As Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid wrapped up their second Europa league title of his tenure on Wednesday last in Lyon, there is reason to believe that Simeone is poised to become the last of the footballing dictators as we progress to a post-Wengerian era in football management.
Atletic Madrid, an oft-overlooked and quirky football club which has relocated in the last year to the outskirts of the Spanish capital in the Wanda Metropolitano are now seen as an ungainly outlier in European football. They are constantly punching above their weight with a style of play that bucks a trend of obsessive ever-passing and possession in modern football, which has been to the detriment of organisation and defensive resilience.
The high turnover of players at the club has accentuated the culture of a collective mentality which breeds success. The regeneration of the club after the likes of Falcao, Costa and Torres left when they were in their pomp says much about the resourcefulness of a club in the shadow of their illustrious neighbours across the city.
Indeed, the fact that Filipe Luis, Diego Costa and Fernando Torres have returned in later life says a lot about the inherent closeness that the players feel to the club and its array of strong personalities.
The lack of onus the team puts on possession of the football would be anathema to many coaches, but is more than consolidated for by a ravenous work-rate and intensity.
Simeone’s philosophy hasn’t undergone much of an evolution since he was unveiled as manager in December 2011. The team usually play 4-4-2, with both strikers becoming deep lying at times in order to facilitate the pressing of the opposition in the wide areas against either touchline. They are naturally narrow and rely on their full backs when they need to unlock lesser teams, particularly those residing in the lower echelons of La Liga.
Their midfield four cover a narrow space and are vulnerable to a switch of play, to counteract this they rush the passer of the ball. The traits of defensive rigidity are ingrained in the ethos of the football club and their influence can even be felt in England as many have felt that Leicester’s Premier League tile win in 2015/16 was built on a similar premise as the season continued.
After a couple of months of erratic and sometimes high-scoring wins, Ranieri decided to mould them into a primarily reactive team built around defending their eighteen-yard box and using the searing pace available to them.
Many analysts commented when Atletico and Leicester met in the Champions League Quarter-Finals the following year, that Leicester were simply a less well-refined version of a similar sporting concept.
More recently, Burnley have qualified for the Europa League on the basis of their terrific league performance this year with a deep-lying defensive structure which has ground down many more established and financially powerful Premier League outfits.
Two Champions League Final losses have perpetuated the sense of Atletico as the poor relations in the face of Real Madrid’s unprecedented European dominance. However, their most recent European exploits have reinforced the proposition that Simeone can continue to prop up a club which has become attributed to a magnificent obstinance in the face of a world where a “sterile domination” of the football, as Arsene Wenger, coined it has become all-too prominent.
There has been increased speculation of late, that Antoine Griezmann has decided to move to the more magisterial surroundings of Barcelona. This is a common occurrence at a club where princes move in search of kingships elsewhere.
For Simeone is king of all he surveys and he will continue to unearth new talent, integrating them in to the most illustrious group of misfits in world football.
Always rebelling against football’s in-vogue fads, revelling in their mischievous success.