Under Diego Simeone, Atletico de Madrid have been transformed from perennial chokers to genuine title contenders. Multiple trophies have already piled up for Los Colchoneros under the Argentine’s stewardship, with the promise of more to follow. The big question is; can they deliver the big one and be crowned La Liga champions?
I should say at this juncture that anybody who has ever read one of my articles for this site will know that I’m a huge fan of FC Barcelona. Why is that relevant? Well, to put it bluntly, I actually want Atleti to win the title this season.
Over the last couple of seasons, I, and I’m sure most of you reading this, have pretty much fallen in love with Simeone’s Atletico side. From the incredibly talented goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, through the strong and talented defence and midfield including the likes of Miranda, Diego Godin, Koke and Arda Turan, to the prolific attack of Diego Costa and David Villa. The quality oozing through the team is undeniable, and coupled with the fierce passion and spirit of the manager, it makes for a mouthwatering combination.
Simeone, of course, is a former beloved player at Vicente Calderon, having played more than 150 games for the club over five seasons during two spells with the club. His combative style of play has followed him into management, and is clearly reflected in the never say die attitude of his players, who all clearly love and respect him as much as the fans do. And you can see just as clearly that he feels exactly the same way. On the touchline during games, he kicks every ball, and celebrates every goal as vehemently as the spectators. He is very much the same to Atletico as Pep Guardiola was to Barcelona. Okay, he might not be a Madridista by birth, or been a ballboy at the club and come up through the club’s ranks, but he obviously identifies with the region, the fans and the club, and they certainly identify with him.
His coaching and man management qualities are obviously top notch too. Take Diego Costa for example. This is a striker who had never hit double figures during a season before Simeone came along. Now, he has been transformed into one of the most feared frontmen in world football, with the pick of the two best nations to represent at this summer’s World Cup. He has scored as many goals in the last season and a half as he did in the preceding five and a half seasons. You cannot underestimate the impact Simeone has had on this man’s career. Now, a huge transfer is being rumoured for the summer, with Chelsea the frontrunners if you believe the reports (a possible swap deal involving Courtois). Simeone has also successfully brought through the likes of Koke, Adrian Lopez and Mario Suarez, with Koke also repeatedly being linked with a move to England and Manchester United.
So, why do I want Simeone to lead Atletico to the title this summer, even though that would mean disappointment for the club I support? Well, partly it would be great to see a different team break up the duopoly of the “Big Two”. No other club other than Barca or Real has won the league since Valencia a decade ago. In fact, no other club has even been top of the table for something ridiculous like five years! This past weekend, Atletico Madrid beat Real Sociedad 4-0, and in doing so they went clear as outright leaders of La Liga for the first time since they last won the title in 1996.
They ended up winning the Double that year, also lifting the Copa del Rey with a 1-0 victory over FC Barcelona. This season, not only are they top, but they are also in the semi-final of the Copa, where they will face off with Real over two legs. And potentially their opponents in the final could be a certain club from Catalunya.
As the title of this article says, Atleti have been a breath of fresh air over the past couple of seasons. Diego Simeone has got them well drilled, and playing for the shirt and for each other. He has given them a winning mentality that has seen them lift three major trophies, while also banishing their hoodoo against their city rivals Real in the process. Not once, but twice, of course; their extra time win in the final followed by a league derby victory earlier this season.
Can they maintain their form and hold on to top spot until May? Well, it will be tough, especially as the final league match of the season sees them travel to Camp Nou, but you know what? A little bit of luck when it comes to injuries and form, and I think they might just do it.
I hope so anyway.