(Editor’s note: the following is a guest post from friend of the blog Jonny McConnell. Follow him @jonnysfootyblog.)
Two Champions League final losses in three seasons for Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid sides brought heartbreak in the cruellest of ways. First, Sergio Ramos' equaliser, after 92 minutes, 48 seconds. Then, Juanfran's crucial penalty hitting the post to give Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to win Real Madrid's 11th Champions League crown.
One would think that this could be too much for a manager to handle. Maybe Simeone would need a break, or a change. After all, his words on the final reflected that thought: "For me, it was like a death, and every death requires mourning." There was a brief period of time following Atleti's second loss in which Simeone seemed to consider his future. He viewed it as failure, saying so himself, leaving fans worried that the time had come for him to venture to new pastures, perhaps Inter or to the Argentina job.
Now though, he has commited himself to the club and is working hard to ensure Los Rojiblancos are stronger than ever for the 2016/17 season. New contracts for Saul and Antoine Griezmann in the wake of interest from other teams, as well as the signings of Sime Vrsaljko, Nico Gaitan and most recently Kevin Gameiro show intent to continue challenging for titles on all fronts.
The addition of Gameiro was probably not the first choice of most Atlético fans or of Cholo; that title goes to Diego Costa. However, with Chelsea refusing to let the Brazil-born Spaniard leave (supposedly) against his wishes, the 29 year-old Gameiro is by no means a poor second choice. Scoring more goals last season than any other Frenchman except Atlético's own Antoine Griezmann, this signing means that Griezmann will no longer have to carry the burden of goals alone.
This is perhaps Simeone's key to unlocking the perfect team. When Griezmann hit a cold patch of form last season, Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco stepped up his performances. When both struggled to perform in games, Atlético were left dry in front of goal, at times lacking creativity and an ability to forge goalscoring opportunities. Simeone clearly sees Gameiro as a solution, a way for Griezmann to feel less pressure and, with less responsibility on his shoulders, even use this as a way to improve on his own stunning form from last season.
Turning to the other major signing of Atleti's summer so far, Argentine winger Nico Gaitan is a player linked to the Madrid club for years. Now that the rumours have become reality, the ex-Benfica man will be looking to show that he left Portugal at exactly the right time.
Over the 2015/16 season, Simeone notably tinkered and adjusted his formations and players, at times going for a 4-3-3, others with a defensively rigid, pressing 4-4-2 shape. Through Jackson Martinez's short-lived campaign at the Calderon, Simeone attempted to shift more often into the 4-3-3, with Carrasco and Griezmann fluidly moving across the frontline with Jackson as the (unsuccessful) point of attack. With the two new options on the frontline of Cholo's soldiers - thankfully Jackson is not one of them - the coach has new offensive styles to go to battle with, finally able to bring in a fluid attacking line while still maintaining Atlético's renowned defensive structure when it is necessary.
Simeone is coming back for a new season in the dugout as motivated as he's ever been, determined to continue the evolution of Los Rojiblancos into an elite force in Spain and the Champions League. His soul being shattered in May will only inspire this coach to improve this season at the club he loves and giving his team every chance of bringing major silverware to the red and white side of Madrid in the last season at the iconic Vicente Calderon.