Diego Simeone’s resumé leaves little doubt as to why he was the one appointed to the
job at Atlético Madrid. Two league titles in Argentina with Estudiantes as well as River
Plate give any coach a stage where he can explore options in other parts of the world.
His results and his playing style have always guaranteed offensive aggressiveness with
lots of defensive liability. His second stint at Racing Club saw him tweak his defensive
map much better as La Academia were the second-best defense in Argentina (third best
in league history), as his team ended up in the podium after mired in limbo for multiple
Where you have to give lots of credit to El Cholo is that he learned his craft on the
fly. His time at River proved how explosive he could be when he was given a great
cast to work with. His championship-winning sides had lots of talent and it made the
implementation of his tactical vision that much easier to execute.
Just days after announcing his retirement as a player, he became the coach of Racing
Club after Teté Quiroz stepped after the club underwent a terrible winless streak that
compromised the team in the relegation zone. It would be a baptism by fire to say the
least. His on-the-job training went into overdrive and it would be his will- the will that
helped him stand out as a player- helped him persevere.
Simeone was able to help revert the situation and Racing were out of trouble for a little
while at least. The idol’s return from Europe didn’t have this in the script originally. He
was supposed to come back, help Racing get out of relegation and even return to the
top of the heap in Argentine football. Simeone helped, but his drive was not what his
players related to. His attitude did not help the situation and the club’s new ownership
parted ways with him and they brought Reinaldo Merlo in. Exit through the back door.
The coaching profession has its weird twists and quirks abound, but Diego found his
way to La Plata and Estudiantes would see its way back to prominence. The glorious
days of the past were mostly in black and white for fans of El Pincha. The days of
Juan Ramón Verón, Carlos Bilardo, Alejandro Sabella and the rest of that glorious side
marked the club forever, but Simeone would help take the next step back to days that
emulated that magnificent era.
His side was explosive and had grit- things that were fundamental if you wanted to be
respected over at City Bell. He also had a great ally that facilitated his work in former
teammate Juan Sebastián Verón. The prodigal son returned to finish out his brilliant
career and his destiny was fulfilled when they were able to overcome a four-point deficit
that Boca Juniors had with two matches remaining.
The playoff was forced and Estudiantes would again lift a trophy. Thus began his
ascent as a coach. The only problem with him was that his highs would quickly be
overshadowed by his lows. After his team won the title, Estudiantes fell into a malaise
as a bad start to the season hindered any chance of defending their title as it would be
San Lorenzo who would win the Apertura title. His problems with some players was
beginning to wear thin on the dressing room morale. Add to the mix his relationship
with club brass started to see him make a beeline for the exit door as River Plate wooed
him from afar.
He would arrive at River and the squad would be in contention for the league title in a
Clausura that was remembered more for Los Millonarios being the last team standing
instead of being the most dominant. Simeone had brought title number 33 to Núñez;
but in foreshadowing, it was also the beginning of a demise for one of Argentina’s
Eleven matches without a win, an elimination in the Copa Sudamericana at the hands
of Mexican side Chivas, and a last place finish saw River go into free fall mode. The
same team that won the title were now at the very bottom while their eternal rivals would
crown themselves league champs.
River’s problems on defense and lack of balance were always there, but in Simeone’s
second campaign they were exposed. His relationship with the squad had also
deteriorated as the micromanagement of the game as well as the players’ preparation
and lives began to wear the team thin.
The theme repeated itself when he took over at San Lorenzo. The only difference was
that the success never followed him there. His relationship with players deteriorated as
the club’s internal crisis began to flare up and his patience began to wear thin, let alone
Catania would be an audition for an eventual European job and that was acceptable as
he was hired to prevent the Sicilians from going down. He would leave as Racing would
come calling again… and he would not deny that to go by the wayside. The team would
have a successful run but not without the usual dose of Cholo-esque drama- whether
he looked for it or not. By the end of the season, his relationship… well you get the idea
with the recurring theme.
His relationship was extremely strained with Rodolfo Molina leading the way after
he gave strict parameters for team performance. Molina made strict demands as far
as points that had to be earned for Simeone to keep his job despite being in second
place. In addition Molina sided with star forward Teófilo Gutiérrez after the Colombian
international had a falling out with his teammates and his coach. Not only was he
rowing against the stream, he was also fighting the fans who also supported the striker.
What was the final nail in the coffin, despite Simeone playing coy days before signing
on with Atlético, was the election of Gastón Cogorno as the club’s new president.
Cogorno would have Molina as one of his associates within the Racing Club board.
In a way, El Cholo’s way was a very European way of operating. Mapping out in great
detail the plans and work schedule, diets, work out programs, etc. were what he was
accustomed to. Simeone has always taken the same approach to coaching as he
did when he played. Gritty, intense and with a “knife between his teeth” as Roberto
Perfumo once said. In many cases, his attitude from a professional standpoint, could
be looked at as condescending and patronizing. In his defense, his way of doing things
was always more European, for better or for worse. Unfortunately, his rigidity has been
very problematic in every stop he has had throughout his coaching career. What he
brings to the table could be what Atlético need- reverence, mental toughness, discipline,
strength. This is what he promised in his first press conference as team coach.
Te reality is that promises are for politicians. Atlético will need some heavy duty, on the
fly making over. Cholo will also have to meet his team halfway as on several occasions
his way of doing things are spectacularly successful or spectacularly catastrophic. In
this stop, Simeone will have a chance to take his career to the next level. What will be
the big difference will be the contribution that Germán Burgos will be able to offer as a
counter to his boss.
Atlético is a very tough job, but Diego Simeone knows exactly what he is getting into.
He also has to realize that although his friend Enrique Cerezo might give him all the
backing in the world; the fans will not be very tolerant… even if he’s one of the club’s
biggest idols of the past 20 years.