What does the future hold for Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone?

Friday February 14th, 2014

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has had plenty of goal celebrating to do despite losing his top talents to bigger clubs.
Armando Franca/AP

Toward the end of last season, late-night listeners to Spanish radio station COPE had a treat: a live interview with Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone. Not only that, but the station had also called up Simeone's three sons, who all live in Argentina, for a family link-up. First on the line was the oldest son, Giovanni, then 17, and he had just made his debut as a striker for River Plate. The middle son, Gianluca, also a striker and a youth-teamer at River, was next, before the phone was handed to Giuliano, age 10, the baby of the family.

"Listen kid, there are a lot of people listening to this, so be careful what you say," Diego Simeone said with a chuckle. "Have you eaten your dinner and had your bath?"

"Yes dad," said Giuliano, averting any potential embarrassment.

When Simeone asked how he thought the team was doing, Giuliano replied, "Pretty good, but it has to do better."

The call was a reminder that for all Simeone's brilliant work as coach at Atletico Madrid - where he has not only won the Europa League, the Spanish SuperCup, the European SuperCup and the Copa del Rey, but also fashioned a team that despite selling its best players every summer is still a live contender for La Liga and, perhaps, the Champions League - he is away from his family, and it's not always easy for him.

"I am fulfilled professionally but it's hard on the human side, because you're away from the people you want," Simeone told El Grafico last year.

It was a rare insight into the pressures of working away from home - and one that in his case, is so easily forgotten because this Atletico so clearly has his stamp on it. Simeone, it is often pointed out, was captain of the last Atletico side to win La Liga in 1995-96 (it won the double that season,) but he was not just the defensive fulcrum leading the team on the pitch: he was also second top-scorer with 12 goals.

This summer, Simeone will face the same challenge as usual. Last year Falcao was sold; this time it will be Diego Costa, and, maybe, Koke. That's why Simeone was so keen to bring Diego Ribas from Wolfsburg in January, which he managed after an internal wrangle with the board. And while he thrives on the challenge of taking on the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid, Simeone will know that this season represents his best chance of winning more trophies for the club.

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The question is, what then? Simeone extended his Atletico contract until 2017 last March, and in public at least, has no plans to leave the club.

Where would he go, anyway? He lacks the cultural sophistication of someone like Carlo Ancelotti or Manuel Pellegrini, and does not speak English, though has admitted in the past that a return to one of his former clubs Lazio or Inter Milan in Serie A - where he began his coaching career in Europe, with Catania - might be attractive.

There is another option that might be available to Simeone, and the closer the World Cup comes, the more realistic a possibility it might be: replacing Alejandro Sabella as Argentina coach.

Simeone's relationship with his homeland is a complicated one. He has a mixed record as a coach there - winning titles with Estudiantes and River, but also finishing bottom with River, and struggling at San Lorenzo - and his obsessive training methods were mocked as "European."

He was also criticized for gesticulating at his players during matches: "When Guardiola or Mourinho are losing matches, they gesticulate just like me," he countered.

Simeone remembers reading an Argentine newspaper article about himself after Atletico had brushed aside Chelsea 4-1 in the European SuperCup. There were 10 comments 'below the line' and eight of them were negative.

"Why do we always like to criticize people in Argentina?" he asked.

Sabella has not needed to ask the same question. Since he was appointed Argentina coach in August 2011, he has won over the media and the fans. His decision to make Lionel Messi captain has produced brilliant performances from the Barcelona forward while the coach has garnered support even for his more controversial calls, like axing Carlos Tevez.

Sabella's contract expires after the World Cup, and sources close to him have told SI.com that regardless of how well (or otherwise) Argentina does at the World Cup this summer, he will not renew his deal after the tournament.

El Grafico asked Simeone last year if one day, he¹d fancy the Argentina job.

"It's a possibility, although the more experience you have, the better you are. The national team is different, unique, and Sabella is doing very well. I'm only 43 and I could be coaching until I'm 65."

There are not many options open to Argentine FA president Julio Grondona - the other leading candidate, ironically, is Barcelona coach Tata Martino, though last month new president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Marca that he wanted to extend Martino's deal until 2016. Grondona, an autocrat leader (to put it mildly) is said to have already settled on Simeone as his preferred candidate. And If Simeone was offered the job, would he really turn it down?

What would be a terrible blow to Atletico (note to the board: start your succession planning now, if you have not done so already) would be a godsend for Giuliano Simeone. When his dad took over, Atletico was four points off the relegation zone and going nowhere. Giuliano was worried that Simeone would do so well at Atletico that he would never return home. He may get his wish sooner rather than later.

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