His dejected stance gave the impression that he knew what lay await. Enough was enough. Fans had turned, players had failed to produce and they had been eliminated from the Domestic cup against lower league opposition. The writing was on the wall but this wasn’t White Hart Lane on Sunday, this was the Vicente Calderon on a December night in 2011. A few days later, Gregorio Manzano was fired and a week later the king returned. Diego Simeone, a former player, came to Atlético de Madrid’s rescue and they haven’t looked back soon. Now Arsenal should consider him.
As fans compile lists of managers that they want to replace Arsene Wenger, there are many reasons why the club should try everything possible to sign the name they call ‘El Cholo’. He is contracted at Atlético and looks likely to stay for another year but he is desparate to win a league and be competitive. If Arsenal stick with Arsene for another year, they should try all they can to get Simeone for 2014. They need to be quick, Chelsea have been scouting him too.
In the 25 years that Atlético have been under the control of the Gil Family, they have gone through 49 managers, spent two years in the 2nd division, have seen Valencia, Barca, Deportivo and Real Madrid all win league titles and owe the taxman over €200m. Throw in all the money wasted on average and underperforming players, it is little wonder opposing fans called them Pathetico de Madrid and home fans screamed during games ‘Gil Cabrón Fuera del Calderon’ (Gil, You B**tard Get Out Of The Calderon). Those days are in the past now.
When they appointed Gregorio Manzano for his 2nd spell, fans had had enough. They had won the Europa League in 2010 and the tag Los Pupas, the jinxed ones, was supposed to have been banished but the club ended up selling all its top players to balance the books. As Manzano sat on the bench, fans chanted Simeone’s name and when the board fired him, they called Simeone. A former midfield general, the Argentine leapt at the chance to help his former club. So what does he bring to the table?
In his first press conference Simeone said he wanted his players to be ‘hombres’, show their ‘cojones’ (B***ocks) and demanded that his team play with pride. He famously said that he prefers his side to attack once and score than 15 wasted chances. While he praised the Barca style, he believed there was another way. At his previous clubs, such as River Plate and Catania, he was successful but fans were not exactly happy with his side’s style of football. His teams resemble his mentality. While in England he is more known for an incident involving David Beckham, in Spain and Italy he is known as a no nonsense, tough tackling hard man that never gave up and was worshipped by fans for his commitment. As a coach he demands that all his players give their all. He accepts their limitations and he works around them.
Take Captain Gabi for example. Not the greatest of midfielders in terms of passing and movement but under Simeone he has developed into an important cog in the midfield. He now bosses his area, playing short passes and linking the defence with the midfield. He has become the master at set pieces and he acts as Simeone’s voice on the pitch. When he is not playing, Atleti drop a level.
Atlético for years had a problem with defending. For years they leaked goals and coach after coach failed to fix it. They spent millions on defenders but the moment they pulled on the famous red and white shirt, their confidence left and so did their ability to defend. The back four was a shambles and set pieces saw fans always fear the worst and very often those fears became a reality. Early, late and sloppy goals were common. The first thing Simeone did when he came in was drill the defenders for hours on set pieces. Also the other players were made to share the responsibility. Radamel Falcao is a constant aerial threat for opponents but Simeone also made him use that prowess when defending and so it has become a common sight to see Falcao heading out corners and free kicks.
And Falcao is another player who has developed under Simeone. Already one of Europe’s top forwards, he was very inconsistent for his first six months. When he scored in Simeone’s home debut, the Coach said he was disappointed that he hadn’t scored more. Falcao took that on board and found his goal-scoring boots. Simeone’s man management is impressive. He knows exactly what to say and when to say it. Juanfran is a classic example.
The former Real Madrid player was signed from Osasuna as a right midfielder. While he wasn’t short of confidence, he wasn’t that great of a player. When Atleti needed someone to fill in at right back, former coach Manzano tried Juanfran there. The experiment was not a success but Simeone decided to try it again. Juanfran took to the position like a duck to water, made his Spanish debut and found his way into Spain’s Euro 2012 winning squad. Mario Suarez also made his debut for Spain. He is another player who has blossomed since the former Inter and Lazio player took the reins at the Calderon.
Koke, another youth academy player, is also close to a call up. Filipe Luis and Miranda are back in the Brazilian squad and Diego Costa is wanted by both Brazil and Spain. These players before the arrival of their current coach were seen as average players. They all lay their success down to one man - Simeone.
As mentioned, Simeone fixed the defence. Well he sort of did. He appointed a coach to fix it and he let him do his job. If rumour is to believed and there is no reason not to, how good would Arsenal’s defence be if Steve Bould was allowed to train it? At training Simeone stands in the middle and lets his coaches take control. Not only that but should he want to speak to a player, he must ask permission to do so. Players who used to turn up late and didn’t take training seriously, now come early and listen to every word as if there will be a test afterwards. It’s not only Simeone’s word that is golden; his staff too must be respected.
His relationship with the press is strange. During games he flaps and screams on the touchline but the moment he is in front of the press he keeps his cool and gives nothing away. He never loses his composure and he also defends his players with a passion and they appreciate that. He praises his fans non-stop and at times he demands they give more, a demand they always respond to. In just 14 months he has turned Atlético de Madrid into La Liga contenders. They are second in the league and are in the final of the Copa del Rey but there is another reason he might appeal to Arsenal, he has achieved this on a budget.
Atleti have no money and so this summer Cholo was forced to shop in the bargain basement. He signed Cebolla Rodriguez. He came overweight but has swapped his muffin tops for a six-pack and while he may not be classed as the signing of the season, his impact can’t be denied. Simeone may be accused of playing limited football but his argument can always be that he has always had limited squads. Limited squads that he has led to silverware, I might add.
When the Emirates was constructed, it was done with the idea of beautiful football and dreams of trophies. Now that beautiful football has been diluted and the dreams are nightmares. At times Arsenal have looked lacklustre and disinterested. Simeone would never allow this to set in. He would demand 100% and those that didn’t give it would be shown the door. Is this not what Arsenal fans want?