Fiery Simeone, tough players

Atletico Madrid have become the mirror image of Diego Simeone as a well-organised and hard-working team with a fierce commitment and a strong rebellious streak.

Prowling the touchline dressed all in black and with his hair slicked back, Simeone cultivated a kind of gangster look as he sought to unsettle Real Madrid and Barcelona, the football establishment in Spain.

The combative Argentine refused to accept publicly that Atletico, with far inferior resources, would be able to compete with the big two over a full season but with effort and a never say die attitude he was ready for the challenge.

Atletico, by a distance, were the most consistent of the three teams fighting for the La Liga title, basing their play on a rock-solid defence and wearing down the opposition with their pressing game.

Diego Godin’s header against Barcelona at the Nou Camp last Saturday, that earned Atletico the draw they needed to win the championship, was yet another goal from a set play and typified the emphasis that Simeone puts on strategy.

He is constantly looking ahead during matches, second-guessing the opposition and ready to switch personnel or tactics.

Atletico’s team includes many players that had never experienced success until the arrival of Simeone, who instilled his winning mentality and a “match by match” philosophy.

He took over at the end of 2011 with the team struggling in the league and made an immediate impact as they marched up the table and finished in fifth place before beating Athletic Bilbao to win the Europa League.

Simeone was in his element as Atletico showed by beating Chelsea in the European Super Cup that they were ready to challenge the continent’s elite.

In a further sign of what was to come, they won the King’s Cup after stunning their more affluent neighbours Real 2-1 in the final in Real’s own Bernabeu arena.

Simeone showed the same fighting spirit as a player with Atletico, helping them win the domestic Spanish league and cup double in 1996.  He was a fan favourite for his attitude which he puts down to his upbringing at home and coming through the youth system at his first club Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.

As a coach he was similarly organised, learning the ropes first with clubs in Argentina and he then spent time studying Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Atletico will now look to stick to their gameplan against Real on Saturday.

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