Five months after his latest coaching disaster, Diego Simeone is about to confront what's currently the most difficult job in Argentine soccer: manager at San Lorenzo, a club sunk deep into crisis. Simeone's job will be to pull the team out of the doldrums, and eventually help the Buenos Aires giants return to being one of Argentina's most successful clubs.
This will be no easy task for Simeone, particularly because el Ciclón is stranded in 18th place in the 20-team Argentine Clausura Championship and already has been eliminated from the group stage of the Copa Libertadores. The side Simeone inherits has lost 10 of its last 13 games, which has led to violent protests from frustrated fans.
But if anyone is up to the challenge, it's Simeone. The former Argentine national-teamer is a fiery character who is probably best known as the guy on the receiving end of David Beckham's retaliatory kick at the 1998 World Cup, which led to Goldenballs' ejection and essentially helped Argentina knock England out of the tournament.
Simeone, who had more than 100 caps over a 15-year career with Argentina, is known for his temperament and intelligence, and is surely capable of motivating a bunch of underachieving players. Since becoming a coach in 2006, he has found his fair share of success by guiding two different clubs to the Argentine championship: Estudiantes de La Plata in '06 and River Plate in '08.
But although he's a proven winner, his coaching career has been somewhat of a roller coaster. At River last year, Simeone's directions led to a radical dip in form that saw the powerhouse club go from defending champions to the worst team in the league in just the space of a few months. Despite his best attempts, "Cholo" couldn't motivate River, and the club slumped to its worst finish in its proud 107-year history. A helpless Simeone had no choice but to present his resignation.
So what can be expected of his next challenge? Despite his poor showing with River last season, Simeone has returned to the spotlight with San Lorenzo, Argentina's third-richest club behind River and Boca Juniors. According to many pundits, San Lorenzo has the best squad in Argentina. But el Ciclón struggled to find any kind of consistency under former coach Miguel Ángel Russo, perhaps due to the enormous expectations heaped upon them by the fans and club directors.
Simeone, well known for his hyperactive antics, was hired to re-motivate the team. The fact that he has the opportunity to work with a group of players with immense potential means he already has been provided with the necessary elements to steer the club into the right direction.
Having played for 16 years in the elite leagues of European soccer, with the likes of Inter Milan, Lazio, Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, Simeone has a vast knowledge of what it takes to win at a major club, and he'll be hoping to inject all of his charisma into San Lorenzo. During his playing days, Simeone was considered one of the best leaders in the game, because of the influence he had both on and off the field. Not only was he a keen motivator, but he was the kind of player who never gave up, and always played to his maximum level, even during the most complicated moments.
So far, Simeone has translated all these qualities in his coaching career as well. If he manages to motivate his players, he's likely to bring out the best of them. San Lorenzo has a great deal of depth, and some important modifications could finally get it playing the kind of soccer that has characterized the club over the years.
During his official presentation on Tuesday, Simeone said his job is to "leave the bad moments in the past" and stressed the importance of having an "organized, dynamic and aggressive" team, with lots of character, values to which he has stayed loyal throughout his career. "The objective is to train well, train well and train well," he emphasized after his first training session.
Simeone believes that with hard work, he'll be able to get his team playing an attractive style of soccer for the remaining nine rounds of the season. In reality, Simeone has to consider the next few weeks a learning process in order to help the squad regroup and prepare it as best as possible for next season. What's worse is that several San Lorenzo players have threatened to leave the club due to its ongoing problems. Consistent to his name, Simeone will attempt to solve internal problems as quickly as possible before concentrating on the bigger picture.
Call it destiny if you like: Simeone will make his official San Lorenzo debut on Saturday against Racing Club, not only the team of which he's a devoted fan, but the one where he made his coaching debut three years ago.