There is one man in European football who defies the odds when it comes to destroying preconceived notions. Just like his team.
The football world rates managers depending on the trophies and how everything they touch have turned to gold. However, Diego Simeone hasn’t turned his team into gold, he's settled for iron.
The man himself once exclaimed “I thank the mothers of my players for giving them balls of iron." It was one of his more memorable quotes - you'll probably find it in any run of the mill best quotes articles you'll find on the internet - and it came after winning the 2013/14 La Liga over a gruelling 38-match season. They overcame Barcelona and Real Madrid in the process.
Simeone can be understood by anyone who loves football. He is pure passion, football fury and veins of steel combined into one.
Sure, using innumerable adjectives to outlandishly praise a manager is odd when he isn’t the one stepping onto the field and performing for his team, but ironically in Simeone’s case, it is. When his team plays, you see 11 Simeones walking around wearing the veil of impenetrable armour of self-confidence and vigour.
Such is his philosophy that when you put mind and heart to an objective, no matter who your opposition is, no matter what your team’s budget is, no matter what history says, if you leave your sweat and blood on the field , more often than not you end up winning the match or trophy you're desperate for.
He is branded as 'El Cholo' - a word which was previously used as an ethnic slur referring to a 'country' person, a hick. But Simeone embraces it. He embraces the very definition of that word.
Simeone wants to be the underdog who everyone wants to beat but cannot beat. He wants himself and his team to be portrayed as giant killers rather than favourites. He is the epitome of passive aggressive demeanour, which he often displays along the touchline when his players don’t give their one hundred percent.
Every player wants to be under his leadership and succeed as a unit rather than be an individual spark and take the team over the line - a feat which is rarely achieved by today’s managers.
Simeone wasn’t bred from glamour and paparazzi. He was embroiled in the Atléti system having been a credible player for them over the years before retiring and moving into a managerial career. Simeone won Estudiantes de La Plata their first league title in 23 years after defeating Boca Juniors 2-1 in the final match.
By then, Argentina started knowing more about the new guy in the town. The sports daily Olé awarded Simeone as the best manager in the Argentinian league. He was getting ready.
History may say his two Champions League finals against Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016 are his best achievements. But his best achievement till he outdoes it has to be the league title which he won in 2014. Journalists in Spain were shocked to see that such a brute, direct and well organised team could hold out attack after attack for 90 minutes, match after match for 38 weeks straight.
To boot, this was with a far lesser budget in comparison to the country’s two biggest teams. Real lost the race two weeks before the final match week. Barcelona had pulled along until the final match day only to draw at home and concede the league title to their rivals, who hailed from a city which was known for housing their more glitterati occupied arch rivals.
A new sense of belonging had begun all over Europe, that teams can win no matter what the papers and pundits say. Leicester City wrote an even more incomprehensible chapter by winning the Premier League in 2016 against 19 other teams which were financially superior to them and historically more established. The story of the underdogs was written.
The seed, though, was planted by Diego Simeone. Claudio Ranieri had just made the sense of belonging even bigger, denser and more intense.
Atléti reached the final of the Champions League again that year beating in mind the heart break Real Madrid had bestowed upon them 2 years ago. They fell short again. But it didn’t matter to Atlético Madrid and their supporters. A man had brought back the rigorous paraphernalia needed to make their club a force to be reckoned by the whole continent.
Simeone sent Barça out of the Champions League for two consecutive seasons. He defeated Jose Mourinho in the Super Cup when he was at Real Madrid and then in the UEFA Super Cup when Mourinho was at Chelsea. He had thumped Real Madrid 4-0 at Vicente Calderón and made the Rojiblancos believe they were more than a match for their city rivals.
And as the dawn of May 17th, 2018 started nearing closer, El Cholo was celebrating with his men of steel. They'd secured yet another trophy - the Europa League, again, this time - leaving them in contention to play yet another UEFA Super Cup final in a couple of months. Their old rivals will be waiting for them.
Why's it all possible? It's all because a man from Argentina believed that you cannot lose as long as you played with the belief that you had won nothing.