Known for the emotion he shows on the touchline, Diego Simeone is arguably the most loved “villain” in world football. Criticized by many for the style of play, Simeone has brought Atlético Madrid to the forefront of Spanish and European football. He’s a manager his players would run into war for, and his opponents cannot stand. Simeone’s a manager you just can’t take your eyes off of.
Born in Buenos Aires, Simeone is a footballing legend both in his playing days in Argentina, Italy, and Spain, as well as a manager for Atlético Madrid. Possibly pulling from his Argentinean roots, the elements of tango draw parallels to the way a Simeone side tends to play. In dance in general, emotion is key. Without emotion there is no dance; without emotion there is no Simeone. More specifically, in a tango, the leader must indicate a move without actually taking a step, and must also transition to become a follower once a partner makes a move. Critically, the leader is always anticipating where the next step might go, but doesn’t fully commit until the partner makes her move. In order to lead well in a tango, the man must present the focus of attention to be on the woman. To an observer the women dictates the dance, when in reality it’s the man. Additionally, the leader must act as a pillar for the woman; a solid object that isn’t easily shaken.
Termed the modern day catenaccio, (made famous by the Italians) Diego Simeone allows the defending aspect of football to dictate his style of play. Atlético Madrid implement the same principles of a tango whenever they’re on a pitch. They organize themselves defensively to indicate where they want the opponent to move, without ever saying it. They easily transition to being the ‘follower’ of a match allowing the the other team long spells of possession, but always anticipating where the ball will end up next and never fully committing until the pass is made. Crucially, Atlético Madrid has always allowed the audience to focus on the opposition with the ball, when in reality the Simeone side is always dictating where it will end up. The club always sets up in clear lines of positioning almost militaristically, making the opponent’s objective clear. In oder to beat them you must go through them, and they’re waiting in the trenches for war. A Simeone side is one that will fight to the end-a trait the manager carries himself- doing whatever it takes to not concede. But this defensive approach has faced a lot of criticism in modern day football. After a recent defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Champions League, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said “I don’t understand with the quality they have the football they play. They could play proper football but they stand deep and have counter-attacks. We accept it of course but it doesn’t feel right”. By which Simeone replied, “[We play] to win. With our weapons, to win…Respecting our identity, respecting the characteristics of the players, exploiting the defects of the opponents, that’s how we play”.
For Atlético Madrid to be successful, they rely on players who love to defend, and are warriors on the pitch. Perhaps no other player exemplifies what Diego Simeone is all about than Diego Costa. These players aren’t necessarily superstars in terms of fame, but there’s a willingness to die for the club and Simeone doesn’t settle for anything less. Collectively they make Atlético Madrid one of the top clubs in Europe. In order to do this however, Simeone has spend €650m since he took over the club in 2012.
The Madrid Identity
Initially established as a fortress in the 9th century and finding itself as an arena for battle throughout history, the city of Madrid makes for a perfect location for Simeone’s style of play. Madrid is rooted in war, and therefore a football pitch is just another location to prove oneself in battle. Additionally, Madrid has been the center for Spanish literature and home to Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina- play writes who redefined the art in the Spanish capital. Furthermore, Madrid and Spanish culture in general, is known for bullfighting. With this, it becomes clear why Simeone is the perfect fit for a club in Madrid. He’s an intellectual looking to reform an art form, and is always up for a fight.
For most, Atlético Madrid isn’t the first club to come to mind when discussing football in Madrid. Hometown rivals Real Madrid are well known for their superstar players and abundance of money that has brought them success. However, the word Real implies royalty, the players seem to be foreign stars that care more about the money than fighting for the club. For a blue collar working class citizen of Madrid, Real is no club for them. Atlético fans find pride in passion that comes with football and it’s clear in anyone wearing the red and white- a clear point being made against Los Blancos. It gives the people a sense of rebellion against the power seemingly oppressing them in their own city. And what better person to lead the club from the touchline than Diego Simeone, a longtime player and fan of the club- he’s simply one of them.