Tactically astute, charismatic and utterly terrifying, Diego Simeone has developed Atlético Madrid into a serious contender for Europe’s biggest prizes and become one of the world’s greatest managers in the past decade.
The Argentinian lives by the motto: ‘En la vida, hay que creer’. Or, ‘In life, you have to believe’.
A worthy mantra but this optimism is made all the easier to embrace when you work with the calibre of talent Simeone has been lucky enough to come across. Yet, it must be stressed that every player in this XI has had their game immeasurably improved by the 50-year-old and his staff.
GK – Jan Oblak
The fact Oblak claims the number one spot ahead of David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois is evidence of his ability in and of itself, but his manager has been more effusive in his praise of the Slovenian saying: “We have a goalkeeper who is the best in the world, no doubt. It’s like Barcelona who have Messi. He decides games with his attacking play; Oblak resolves them with his saves.”
Arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Oblak’s talents are enough to even earn him a place in the conversation for the greatest number one of all time.
RB – Juanfran
Atlético‘s long-serving president Enrique Cerezo described Juanfran’s time in red and white, which started 12 months before Simeone arrived, with two words; ‘delivery’ and ‘commitment’.
There are few, if any, players who benefitted from and whole-heartedly embraced Simeone’s ideals more than the old-fashioned Spaniard. The Argentinian manager converted Juanfran from an unknown winger into one of the nation’s best right backs.
CB – Diego Godín
The totemic figure at the heartbeat of Simeone’s defence, Godín’s ability to snuff out attacks seemingly before they’d even begun proved invaluable during the Uruguayan’s time in Madrid.
But it wasn’t solely in his own half where Godín’s talents were on show. He also popped up with some pivotal contributions at the other end of the pitch, most notably on the final day of Atlético’s 2014 title winning season. Los Rojiblancos were trailing 1-0 to Barcelona before Godín thumped a header beyond Pinto five minutes into the second half as Simeone’s men hung on to secure a historic achievement.
CB – Miranda
The Brazilian centre half formed a formidable pairing alongside Godín at the heart of Simeone’s incredibly-well marshalled defence which served as the bedrock from which their success was built.
Despite standing just over 6′ tall Miranda possessed an enviable leap as he proved instrumental to Atléti’s title triumph in 2014 and didn’t miss a second of the club’s run to the Champions League final the same year.
LB – Filipe Luís
However good Renan Lodi has looked at points this season, something is just not quite right about a Diego Simeone Atlético Madrid team without the greased hair of Filipe Luís dutifully patrolling the left touchline.
The Brazilian spent eight seasons split across two spells in Madrid, making over 300 appearances in all competitions for the club.
RM – Koke
No player has played more than the 409 games Koke has racked up under Simeone in his near 15 years of management. Versatile, industrious and immensely gifted technically, Koke was lined up by Xavi himself as his successor for the national team and by Barcelona as his replacement at club level halfway through the decade.
But Koke remained at Atléti as the most loyal and perhaps most talented player at the Argentinian’s disposal.
CM – Gabi
A boyhood Atléti fan, Gabi had been kept out of the starting lineup in his first spell with the club by a certain Diego Simeone in the early 2000s.
However, when their paths crossed again years later, with Simeone now in the hot seat, he immediately identified the combative and simple style of the Spaniard as a staple of his side. Inevitably Gabi soon became captain and the embodiment of Simeone on the pitch as the club enjoyed their most successful era in modern times.
CM – Juan Sebastián Verón
These two illustrious figures of the Argentinian game thrived in the Lazio midfield and Verón became one of a young Simeone’s first ever signings as manager of Estudiantes in 2006.
In their first six months together at the club, Verón and Simeone combined to win the Estudiantes’ first league title in 23 years with the pair voted the player and manager of the season respectively.
LM – Saúl Ñíguez
Simeone’s complete and utter belief in Saúl is blatantly evident from the mammoth nine (nine!) year contract he handed the player when he was just 22 years of age in 2017.
That leap of faith has been more than justified as Saúl has blossomed into one of the most complete midfielders in La Liga, adding a layer of silk to the steely structure Simeone has created in the Spanish capital.
ST – Falcao
In 95 games under Simeone – split between River Plate and Atléti – Falcao scored a sensational 70 goals. The Colombian frontman enjoyed perhaps the most fruitful seasons of his career during his two years in red and white.
Simeone joined up with Falcao and Atléti in the second half of their Europa League winning campaign in 2011/12 – a competition in which El Tigre plundered nine goals in nine games.
ST – Antoine Griezmann
In five seasons under Simeone’s tutelage Griezmann scored 133 goals and assisted around 50 more often as the sole attacking outlet for his side.
The Frenchman became utterly indoctrinated in the school of Simeone. He may have registered at least 20 goals every season he spent in Madrid but he also averaged seven yellow cards each campaign – a remarkable figure for the side’s most forward-thinking player.