Diego Simeone stands tall amidst pain of defeat
Atletico Madrid's most dangerous spell came after Yannick Carrasco's equaliser.
It would be an understatement to say that the last week I spent at Milan volunteering for the Champions League finals was a memorable one. A week that started off with the dry, arid Italian heat welcoming me before I was fed a few mundane tasks; hurtled towards and culminated into a truly great game of football witnessed by those present in the enormous belly of the San Siro on Saturday night.
I was working with the media services desk and was hence privy to both the media’s working areas and the press conference hall. This presented a fantastic opportunity to meet and chat up an enviable set of journalists whose pieces I had feasted upon for years. Needless to say, I took that opportunity with both hands. It was also fun to observe the workings of the media room; and the general chaos that goes on in an attempt to maintain the on-screen decorum of a press conference.
Cameramen with entangling wires and intercepting angles jostling for space, mike-runners almost crawling on the ground to prevent obstructing camera views and journalists trying to ask more questions than allowed made for interesting viewing. As with most things in life, the finished product is hardly a reflection of the effort that goes behind in producing it.
What I enjoyed most though, was closely observing Diego Simeone, Atletico’s intense, passionate man-manager who had come around to have a second crack at the Champions League in a span of 3 years. Simeone was easily the most animated man on the pitch, repeatedly egging on the enormous mass of Atletico supporters occupying the right end to make more noise and raise his side out of the slumber they had fallen into after going behind early in the game.
Griezmann’s missed penalty looked to have shocked Simeone but his side did slowly overturn the momentum and after a game-saving double save from Oblak, they were back in it. Atletico’s most dangerous spell came after Yannick Carrasco’s equaliser. That they let the game drift to penalties and could not capitalize on Real Madrid’s tired legs after Zidane had made all 3 substitutions before the 80th minute led to their eventual doom.
Loitering into the press room about 20 minutes after the game, I walked up to a cameraman and was having an idle chat. The place was still filling up with reporters in anticipation of the post-game conference. I turned back a little later to see Simeone walking up from about 6 feet away, unescorted and about 10 minutes before he was scheduled to come, and I could only manage a sheepish grin as he walked by me.
It must have been tough but he mildly smiled through the questions. He spoke mostly in Spanish, and from what I gathered from the faint translation audio, he spoke about the pain of the defeat – refusing to use penalties as an excuse, remarked an uncertainty about his future at the club and praised his side for their heroic effort. He also talked about how things had never come easy to him in life and lamented the pain of seeing the fans sad after such a gut-wrenching defeat.
Through the searing pain of a second defeat at the last hurdle, against a familiar and hated opponent, Simeone kept up a corporate mask and finished the conference with a straight face. On his way out to the door though, a little kid wearing an Atletico jersey ran towards him.
He stopped in his tracks just a hint, let out a sigh and patted the kid on his back, carrying him out of the room on his way. For just that tiny moment, he let the soft heart beating somewhere under that tough exterior come to the surface. He was exhausted, he was beaten but he was human. That, for me, was the moment of the day.