As Friday’s semi-final draw for the Champions League looms, much will be made of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side and whether or not they can continue their impressive form by becoming the first team to retain the Champions League title.
However, as we wait in anticipation, we should look to the real star manager of this year’s competition - Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone.
Atletico’s win over Barcelona cements their place as the leading team in La Liga - a proposition many would have found astonishing were it not for the fact that this reality is reflected in their league position.
Simeone has successfully elevated Atletico from being Real Madrid’s poor cousins to their enterprising younger sibling. Atletico's impressive run in Europe and Spain has to be attributed to their charismatic and tactically astute manager.
Since taking charge of the 'second team' in Madrid, Simeone has led Atletico to successive trophy-winning campaigns whilst Real have been left empty handed. Atletico’s most impressive victories under Simeone came in their astounding Europa League win, their commanding European Super Cup victory against Chelsea and, most recently, last season’s triumph in the Copa del Rey final over their fierce rivals Real.
Atletico’s current success under Simeone was unfathomable at the start of this season, particularly because of the departure of star striker Radamel Falcao.
Fast-forward to the present and Simeone has more than made up for the gap left by Falcao through his signings of David Villa and Leo Bapistao who - along with the reborn Diego Costa - have given Atletico the necessary firepower to sustain their formidable challenge at home and most notably in Europe.
Another area which Simeone seems to have brought some much needed stability is Atletico’s boardroom. Simeone’s managerial style has helped stabilise a club formerly renowned for its lack of harmony, something that has benefitted his playing squad.
This can be seen in the fact that Falcao is the only high-profile player who was sold last summer, as well as just a few key additions being made to strengthen the side. The limited number of personnel changes made by Simeone is a testament of the faith that he has put in his current squad and also his excellent man management skills.
Simeone’s faith in two excellent young Spanish midfielders Koke (last night’s match winner) and Óliver Torres (who is highly sought after) has played a significant part in Atletico’s continually impressive form.
Simeone’s faith in his team has been more readily vindicated than managers like Arsene Wenger and Davis Moyes - two men who have to endure their sides falling short of their potential.
But the real test of Simeone’s faith is to come in the next stage of the Champions League. If drawn against the likes of Bayern Munich, can Atletico prevail? Simeone and his La Roja army will believe they can and with good reason.
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