In modern times, when we talk about the top teams in Spain, only three clubs are mentioned with absolute certainty – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. But the Rojiblancos have always felt like the black sheep of that holy trinity of La Liga – they were always there but always in the background, always trying to keep up with the other two.
Even during the years when they seemed powerful and bound to finally make a stamp, they would somehow be outshined by their two eternal rivals and counterparts. After all, in the last two decades, Atletico Madrid could only muster one league title and it came fairly recently in 2013/14 when they had to fight until the very last second to claim it under Barcelona’s noses.
The one prior to that was way back in 1995/96 since the Rojiblancos had to spend some time in the Segunda division, clawing their way back to the top-flight at the end of 2001/02. But the club was always somehow in the dark, struggling to keep up with the top-brass of La Liga and always on the back foot, playing catch-up and hoping one of the top teams was somehow derailed along the way.
But it rarely happened and even when it did, the best they could do was finish in fourth spot in 2008/09 while previously they were always even deeper down the standings and managers were appointed and sacked almost yearly for a long period of time.
Until Diego Simeone arrived at the scene, that is.
Cholo took over in 2011/12 and Atletico Madrid have not looked back since. The Argentine coach was a special breed, stubborn and set in his ways, staying faithful to his ideology until the very end. And even though it didn’t seem that way in pre-season of 2019, the end is truly in sight for him at the very moment. A lot can change in the span of a couple of months, and unfortunately for Simeone, a lot did change – for the worse.
Of course, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that the Rojiblancos underwent a major overhaul in the summer, losing the likes of Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez and Rodri while bringing in kids for the future as Joao Felix and co. joined the fray. Needless to say, this was a huge blow for a team that was – just like its manager – set in their ways of doing things.
Atletico Madrid were never really a prolific team that would score a plethora of goals and win by playing beautiful, free-flowing football. No, they would sit back, annoy the opposition to the point of breaking and then hammer them down with a late goal to seal a tight 1-0 victory. But that style brought them the only league title in the last two decades, three Europa Leagues, one Copa del Rey and one UEFA Super Cup during Simeone’s reign.
His legacy will live on regardless of what happens in 2019/20 and so far, things are not looking that good for old Cholo. The city of Madrid has three teams in the top four in La Liga at the moment and yet, somehow, against all the odds, Atletico are at the very bottom of that short-list. Getafe are playing some absolutely beautiful football and deservingly in third place while Simeone’s men sit one place below them.
And the problem couldn’t be more obvious – the Rojiblancos have only managed to score 23 goals in the first 23 games played in La Liga and while they are still decent in defence – only conceding 15 goals along the way – you can’t really win games if you don’t score goals, can you? And Atletico simply don’t have any attacking power whatsoever at the club.
The top four transfers from the club have all been attacking players but while they’re still waiting for the young prodigy, Felix, to get going – he’s currently recovering from an injury – Thomas Lemar has largely been a flop since his arrival, only netting three goals in a total of 66 games played for the Rojiblancos.
Diego Costa, who’s the next one in line, has struggled with injuries as well so he can only boast two goals to his name in 2019/20 while Morata is the most prolific of the big four, tallying ten so far in the ongoing campaign. But all of that is simply not enough and while they have invested a fairly decent amount of money into the attacking line, it just hasn’t yielded them any palpable results just yet.
And that’s exactly the thing with Simeone – he can’t seem to successfully integrate his attacking players into the system and the philosophy he preaches. In modern times, when football is all about pace, skill, aggressiveness and energy, Cholo’s slow but sturdy tactics are slowly but surely going out of date. This was never more evident than it is right now.
With the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain dominating the scene with their brands of football, Atletico Madrid are still stuck in the era when the likes of Jose Mourinho thrived with the tactics that could probably be described with ‘end justifies the means’.
Just like Mourinho, Simeone is still stuck somewhere in that era, unwilling or unable to change, with the latter option being a far worse scenario for the club.
Another example of a comparable situation could be the legendary Arsene Wenger, who spent years at the helm of Arsenal until his tactics became as obsolete as Simeone’s are now. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. That’s the sad truth all of these managers had to face and the Argentine seems like the next one in line for the chopping block.
Just like Wenger lived on the past glory he achieved at Highbury – and will probably remain a part of those myths and legends next generations tell to their kids – Simeone’s achievements will not be forgotten either. Or at least, they shouldn’t be.
But just like those great minds before him, he will either have to change drastically or perish. At the moment, he won’t seem to be able to withstand the test of time and is set to fail sooner rather than later.
The initial signs are already there and the whispers of his potential sacking are getting louder. What seemed like a crazy thought just months ago when he thrashed Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid 7-3 in pre-season is now looking more and more likely by the day.
And you know what’s the weirdest thing about it? For the first time in years, it feels like that could actually be for the best.
When that happens, you just know – his story is slowly coming to an end.