“I was 27 or 28 years old when I really decided I would become a manager. I would go home from training – I played for Lazio then – grab a folder and pretend I was taking a training session. You know the way kids imagine things when they are playing? I would do the same as an adult, playing at being a manager.”
These are the words of Diego Simeone who took over from Gregorio Manzano on the 23rd of December 2011 as head coach of Atlético Madrid.
Whilst still a player, Simeone had a vivid picture himself as a coach, taking parts of training, imagining the next match, and planning out everything before match day.
“By the end of the day I’d be surrounded by sheets of paper, each one covered with drawings or notes. I liked to write everything down. Doing all of these things started to generate a lot of enthusiasm in me,” said Simeone in an interview with The Coaches’ Voice.
Simeone started his career at Racing Club in Argentina back in 2006 shortly after retiring from football as a player and says the moment Madrid in 2005, he started preparing for his return.
“I knew I was going to end my playing career in Argentina, and that I would start to manage there. But, somehow, I also knew the opportunity would come up to manage Atletico Madrid at a difficult time, so I got ready for that,” said Simeone.
“I knew I had an advantage. For five and a half years, I’d been a player here. I knew the kitmen, the employees, the president, the Vicente Calderón seats, the people sitting in them… all that knowledge gave me the chance to head directly towards what they wanted,” added the Atletico and Argentina midfielder.
“The people of Atletico always wanted a competitive team. A team that was strong in defence. A team that would play on the counter-attack and be a nuisance for the super-powerful sides. My objective was focused on that.”
“As a coach, the greatest passion you can have is for improving players. Of course, becoming champions is something we all want, but I think that the best ‘championship’ for a manager is to see players like Koke, Lucas Hernandez, Angel Correa – lads who have come up from all the way down in the lower divisions – become professionals of a high standard.”
A few months into the job as Atlético coach, Simeone won the Europa League and says that was the beginning of a new, important cycle which meant that they are committed.
The following season, Simeone and his Atlético side defied the odds and won the league title – La Liga [2013/14] ahead of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.
“To win the league in Spain competing with Real Madrid and Barcelona is almost impossible. Throughout that decade, those two teams had been a tremendous force, with unbelievable players,” said the Argentine tactician.
“But with hard work, continuity, and perseverance as well as great players – because, without great players, you couldn’t achieve what we have – we made the almost impossible, possible. How? Day by day, we kept believing in what we were doing. And in my second full season as manager, we got our chance.
“Needing to do something that is almost impossible. when it was confirmed [won the league] the first thing I felt was joy. And after that? It’s difficult to really explain it. It’s a whole mixture of feelings. That season is one that will surely be remembered in Spanish football history,” Simeone continued.
Simeone went on to win the Spanish Cup twice in the 2012/13 and 2014/15 seasons, the Europa League once again in the 2017/18 campaign, the UEFA Super Cup twice and walked away with the World’s Best Club Coach in the 2015/16 season.
The Atletico coach admits that they want have a the option of the “super-power to spend €150m or €200m on a player, as a result they have to try to be creative keeping in mind what they need to make the team better and which pieces of the team are developing.
“You can see some influences from my career as a footballer in the way that I am as a manager. No doubt there are shades of Italy and Spain brought together in a manager who a lot of people say is defensive. But really, playing and managing are two different lives.
“When you are a footballer, aside from knowing about the needs of the team, you think of yourself. As a manager, it’s the opposite. You have to see everything. You have to try to make everything good, minimise your rivals’ strengths and enhance your own,” he said.
“Above all, you have to be strong because, throughout the season, there are a lot of times when you must come out with the right words at the right time so the players can follow you.
“To find those right words, you must have an open mind. I listen a lot. I ask a lot. And then, well, I end up doing what I think is best for everyone,” concluded the 50-year-old coach.
By Tokelo Martin Mokhesi