How do you gauge success in a sport? Is it the number of titles and medals you collect? Or perhaps, the number of upsets you cause? Is surviving in the first division a success? Or is it taking the mickey of sides with larger budgets and irritating the established order?
If the last option is your favorite – you might just be Diego Simeone. A tough man with a brilliant playing career, Simeone is one hell of a coach. And his Atletico Madrid side are perhaps the best example of a squad molded in the image of their manager. Tenacious, a thorn in the backside to anyone who dares to think themselves superior and most importantly, this team will play themselves into the ground for the shirt.
In his short stint in charge of Atletico, El Cholo has taken his team to stratospheric heights. Winning five titles by upsetting the odds and coming within minutes of winning the Champions League as well – Atletico Madrid are surely among the biggest teams in European football at the moment. And still, doubts remain over their capability to cut it with the best.
It is not until the end of the season approaches that everyone realizes the brilliance of the Rojiblancos. Still fighting on all fronts, still in with a shout of causing an upset. Still being the bogey team to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and others. This year, perhaps, is the most glorious in Simeone’s short term in Madrid. Certainly, knocking out the two favorites for the Champions League in subsequent rounds is an achievement even for the biggest side. That Atletico Madrid can go toe to toe with and eliminate Barcelona and Bayern Munich over two legs is a testament in and of itself.
When asked about the two Madrid sides in recent years, all Barcelona players recognize Atletico as a larger threat. And so they should. Pique himself has said that Atleti are the ‘first team’ in Madrid these days – remarkable praise considering the other team he avoids mentioning are the mighty Real Madrid. Atletico may not boast the sheer number of trophies or rich history of superstar squads. What they do have, that is perhaps lacking at the Bernabeu squad is togetherness. A common belief in upsetting the odds to win titles that radiates from Simeone himself.
This belief, this need to defy the odds and continue to be strong across competitions is what makes this Atletico Madrid side truly great. And Diego Simeone is one of the best coaches in European football. His team have only narrowly missed out on league glory but are in the hunt for a Champions League title with a showpiece in Milan against their arch rivals.
A second Champions League final in three years and a chance to finally get one over on their illustrious opponents will charge up the Atletico Madrid team. And this time, Simeone and his men are going to go for the jugular.