Since late 2011, Diego Simeone has led Atleti on many adventures, most of which have ended in glory. Whether it came in La Liga, the Europa League or even the Copa del Rey, Atletico tasted success in just about every competition. The one trophy that has eluded them in Simeone’s reign, however, is the one which matters the most in European Football. Despite reaching two Champions League finals in three years, the cup with the big ears still escapes the clutches of los Rojiblancos. The recent shortcoming in the competition, losing 5-3 on penalties to bitter rivals Real Madrid, has brought with it an atmosphere of doubt that the Vicente Calderon hasn’t experienced for some time.
Rumours are abound that Simeone is attracting the interest of French giants Paris Saint-Germain, with the financial advantage they hold over their competitors a big lure for any manager or player they show an interest in. El Cholo is only human after all, and a chance to manage a team like PSG could be too good an opportunity to turn down. It’s obvious that another runners-up medal in Europe’s premier competition left Simeone feeling despondent. In a sport laden with spoiled prima-donnas, the Argentinian’s contagious passion for the game is admirable. As far as Simeone is concerned, it’s more about the fight in the dog rather than the other way around, and it’s a belief he preaches to his players. Atleti don’t contain the most technically gifted starting eleven across Europe, but their sheer will to win is a characteristic they take from the 46-year-old. Koke, Juanfran, Gabi, Filipe Luis have bought in to the philosophy that has been instilled at the club since the day Simeone walked in.
It’s a nightmare that just about every Atletico fan won’t want to admit but there will come a time when the beloved character is no longer sitting in the home dugout. Having won a La Liga, Europa League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup, there’s not much left for the Argentine manager to conquer. The Champions League is a notable accolade left off the impressive list of achievements, though reaching two finals may be as far as he can take the club. It’s a daunting reality, especially when considering this is arguably the strongest squad Simeone has taken control of during his time at Atleti. Players like Saul, Griezmann, Gimenez, Carrasco are only going to get better as they continue their development playing alongside Diego Godin, Fernando Torres and the players mentioned earlier. There were murmurings before the final in Milan that Benfica’s Nico Gaitan was close to joining the club, which would only add to the talented players the Argentinian would have at his disposal. Alas, with Atletico enclosing the ability to develop even more stars over the next few years, perhaps Simeone has come to the realisation there’s never going to be a perfect time to leave the club he holds so close to his heart, there just might be a time better than most.
The fairy tale journey that Atletico have found themselves on in the last five years has been nothing short of sensational. Moments such as the wins over Barcelona and Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League will live on forever in the minds of those associated with the club. Memories have been created that will last a lifetime. For a team that has suffered while their neighbours Real flourished, the countless success achieved during Simeone’s reign has been magical. That the PSG talk has even gone this far is a concern. Up until now, anytime Simeone’s name popped up in newspapers, there was never a doubt it was fiction. The feeling was that the former midfielder has too much unfinished business with Atleti that other clubs and their offers wouldn't even come into consideration. The defeat at the San Siro last week seems to have altered that impression. With Bayern having already strengthened their squad with the signings of Mats Hummels and Renato Sanches, Manchester City expected to spend big under their new manager in Pep Guardiola and Barcelona linked with several big-name players, Atleti are being left behind. There’s only so much work Simeone can do to bridge the gap of talent between Atletico and the giants of European football. Reaching two Champions League finals was monumental, but fallen short in both of them is a cruel reminder of the lack of guarantees that come with the beautiful game. Sometimes, not even your best is good enough.
Not since Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger has a manager assumed such control over a club. While his stay is shorter than both coaches’ time at Manchester United and Arsenal, respectively, the effect that Simeone has had on the club isn’t in doubt. When he walked through the doors for the first time in December 2011, it would have been silly to suggest that Atleti would be one of Europe’s best within five years of his arrival. The ability to transform the mentality of a losing club into perennial winners and title challengers is an achievement that can’t be overlooked. Sadly, it’s these exploits which makes the eventual departure of Simeone even more distressing. His presence when walking into a room is undeniable and one can only imagine the impact his larger-than-life personality leaves on his players. Losing a Champions League final is not the ending that his Hollywood-like story with Atletico deserves but it may be the one it receives.