mayor, “however I did not suppose he was as much as the bodily normal.” By varied reckonings, this was the third-, fourth- or fifth-most costly switch in historical past on the time. It shattered Atletico’s membership file, the $80 million spent on Lemar, and all for an undeniably proficient 19-year-old who could not presumably anticipate what could be required of him. However in Felix, Simeone noticed the younger Griezmann.

Griezmann, too, had arrived scrawny and immature — “a weak boy,” in Simeone’s phrases. He had aptitude that seduces followers from the second they first see him, however no idea of sublimating his abilities to the crew effort. However Griezmann realized. He finally scored 133 objectives for Atletico earlier than Barcelona known as.

Precisely the identical is occurring with Felix. After struggling by means of a disastrous first 12 months, he performed in addition to anybody in LaLiga final season till an ankle harm slowed his progress. “I realized the connection between struggling and the success of the crew,” Felix says. “Whenever you undergo collectively, you study to win collectively. We undergo in our coaching. We undergo as a result of all of us should defend. It teaches us find out how to win.”

Now, he says, if Simeone desires him to drop again to the midfield to mark a person, he’ll do it. If Simeone desires him to remain ahead and press the ball, he’ll do this. “I do no matter he asks,” he says. “I perceive the philosophy.”

Final summer season, to some shock, Atletico added Suarez, who will flip 35 in January. (It helped that he arrived on a free switch, with Barcelona paying a good portion of his wages.) Simeone insists that the primary job of a ahead is to be his first line of defence, and that did not sound like Uruguay‘s all-time main scorer. However no person may query Suarez’s competitiveness — he has been caught thrice biting opponents, in any case.

“He knew I had motivation after Barcelona,” Suarez says of Simeone. “He knew I wished to show my high quality to LaLiga. He advised me precisely what I needed to do, and he gave me the boldness that I may play my finest right here.”

However motivation was solely a part of the problem. The open query was whether or not Suarez may work as onerous as obligatory on defence and have the vitality to attain objectives. To accommodate him, Simeone gave Suarez additional trip. He tailored the crew’s techniques to suit his formidable abilities, restructuring the formation from its standard 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2. He made it clear that Suarez wasn’t anticipated to run as a lot because the youthful gamers equivalent to Marcos Llorente. However Suarez needed to run intelligently.

Led by Felix, Atletico raced to an early lead within the desk. After 10 matches, they not solely hadn’t misplaced a sport, they hadn’t even trailed. Halfway by means of the season, their lead was 10 factors. Then Felix damage his ankle and contracted COVID-19. Kieran Trippier was suspended for 10 video games over gambling-related offences. Suarez’s livid tempo slackened. With eight video games left, the benefit had narrowed to a single level over Actual Madrid, and two over Barcelona.

That final month was when all that sweating and panting paid off. On the season’s ultimate day, Atletico traveled to Actual Valladolid with the title doubtful. Rapidly, they fell behind. However within the 67th minute, after Correa had equalised, Suarez made a run with the ball and scored the winner. When the sport ended, he fell to the bottom and cried. He had received cups and league titles at Barcelona, however this was totally different. Simeone appeared on approvingly.

“I at all times say that, at Atletico, while you win, you take pleasure in it twice as a lot,” he says now.

Why? As a result of no person expects Atletico to win. The impetus lies with the giants. All Simeone’s membership can do is look ahead to a gap. Overcoming Actual Madrid and Barcelona proved that the identical counterattacking technique Atletico make use of over 90 minutes week after week additionally works as writ massive. Because the fortunes of golf equipment rise and fall, a possibility could seem. The whole lot Simeone does, all that preparation, is for his gamers to be able to seize it.

“In all places you flip, in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, even the Champions League, the 2 of them are ready,” he says of Actual Madrid and Barcelona. “However at present, after 9 years of labor, they know that they can not mess up. As a result of it they do, we’re right here.”


As he passes a decade as Atletico’s supervisor, Simeone’s state of affairs appears preferrred. It is not simply his $30 million annual wage (plus bonuses) — as excessive as that of any supervisor on the planet, and greater than another present LaLiga participant. Due to his tenure and Gil’s help, no supervisor is extra highly effective. “Different golf equipment lose 5 – 6 video games and so they change the supervisor,” says Filipe Luis. “No downside, the gamers are protected. At Atletico, the supervisor is protected. The gamers adapt … or they depart.”

His achievements have been observed, after all. Final season, Simeone was linked with each Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. In 2014, he interviewed with Manchester United however in the end rebuffed curiosity. At varied instances, he mentioned that he’d prefer to handle each Internazionale and the Argentina nationwide crew. But for all the explanations that Simeone is such a superb match at Atletico, it is unclear how he would fare anyplace else. The most certainly vacation spot is in England, particularly with Actual Madrid and Barcelona off the desk for emotional causes.

“But when he went to handle within the Premier League, it would not work,” Gil says. “It is not only a query of language; it is the traits of how he manages. It is the emotional approach he proceeds. The calls for he places on gamers. You simply could not do this there.”

Earlier this 12 months, Simeone signed a contract extension that ought to hold him in place till 2024, and the grind could get simpler. In contrast to the final time Atletico received, most of this crew ought to keep collectively for some time. The 2014 title was perceived as a one-off, and used as a launching pad by gamers prepared to say a spot with the highest echelon of groups. Now Atletico are in that echelon, as illustrated by their inclusion (albeit on the final minute) within the abortive European Tremendous League. “In 2014, everybody wished to depart,” Simeone says. “Now, nobody does. Why? As a result of that is working effectively. We’ve got stability. The membership is powerful. And we will win.”

With Barcelona in disarray, frantically attempting to shed gamers and payroll, and Actual Madrid integrating one more new supervisor and with an unsure lineup, this season could present one other a type of openings. With that comes the possibility for Atletico to repeat as champions for the primary time in 70 years and set up themselves, a minimum of for the second, as not simply probably the greatest groups on the planet, however the perfect in Spain.

Simeone appears energized by the likelihood. He stays as animated as ever, windmilling his arms on the touchline, ranging far past the technical space, screaming directions. At one level in opposition to Wolfsburg, the younger winger Rodrigo Riquelme noticed a teammate breaking into the clear. However Riquelme delayed delivering the ball and the second handed. Simeone turned crimson. He flung his fingers skyward, his face contorted right into a grimace. He turned away from the sector in disgust, his encompasses a masks of frustration.

The sport was 40 seconds previous.

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