The admiration for Diego Simeone is understandable. The Argentine has experienced a meteoric rise since arriving in Europe as manager of Atletico Madrid, a club who he long tried to convince he was the right man for the job.
The 14-year wait Atletico fans had to endure to see their side beat local rivals Real Madrid would have been worth it when it eventually came in the final of the Copa Del Rey. Imagine the euphoria if Gabi, club captain, lifts one of either the league title or the European Cup next month.
The Simeone effect has been remarkable, reshaping the top of La Liga’s table to include a previously unheard of third in the title race. Against Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday afternoon, Atletico fans were in good voice in the away section – also practically unheard of at this stage of the season. Simeone did what he could to convince fans that the trip was worth it, indirectly hinting that their continued support was vital to the cause.
The noise inside the Vicente Calderon following their win against Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League was astounding. The colour and vibrancy spilled over into their home semi-final tie against Chelsea last week.
Simeone is breaking the trend of what is considered the norm in Spanish football on multiple levels. It’s no surprise, then, that clubs in England are adding him to the shortlist of candidates to step in as next manager.
Manchester United’s search may be done and dusted, with Louis van Gaal reportedly preparing for life at Old Trafford. But Arsenal, eventually, will also be on the hunt for a new manager.
Word coming out of the club is that Arsene Wenger will pen a new deal and extend his stay into next season at least. It gives the club some short-term stability and importantly time to map out the immediate aftermath of Wenger’s departure.
But is Simeone the right man for the job?
The Argentine’s combative nature is infectious. He’s a winner. If Arsenal fail to land a league title under Wenger in what is sure to be a two-year spell, Simeone will more than likely break that trend, like so many others, in time.
On a smaller scale, the Atletico coach has been responsible for the rise of some of Europe’s best and most in-demand players. Diego Costa’s story is well known by now, with the striker’s reputation set to earn him a move away from the club this season.
Alongside him has been the emergence of Koke as one of Spain’s most gifted young midfielders. The 22-year-old looks a sure bet to feature in Spain’s World Cup squad, and has been talked up as one of the successors to the ageing midfield featuring Xabi Alonso and Xavi.
As well as those two names, Atletico’s back four have developed into the best in Spain, featuring hugely underrated players in Miranda and Filipe Luis.
Simeone not alien to the need to develop in-house players. The club’s spending power is dwarfed by their competitors in La Liga and the Champions League, and yet this is a team who have been drilled and brought up to challenge the best in Europe. What has been crucial is the belief in the Atletico players that they can indeed lift a major piece of silverware and add to Simeone’s trophies won with the club.
The drawback for a club like Arsenal is Simeone’s playing style. As of now, he hasn’t shown himself to be an advocate of expansive, attacking football. His team is disciplined, hard working and relies strongly on the defensive qualities of the back line and goalkeeper.
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have been taught at the opposite end of the spectrum. At Arsenal’s best, their game threw caution to the wind and attacked with flair and zest. As good as Simeone has proven to be and as likeable as he is a coach, he isn’t the ideal candidate for every team searching for a new manager.
That may yet change. A move for the Argentine away from the Calderon won’t happen this summer, regardless of the availability of coaching jobs in England (or Italy, where he’s also confessed to hold an interest).
Atletico’s re-signing of Diego Ribas on loan this past January shows Simeone is conscious of injecting flair into his side, but the refrain from making sweeping changes is understandable due to what’s at stake this season. With yet another major change at centre-forward this summer, next season may see Simeone build adventure on top of his defensive base.
But like the current marriage of Jurgen Klopp and Dortmund, some bonds are incapable of being replicated elsewhere. Like Klopp and Dortmund, Simeone and Atletico are made for one another.
Simeone is an incredible manager, shown not only through his bond with the players but with the supporters as well. He’s a manager who, for now, comes with a very specific mindset. And while it’s justified to throw his name in with young managerial stars like Klopp and Frank de Boer, they’re not all equal in what they offer as a product on the pitch.