Diego Simeone Facing First Hints of Backlash at 'Negative' Atletico Madrid StyleApril 28, 2015
Diego Simeone has enjoyed many great moments during his tenure as boss of Atletico Madrid, but last week’s Champions League quarter-final exit to city rivals Real Madrid was not one of them.
For many it was not so much the defeat that really stung, but rather the way that their second-leg demise occurred. More importantly, perhaps, it was a defeat that may well have heralded the end of the love affair that Atletico has been enjoying with the rest of Europe, following their amazing recent achievements in both La Liga and the Champions League.
Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge did not hold back when he suggested that Atletico were a side that possessed too little football and too much aggression, the German almost gleeful that they had been removed from the competition, while others have highlighted a few other traits considered by many to be on the ugly side of the beautiful game.
In the opinion of many, the blame for all of this falls squarely on the shoulders of the prickly Argentine coach at the helm. While in the past Simeone’s tactical acumen has earned him deserved plaudits, the brickbats he is now facing from many sections are equally warranted.
Not in his wildest dreams could he ever have hoped to find himself in the fortunate position of coming up against a Real Madrid side that were missing players of the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Marcelo and Karim Benzema but, instead of going for the throat with a high-pressure attacking approach, what we got was a team that reverted to type.
Simeone organised his side with a dour, deep-lying defence and Mario Mandzukic upfront—a player who Simeone himself has admitted isn’t suited for that type of game, quite simply because he isn’t fast enough.
With a brace either side of the first leg in games against Malaga and Deportivo, Simeone’s trump card was surely Antoine Griezmann, unquestionably Atletico’s most dangerous player in recent weeks, whereas Mandzukic has the dubious distinction of being the club striker with the least number of shots on goal since 2007.
He has also been carrying an ankle injury for about 10 weeks now, and has only appeared in the big games, having asked Simeone to be rested in the others. He was clearly not fully fit and as such should not have played—but even if fully fit, the style of play would still not have suited him.
Griezmann was also not at his most effective, primarily because of where the Atletico game plan compelled him to play, but even so Real must have breathed a sigh of relief when they saw him replaced by Raul Garcia—who never looked like he would be able to bring an effective counter-attacking plan into being.
Playing Jesus Gamez at left-back, primarily so his huge throws could be used at set pieces, was also a serious tactical error. Unfortunately Gamez is a naturally right-footed player and playing him out of position effectively ended any real chances Atletico had to cause damage in attack down that side of the pitch.
No one campaigned more than Simeone himself to bring Fernando Torres back to Atletico Madrid; Torres scored twice on his return, and also against Barcelona, yet since then he hasn’t featured much in any of the big games, not even as an impact player in the last half hour or so.
Some suggest Simeone doesn't enjoy having a player that's bigger than him. But then why bring Torres back to the club? The general impression that is left is that this was a team and a manager that didn’t go for it, seemingly looking for a 0-0, extra-time, and then the lottery of penalties.
Real played Sergio Ramos out of position in midfield, where he could—and should—have been exposed. The fact that he wasn’t says it all.
However, there are deeper reasons why there are chords of disharmony beginning to ring around the Vicente Calderon. They have known Simeone here for many years, both as a player and now as a very successful coach, and long accepted he has never been one to advance a career through his ability to make friends.
That was an approach that was sustainable while Atletico Madrid were doing the business, but there are certain personal situations in play now. As they say, "what goes around, comes around" and now perhaps the chickens are coming home to roost. There is the feeling in some quarters that, despite all of his past proclamations, perhaps Simeone is less enthusiastic about the collective approach than he is his own personal agenda.
The signing of a new contract, swiftly followed by his departure to Argentina before his assistants Mono Burgos and Profe Ortega had even completed negotiations on their own particular deals, left something of a bad taste.
I’m also told that a number of people were seriously "underwhelmed" by the indecent haste by which he left the Santiago Bernabeu after the match last week, opting to go straight off to a restaurant instead of going back on the coach to the Vicente Calderon with the rest of the team (from where he could have then gone to eat).
That said, the biggest cheer of the game before the Elche fixture at the weekend was for Simeone, from a collection of fans who almost certainly remember what it used to be like at the club before he took over. But as we all know football fans are a fickle breed, and they too can change their minds very quickly.
As can club presidents. While Simeone's new contract keeps him at the club until 2020, it remains to be seen whether they will be still be cheering him at the Calderon five years from now.