On Jan. 15, 2012, Atlético Madrid were 10th in LaLiga table, going into new manager Diego Simeone’s second match at the helm. That day, Atlético beat Villarreal 3-0 at the Vicente Calderón. Radamel Falcao scored twice and Diego Ribas added one of his own — foreshadowing what that duo would do just four months later in the Europa League final in Bucharest. Through Simeone’s first six matches, in fact, Atlético did not concede a goal, thus setting the standard for what would soon become one of Europe’s best defenses.
Several familiar faces played in that game against Villarreal. Gabi, Juanfran, Filipe Luís and Diego Godín all started the match and Koke came off the bench. Filipe is the only player to leave from that group, but he came back, as he knew where his home was.
That season proved a turning point for Atlético, who went on to finish 5th in LaLiga in Simeone’s first campaign. However, the best triumph was by far the run to the Europa League final, where Atleti won every one of their knockout round matches — most in dominant fashion — and promptly smashed Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the final, thanks to two goals from Falcao and one from Diego.
The following season, Simeone captured another trophy, this time the Copa del Rey against bitter rivals Real Madrid — Atlético’s first win over los blancos in 25 matches. That summer, Atleti lost Falcao to AS Monaco, and few anticipated what would occur after the Colombian’s exit.
The single greatest season for Simeone’s Atlético was, of course, 2013/14. Simeone’s men won their first seven games and went on a sensational series of results at home and abroad, but the mattress makers didn’t reach the summit of the table until match week 22. From week 29 on, however, Atleti marched to the title — with helping hands from Elche (drew 0-0 against Barcelona) and Valladolid (drew Real Madrid 1-1). And had that team held on in the Champions League final, it would have completed one of the greatest managerial achievements in history. Regardless, however, beating financial superpowers Madrid and Barça to a league crown is historic in and of itself.
After the title win, several important players departed, and some rather weak replacements came in — except for Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak. Perhaps one of the most important parts of the 2014/15 season was Saúl Ñíguez’s emergence, one of the many academy products which Simeone has invested in and trusted to earn their place in the first team.
The next year had tremendous highs and very low lows. Atlético’s domestic title challenge ended in the penultimate weekend after a loss at Levante (FREAKING GIUSEPPE ROSSI). Atleti ended third on 88 points — just two fewer than the total which won LaLiga in 2013/14. They did, however, reach another Champions League final, this time in Milan, also lost in heartbreaking fashion, this time on penalties. Juanfran missed Atleti’s only penalty in the shootout, which marked another change in the Simeone timeline: the attrition of his core guys.
Since Atlético captured the 2011/2012 Europa League, Simeone prioritized the guys from that team: Gabi, Godín, Juanfran, Filipe, Tiago, et cetera. Sometimes this has been to Atleti’s detriment, but loyalty in football is a rare thing these days. But Juanfran’s missed penalty, and subsequent decline to the point of being barely a capable substitute, signaled a necessary shift in talent and style.
In 2016/17, Atleti were out of the title race right from the start, and it was rarely even a possibility. The Champions League was looking good until the semis when again Real Madrid put a stop to those dreams. It was a frustrating season, and one without any particularly noticeable momentum or changes. But after the season, when Atleti were sentenced to their registration ban, it seemingly united all the players for a new goal. Several key players decided to stay because of the ban, and others renewed their contracts.
This past Saturday, Simeone won his 200th match as Atlético coach in resounding fashion: a 5-1 win against Las Palmas. In the 321 matches El Cholo has overseen, his team has collected an average of 2.08 points per game. They also concede .78 goals on average, and score 1.78 goals per match. His stats as manager only confirm what most people have known for a while: that he is one of the best in the world.
Simeone’s 200th W also marked something special for El Cholo: rotation. Trust is a big part of Diego’s management style; he needs to know he can trust a player to perform. But this season, with no new recruits until January, the Argentine knows he has to rotate and put faith in players like Ángel Correa, Lucas Hernández and Thomas Partey. This rotation worked for this match and should continue until Atlético are able to register in January.
For a period during 2016/17, it seemed if Simeone would not be in charge for more than another season — especially after he had his contract reduced to 2018. However, recent reports suggest an extension until 2020 is imminent, and that is crucial at the start of a transitional year for the 47-year-old and his team.
Where Atlético go after this season is really quite up in the air. Several key players will likely leave once Atleti are allowed to buy players. This will raise a ton of cash to replace them with, but that has to be done well unlike previous replacement attempts. But regardless of what happens, Cholo Simeone has made a huge mark on Atlético Madrid’s history. His teams will be the standard that future managers are judged by, fairly or unfairly, as he imposed a tradition of winning trophies and he’s won all but one — certainly a big reason why he may continue past this season.
What are your favorite Simeone moments? Let us know in the comments!