Cholo channels at Atletico what they all want to achieve
Atletico Madrid continue to defy the regular departure of their best players to remain on course for yet another UEFA Champions League final
His name is inevitably linked with managerial vacancies that appear too often across Europe's biggest clubs. However, Diego Simeone, or Cholo, decides to remain at the Vicente Calderon. He has had lucrative offers to move, lucrative to him personally and in terms of the potential squad, he would be financially able to build. But he decides to stay. To remain true to Atletico Madrid.
On Tuesday, his side once again reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Simeone has unfinished business with the club in this competition. Beaten by their city rivals Real in the finals of both 2014 and 2016, history could again repeat itself in Cardiff this summer.
The defeats have been particularly painful because Simone understands the pain of the fans. Simeone is a fan. He understands their pain of living in the shadow of their city rivals, and knows the euphoria of finishing above them in La Liga having lifted the league title above Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014.
But while other clubs would build on such relative success, Simeone the manager must continually regroup and rebuild, as the players that deliver success see the club only as a stepping stone in their careers. Like Simeone, they have also been rewarded for their efforts with lucrative offers to continue their careers elsewhere.
Unlike Simeone, they leave. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa, Arda Turan, David Villa, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres, who departed in his prime and returned when he needed to recapture his love of the game, have all left the very club that made them successful.
Now, it is French star Antoine Griezmann who is the subject of weekly transfer speculation. Which European giant will he inevitably leave Atletico Madrid for and join in the summer? The media reports suggest it is inconceivable to imagine he could actually stay at the club, despite the fact they are on-course to reach their third UEFA Champions League final in just four years.
But to understand Simeone, the manager, you must appreciate and understand Simeone, the player. Although he played for a string of different clubs in Italy and Spain, including two spells at Atletico Madrid, his loyalty, passion and commitment belonged to Argentina. A tough-tackling defensive midfielder, he represented his country over 100 times, and his determination to succeed in the colours of his nation was what inspired him to fight for every ball.
A combative leader with a controlling authority that suited his position on the field, Simeone would read and dictate matters through the tactical knowledge that helped make him the coach he is today. He played the role on the field that demands consistent quality, and when such a player in that role produces consistent quality over a period of time, they are inevitably labelled as one of the greats.
It was Simeone's style of play that brought the nickname Cholo from an early age in comparison to Carmelo Simeone, another Argentinian great of no relation.
And they are the international values that Simeone brings to Atletico Madrid. International football in the modern game represents a throwback to a bygone era. A time when money did not dictate success, when the best players did not gravitate to the richest clubs, regardless of their lack of history or tradition. International football is not about financial reward, but about personal pride. These are the values that Simeone has built for himself at Atletico. This is a club to Simeone like Argentina is his country.
However, instilling such ideals into his best players will inevitably prove disappointing, and while some will appreciate the unique passion and atmosphere that surrounds the Vicente Calderon, others will follow whatever team are in financial vogue when the offers are put on the table.
Simeone has proved since his appointment in 2011 that success can be achieved through other means, and while he has had to rebuild time and time again, the values of his teams remain on the same solid foundations that he insists upon as a manager.
Simeone has won five trophies during his time at Atletico Madrid, but it is the runners-up accolades in the UEFA Champions League that will continue to frustrate him until he goes one step further. There is no doubt that he will eventually leave the club for a new challenge one day, but while he has a chance of Champions League success with the squad of players he has at his disposal, the chances are he will stay.
If this season proves to be another season of narrow failure, especially if Real Madrid are responsible, it may be too much for him, such is his love for his adopted club.
In addition, such disappointment could act as the catalyst for the likes of Griezmann to head elsewhere, to pursue their own Champions League ambitions at another club, possibly in another country. They will not be criticised for their departure, it has become accepted in the media that no great player with any ambition to succeed can possibly stay at the club for any reasonable length of time.
But this is untrue, and Simeone has proved since he returned to the club that this is a club that can make a significant impression on the European stage.
A hero as a player and as a manager, it is difficult to imagine Simeone embracing the culture of another club the way he does at Atletico. The bond he enjoys with the fans is unique, unwavering, and a reflection of his ideals over results and performances.
He has created the environment that all the other high-profile managers dream of building at their respective cash-rich clubs, but their playing personnel dictate that this can never be possible when immediate success is the only yardstick. The modern game needs a club like Atletico Madrid, but only for what they have become under Simeone, and his departure will take away the greatest attribute and strength of both parties.