Atletico Madrid is a club that poses as an outsider. That’s how they like it, even though they are the reigning La Liga champions.
They do things their own way, and as was laid bare last week at the Etihad Stadium, they aren’t afraid to dig deep and defend their lives.
Diego Simeone, their coach and spiritual leader, adapted his already deeply conservative 4-5-1 system in the game to a rarely seen 5-5-0 setup, and kept one of the best attacking teams on the planet at bay. . from Jan Oblak’s goal for most of the game, until Kevin de Bruyne picked up the lock and gave Manchester City a 1-0 lead.
Simeone’s negative tactics and Atletico Madrid’s ‘sh*thoussery’ have been heavily criticized by some pundits, with former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand suggesting players, whose €126million acquisition (£105m/$137m) Joao Felix, isn’t having fun with the Rojiblancos.
“I can’t imagine him sitting there and enjoying playing the way he’s asked to play,” Ferdinand explained. BT Sports.
“For a player like Joao Felix, he can’t sit on the plane home saying, ‘They got the best out of me, they continuously got the best out of me as a player.’ He won’t say that.
This season in particular, there is an element of exaggeration in the narrative, with Atletico scoring 57 La Liga goals this term, just six behind Real Madrid’s top scorers.
However, it is true that in big matches Simeone wants the team to play a careful and gritty game.
While some individual players may prefer easier journeys elsewhere, Simeone is an inspirational manager who over the past decade in charge of Atletico has overseen their most successful period and helped some small lights to outdo themselves. , competing with the best players in the world in Barcelona. and Real Madrid.
Atletico have reached two Champions League finals and won La Liga twice, and many players who leave later decide to return, realizing they’ll never have it as good elsewhere, even if that means ‘they have to run until they’ve sweated. every last drop of liquid in their bodies, or sacrificing individual glory for the collective benefit.
Antoine Griezmann is the most recent example, leaving for Barcelona but returning as soon as possible, while Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Filipe Luis have also all returned to Vicente Calderon or Wanda Metropolitano.
“Doubting Cholo Simeone is crazy,” said Rodrigo de Paul GOAL. “He’s one of the best coaches in the world, he knows exactly what he wants.
“And when things are not going well, it’s because of everyone, and when they’re going well, it’s also. It’s a club, a team. In good times and bad, we know all of us have our responsibilities.
“We know that Simeone is the leader of this team, the one who manages this ship and we are all on this ship. We believe in what he tells us and, above all, it is because of the way of transmitting it that El Cholo has.
This was evident in the way Jan Oblak and Geoffrey Kondogbia spoke calmly to the media in Manchester after the game, despite losing 1-0 ahead of Wednesday’s second leg.
“We played a good game, sticking to the plan,” Kondogbia said on Movistar.
“I believe in the team, I believe anything is possible,” added Oblak. “We came here to get a good result, we lost but I think the tie is alive. We defended well the whole game apart from the goal.
The two players seemed satisfied, smiling, happy to return to the Spanish capital and the fiery Wanda Metropolitano, where the second half will take place.
They both seem completely indoctrinated into the “cult” of Simeone, completely believing their coach’s word.
That’s the vibe you get, and former midfielder Tiago Mendes even described the coach as a ‘god’.
Tiago, who signed for Atletico in 2010 under Gregorio Manzano, noticed the many differences after Simeone took over, leading the team to La Liga glory in 2014.
“I think for us, for the whole club, he’s like a god,” he explained. “He came to the club and changed everything.
“What he says comes true. If he asks him to jump off a bridge, we jump. I think he knows football a lot. We follow him as a group and we are very proud to have him as a coach.”
When you believe in your coach that much, you’re ready to curb your natural attacking instinct and fight for the team because you believe in the plan he has for you and the group.
Griezmann is a good example of this, arriving as a mercurial winger from Real Sociedad and becoming a hard-working centre-forward. Lethal in attack and tireless in his defensive production.
Simeone helped him become ‘what I always dreamed of being’, admitted Griezmann, who jumped at the chance to return in the summer of 2021 after a difficult time at Barcelona.
“I wanted to return to Atletico, but it had to happen,” he explained. “I am very happy, very happy. Simeone helped me reach my best level and that’s why I wanted to go back.
The French striker admitted The Team in 2018 that the first few months under Simeone were difficult but the work was worth it.
“It took me six months to get used to defending but now I like it,” Griezmann said.
“Sometimes with the national team, the coach tells me to defend less, but that comes automatically. Simeone taught me how to defend and I will always be grateful to him. Now I like defending.
Simeone has also proven a father figure to Angel Correa at times, including in his darkest spell in front of goal. Even though most see Simeone as someone you don’t want to get on your bad side with, he knows how and when to use an arm around his shoulder – literally.
Correa ‘hit rock bottom on April 11, 2021’ according to AS, after missing some big chances in a loss to Real Betis. He left the field in tears and Simeone rushed to him, to console him and bring him closer. “An iconic image,” added AS.
“I hope he gets what he deserves, which is goals,” said Simeone. Then Correa exploded and won the title for himself, with five goals in the last eight matches.
“He’s got a lot of balls and I like people like that,” admitted Cristiano Ronaldo, who has often proven Simeone and Atletico’s most bitter enemy during his time at Real Madrid.
Famously, City coach Pep Guardiola let Simeone attend a training session in Barcelona in 2009 before the Argentine coached in Europe.
“It doesn’t suit me, I don’t like it,” Simeone told Guardiola that day, of his tactics and how Barcelona attacked and pressed high up the pitch.
“I just thought, ‘This f*cker is gonna be good,'” Guardiola recalled in Amazon Prime’s documentary on Simeone.
Another player who left and subsequently struggled was Arda Turan. The Turkish midfielder excelled at Atletico but after joining Barcelona he said he was grateful he didn’t have to run around so much. However, his career fell apart after his departure.
“Arda Turan would like to have this training again after experimenting with other working methods,” said Atletico fitness trainer Oscar Ortega. Many find it difficult to adapt to the methodology, but later it pays off.
“Griezmann, Arda, it was very hard for them but once they adapted to the way of working and training, they reached a very high level.”
Ortega, referred to as ‘El Profe’ (the teacher), is a badass and Atletico’s training sessions are notoriously brutal.
But when you believe in the end goal and the method, as Simeone’s students do, it becomes your way of life. And it’s as attractive as any.
“I like the way City play,” Koke said. “I like the way Atleti play, with this passion, this courage, with people who give their all. I like both styles.”