Football’s Final Four are set: Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and an improbable Atlético de Madrid will play in the penultimate stage of the Champions League. Of the four, only Atlético is not part of the usual suspects at this stage of the competition Between Barça, Real and Chelsea, they have 19 UEFA Champions League Cups; Atlético have never won it. They have been on an tear –at the top of La Liga in Spain, champions of the Copa del Rey and of the UEFA Europa League two seasons ago. At the helm of this team, the other team from Madrid, is Diego Pablo Simeone, “El Cholo”. Who is this guy ?
As a player, “El Cholo” –usually wearing number 14 or number 8– embodied a certain toughness that imposed order to his own midfield and concern in the opposing side. His best interventions were mostly hindering attacks: proof of the effectiveness of his craft is that there are almost no highlight videos of him in Youtube. (He did score goals –almost a hundred in his whole career. But his game was not just made up of a biting fierceness: he was an accomplished grifter, a trickster, one of those players who know exactly how to bend the rules inside the pitch).
Perhaps his most famous moment as a player happened in 1998. Playing with the Argentinian National team against England in the World Cup, he dove near the middle of the field at Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium in St. Étienne. El Cholo had just tackled a young David Beckham, who, annoyed, tried to kick him in the back of the leg in the most ineffectual manner. Simeone fell to the floor as the referee walked towards the two of them. Beckham was shown a red card. Down a man, England managed to hold on to a tie game and Argentina won it in penalty kicks.
[insert video youtube=_zTne4JzgBM]
Now, as a manager, he has accomplished the feat of translating his style of play to his whole squad. His players are lauded as one of the hardest working squads in Europe, and currently they are the best defensive side in La Liga –they’ve been scored against only 22 times. El Cholo has also perfected the art of the counter-attack –they are the fourth best scoring team in La Liga. Atletico de Madrid might be the mirror image of El Cholo playing at his best: a team that holds the center of the field and stifles the opposition’s talent with hard tackles and constant pressure. And, once the ball is theirs, in come Atletico’s gifted forwards to put it in the back of the net.
By the way, this is Simeone’s second in command, German “El Mono” Burgos.