Ask anyone who proudly sports an Atletico badge on his chest what Diego Simeone means to them. It shouldn't come as a surprise if one tells you that El Cholo holds a godly status in the hearts of the Rojiblancos faithful, as he does in the history books at the Wanda Metropolitano. The Argentinian, who served the Spanish outfit on two occasions in his playing career, is credited for bringing them out of the bowels of chaos and misery resulting from being a struggling mid-table team to one that has toppled the best of European heavyweights in the current decade. Atletico Madrid, to tell the truth, have never been the same after Simeone took over as the steward on December 23 in 2011 and guided them to a Europa League triumph in his first half-season at the club.
Moving forward, the creamiest layer of his achievements include winning the LaLiga in 2014 – in an era which was frighteningly dominated by their arch-rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Before he laid his hands upon the Europa League trophy for the second time in season 2017/18, Simeone had already missed touching its big brother, the UEFA Champions League accolade by whiskers in 2014 and 2016.
When you glance back at all those things he has done – guiding Atletico Madrid to a place and in a manner that has forced the world to rethink over the image of LaLiga as a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid, Diego Simeone is a legendary coach in his own right. Just seven years into the business, El Cholo has changed the face of Atletico Madrid and given them an identity, based on pure tactical masterclasses in the light of insufficient financial backing from the club in his formative years as a manager.
For any football fan, it is a different feeling to recount all these past fairytales and bask in those beautiful memories. In that context, Diego Simeone's work is worthy of applause and medals, but it would be imprudent to say that the Atletico fans will continue singing his glories of the past after what happened on that fateful night against Juventus in Turin.
Having emerged victorious with a 2-0 scoreline in the first leg of the round of 16 Champions League clash at home against a mighty Juventus who were being touted to go through to the last eight, El Cholo and his men grinded out yet another result that awed the footballing fraternity all over the world. However, Simeone's defensive mindset once again proved the reason for his downfall as a certain Cristiano Ronaldo came to torpedo his former arch-rivals with a hattrick in the return fixture, all but booking the Bianconeri's spot in the quarter-finals.
As for Simeone, the Argentinian has left a dejected figure leveled with criticism for his whiteboard failure that yet again cost the Rojiblancos the chance of winning an important competition. Concerns have been raised by the fans, pundits and journalists all alike whether El Cholo does have anything else left in his locker that can take Atletico Madrid even further than where they are right now? Has he reached a point where he can do no more to make the club a European heavyweight, after transforming it from mid-table strugglers to serious title-contenders?
No. Most certainly not. For a man who has done the unthinkable and has just been into the managerial business for seven years, saying that Simeone has reached his saturation point at the Wanda Metropolitano is an overstatement.
Has the board backed him enough?
In modern day football, excellence in tactics can only take you so much further if you are deprived of the financial support in the transfer market.
Tottenham Hotspur can be cited as the best example in that context. Mauricio Pochettino easily makes it through to the group of the best tactically astute managers around the globe right now. He, much like Simeone, has transformed the Lillywhites to being considered as serious title contenders. But the fundamental reason why Tottenham haven't yet won silverware in his reign is that the club hierarchy isn't much support when it comes to investing in the transfer market. Such lackadaisical activity in terms of transfers results into a squad quality that is less competitive to what their rivals have to offer. That they have managed to convince their crucial assets like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Christian Eriksen to stay put is remarkable, but have not built upon the same by buying more quality players is the key reason behind their failures.
Returning to the scene at the Wanda Metropolitano, can Diego Simeone complain of not having sizeable war-chests in every transfer market, just like his compatriot?
Since season 2016/17, Atletico Madrid has invested more than what they have earned in the transfer window. The Rojiblancos have spent €307m since season 2016/17 to the current date and earned just €190.40 from player sales, registering a loss of €116.60m. The very fact that the club is spending far more than what they earn in the market shows their intentions of providing every level of financial support they can, to their manager.
Atletico also signed the likes of Diego Costa and Thomas Lemar in the last two summers for a combined fee of €136m which signals that they are far from hesitating to fork out the cash to sign players as Tottenham do.
Noting that the Rojiblancos don't have a financial muscle as powerful as that of Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid or Barcelona, they have done a commendable job in the transfer market in the last three seasons.
Does it look like Diego Simeone has enough room to throw tantrums about not getting enough money to spend? Debatable.
Cholismo refers to the defensive philosophy that Simeone has imbibed at Atletico Madrid. The Argentinian lines up his team in a 4-4-2 format which is vertically compact and known for its organized defence. Without the ball, Atletico tends to sit deep and in a narrow shape and force their opponents into wide areas. They only tend to initiate an aggressive press when the opposition makes a mistake.
Atletico is known to gain possession of the ball and shift to a 4-2-2-2 format during counter attacks. The inverted wingers, Saul Niguez and Koke in this case, are afforded the freedom to drift inside and create space for their full-backs Filipe Luis and Juanfran to provide the much-required width that helps in creating spaces in the opposition defence. To put it in a nutshell, Cholismo could be labeled as the modern Catenaccio as it heavily draws inspiration from the famous tactic used by Helenio Herrera at Inter Milan in the 1960s.
What possibly more could Diego Simeone do at Atletico?
The game against Juventus laid bare the frailties of Diego Simeone's approach towards football. His incessant emphasis on defence and grabbing goals through counter-attacks backfired miserably as Los Rojiblancos crashed out of the Champions, without registering a single shot on target in the game.
Now, what Simeone needs to understand here is the fact that Atletico is no more considered a team who sporadically pull out surprise upsets by playing the way they play. They are now a respected institution following their progress in recent years, thanks to El Cholo's efforts, and are expected to dominate big teams rather than just sit back and absorb attacks.
The clash against Juventus is enough to be the final alarming reminder for Simeone to know that his defensive approach isn't taking him any further. His stats against his biggest domestic rivals also provide a staunch testimony to the thought.
The 48-year-old has faced Real Madrid 29 times in all competitions, winning 9, drawing 9 and losing 11 games in the process. In the 24 games that he has faced Barcelona, the Argentinian has drawn 9, lost 13 and won just 2 games.
Now, don't get me wrong here. I don't intend to brand the defensive 'philosophy' as a failure. Doing that would be a sin knowing how far he has taken Atletico Madrid by adhering to it. However, there's no tinge of doubt that he needs to evolve and develop new philosophies, probably those that pay more emphasis on attacking football rather than always sticking to defensive discipline.
Diego Simeone seems to be cut out from the same cloth as Jose Mourinho, looking at the systems they have used in their careers. However, the latter's stubbornness in willing to change is a major reason why he was sacked by Chelsea and Manchester United. The same also stands true for Antonio Conte, who lasted only two seasons at the Stamford Bridge, deploying a defensive system.
The footballing world today demands free-flowing attacking style of play capable of giving the adrenaline rush to those who watch it. If Diego Simeone can decide to evolve and adapt an attack-minded philosophy, he will certainly have a new dimension to develop through which he can take his beloved football club further in terms of winning silverware. Change is the law of nature and the sooner he understands this, the better.