The Future Of Diego Simeone: Can the iconic coach rebuild Atletico Madrid or could he be lured off to a European rival?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 29 January 2020, 10:18

Since Diego Simeone was appointed Atletico Madrid manager at the back end of 2011, six different bosses have overseen Barcelona, from Pep Guardiola through to the new man in the hot seat, Quique Setien.

Neighbours Real Madrid have also had six different managers in this time, including Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, while the club’s current incumbent, Zinedine Zidane, is in his second spell at the Bernabeu.

It may be of interest to hear that Simeone has also outlasted every single one of the 92 managers employed in England’s top-four leagues, while each of the traditional ‘top-six’ Premier League clubs have had at least three managers apiece during Simeone’s on-going eight-year tenure.

In other words, the second longest-standing boss in Europe’s top leagues - behind Stéphane Moulin at Angers - has been at the helm of Atletico for a heck of a long time, in a business where the sacking culture is now the norm.

Yet, for the moment at least, all does not seem quite right at Atletico Madrid.

From excitement to frustration

Sunday’s surprise goalless draw at home to then-bottom Leganes saw Simeone’s men drop out of La Liga’s top-four, leaving them 10 points adrift of their capital rivals at the summit.

The disappointing result, which saw Leganes fire more shots on target, followed a shock defeat to third-tier Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey, a league loss to Eibar, and Super Cup penalty heartache at the hands of Zidane and co.

The club splashed out over £200m on transfers in the summer, but the initial buzz and excitement that was fueled by the arrival of teenage superstar Joao Felix has been replaced by a concoction of disappointment and frustration as the club’s title hopes dissipate. There’s even reportedly been boos from sections of the support.

"I can't say anything to the people [critics]," Simeone said via Goal. "All I can do is show them through actions, not words. Words mean nothing.”

Amidst the wobbly patch Simeone, who won the title in 2014, has been backed by Atletico president Enrique Cerezo: "He's the coach that has given us the most titles and you have to bear in mind that there is no team in Spain that has kept a coach for at least eight years and those that remain,” he told Marca

"We don't doubt him at all. We're delighted with him. Everyone has bad games."

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Diego Simeone has outlasted all 92 managers in England's top-four tiers

Seismic transfers and irreplaceable departures

So, where lies the problem?

Goals, or a lack of goals, has been a cause of major concern. Atleti have found the back of the net just 22 times in 21 La Liga games, fewer than the likes of Levante, Granada and Getafe. Barcelona (50) have over double their tally.

A colossal £113m was spent on Joao Felix in the summer, double the amount of Atletico’s previous record transfer (Thomas Lemar). A return of just two goals and a single assist from 17 games - he’s not scored since September - highlights the tough start the former Benfican player has had.

The loss of key players in pivotal positions has been felt. From Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona and Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich, to Rodri’s move to Man City and perhaps most tellingly the free transfers of Godin and Juanfran to Inter Milan and Sao Paulo respectively.

The aim now is for Simeone to rebuild and to a certain extent reinvent Los Rojiblancos. No extreme measures are needed. Transition is the key word here. Both Atletico and Simeone have been keen to stress this. 

“It's a difficult transition we're going through, but we face it with hope,” Simeone told Goal in the summer. “It is a challenge and today we have to face it because we are losing senior guys who have given a lot to the club.”

It will take time to implement the raft of new players who need to adjust to Simeone’s own intense way of playing. Experienced stalwarts and winners such as the defensive duo of Godin and Juanfran can’t simply be replaced overnight. It will take time. 

Meanwhile one of the new recruits, defender Kevin Trippier, has been full of praise for his boss. "I think everybody knows how good he is, how passionate he is when he is on the touchline and when he's in training,” the Englishman told BBC Radio 5 Live's Football Daily. He's unbelievable and I've got this opportunity to learn from him.

"You always see him with an arm around the young lads. When you see him fired up it gives you a lift and it just shows how passionate he is.

"I call him 'Mr' which is the Spanish for 'boss'. I have to tell people [what I mean] when I call him 'gaffer'. It's so different.

“Is Simeone the best manager in the world now? For me, personally, yes. When people actually play for him they realise how good he is.”

Could Simeone be lured away?

Simeone’s impact has been colossal. From the title win to European success in the form of two Europa League successes and a couple of appearances in the Champions League final. He’s been elevated into the top-bracket of bosses worldwide, but unlike many others he has so far resisted the lure of the Premier League.

However, eight years is a long time to be in charge of one football club. 

With this in mind, it could well prove to be an interesting summer of change, especially if a certain underperforming Manchester club come calling. The chances of Simeone leaving Atletico were previously remote, yet now there are signs that a summer switch perhaps isn’t out of the question.

But should Man Utd cut ties with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the chance to propel the disjointed and dejected fallen giants back to the glory days could prove irresistible.  He’s currently a 50/1 outsider in the next Man Utd manager market, with Mauricio Pochettino the red-hot 4/11 favourite.

These days just about every top manager is linked to French giants PSG. The club’s current incumbent, Thomas Tuchel, is racing towards a second successive Ligue 1 title, yet its PSG’s performances in Europe that take centre-stage.

Simeone has also previously spoken of his desire to return to Inter Milan in the future. “I've been very clear on this 2,000 times already, about my possible return to Inter. There's no need to say anything other than it'll surely happen one day.”

Or perhaps a break is needed, a sabbatical of sorts. After all he’s been managing solidly since a break between San Lorenzo and Catania jobs back in 2010.

However, for the time being Simeone’s focus is on Saturday’s crunch clash at league leaders Real Madrid, with whom they’ve not beaten in the league in seven meetings spanning four years. A win could prove to be a pivotal moment in Atletico’s season, but a defeat would leave Atletico without a win in five matches in all competitions - within one season - for the first time under Simeone.

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