Diego Simeone fuelled by Champions League regret

Diego Simeone has led Atletico Madrid to two Champions League finals

Champions League, Group E: Celtic v Atletico Madrid

Venue: Celtic Park, Glasgow Date: Wednesday, 25 October Kick-off: 20:00 BST

Coverage: Listen on BBC Sounds & Radio Scotland, plus follow live on the BBC Sport website & app

Anyone who watched Diego Simeone play football will be unsurprised to learn he doesn’t care what people think of his coaching methods or the performances of his teams.

Whether it was in the light blue and white of Argentina or Lazio, the dark blue and black of Inter Milan, or the red and white of his current employers, he was a winner who wasn’t frightened of anyone.

Simeone witnessed the Diego Maradona story as a teenager and used it as inspiration. He would go on to surpass Maradona’s cap haul, playing alongside him for their country and Sevilla during a superb playing career.

As a coach, Simeone has fought criticism since taking the reins at Los Colchoneros in 2011 for the way his team has approached matches against clubs perceived to be better and more illustrious.

Some of the silkiest to have played the game have stuck the boot in.

Barcelona legend Xavi – there were few silkier – claimed Simeone’s tactics weren’t befitting of a big club.

Pep Guardiola had to dig himself out of a hole as his Manchester City side came out on top in a tempestuous Champions League quarter-final between the clubs last season, denying having a go at Atleti’s style.

Even one of Simeone’s own players, Joao Felix, aimed a thinly-veiled dig at his tactics when he was asked to compare playing for Portugal and for his club. The £113m signing was shipped out to Chelsea sharpish and is now on loan to Barcelona.

Simeone once said: “I don’t listen to criticism or flattery. One angers you, the other weakens you.”

The former Argentina midfielder is the perfect fit for Atleti. Tough, battle-hardened, seasoned. He is the embodiment of Atletico Madrid.

While neighbours Real are the establishment club in Spain’s capital and footballing royalty, Atleti are the working-class underdog. And the job Simeone has done to loosen the Real and Barcelona stranglehold on La Liga over the last decade will go down in the club’s folklore.

Twice under the 55-year-old, they have won the title, twice they have won the Europa League, and twice they have lifted the Super Cup.

He is Atletico’s longest-serving manager and only the great Luis Aragones stands above him in the club’s history, both being title winners as players there as well.

Atletico’s title triumph in 2014 is even more impressive when you consider it came when Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were at their pomp with an equally star-studded supporting cast behind them at Real and Barca respectively.

Diego Costa, David Villa, Diego Godin and Thibaut Courtois were central to that achievement as they upset many a footballing purist. But Simeone put their success down to hard-work and togetherness.

The one thing that has eluded Simeone, so far, is the Champions League. Twice he has led Atleti to the final, twice he has lost to Real. Both hurt.

In 2014, a week after Diego Godin scored at the Nou Camp in a 1-1 draw that clinched their first title in 18 years, it looked like his strike in the final in Lisbon would be enough to claim continental glory, only for Sergio Ramos to take it to extra time.

Real would go on to win 4-1, with Gareth Bale taking centre-stage.

In Milan’s San Siro in 2016, a penalty shootout settled it, and again Ramos scored the Real goal as it ended 1-1 after extra time.

As Simeone takes his current side to Glasgow to face Celtic, it is the Champions League where his regret will lie. Since their last appearance in the final, they have only got to the semi-finals once and, yes, it was Real who beat them on that occasion too.

They didn’t even get out of their group last season.

Griezmann leads in-form side

You can find Atletico somewhere between Newcastle United and Napoli with the bookmakers when it comes to their chances of winning it this term, but Simeone is a man who relishes upsetting the odds.

They arrive at Celtic Park in red-hot form. Winning six on the bounce, scoring 16 goals in the process since Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel equalised against them on match-day one. It includes a battling victory over Feyenoord in Group E three weeks ago.

Seven of those 16 goals have come from evergreen French forward Antoine Griezmann, who is every bit as important to Atletico as Simeone was.

Alvaro Morata helped briefly break Scottish hearts in Euro 2024 qualifying a fortnight ago and the Spain striker will be a huge danger to Brendan Rodgers’ hopes of kick-starting Celtic’s Champions League campaign.

Those two will be supported by Brazilian Samuel Lino, with Angel Correa and Marcus Llorente pushing for starts as well.

World Cup winner Rodrigo de Paul anchors the midfield with record appearance holder and one-club man Koke and Saul Niguez alongside him.

Celtic will want to target the Atleti back-line, with Uruguay international Jose Maria Gimenez out injured and Rodgers’ old Leicester City centre-back, Caglar Soyuncu, only making his comeback as a substitute on Saturday.

Former Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel has been filling in in a back three in recent weeks in front of Jan Oblak, the Slovenian who remains one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

While this is probably a must-win for Celtic, Simeone will be targeting six points from this double-header against the Scottish champions as he looks to create more history at Madrid’s “mattress-makers”.


Recommended For You

About the Author: soccernews