As a combative, no-nonsense
midfielder, former Argentina captain Diego Simeone gave no
quarter and expected nothing in return. As a coach he appears to
be capable of mixing straight talk with a more philosophical
Simeone, who bids to win the first European trophy of his
managerial career when his Atletico Madrid side take on La Liga
rivals Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday,
offered both on the eve of the match.
"We have to play with enthusiasm and imagination... with the
imagination of a young lad who is playing his first final,"
Simeone, dressed in an Atletico tracksuit top and sporting
several days growth of stubble, told a news conference at the
National Stadium on Tuesday.
"There is no tiredness. We are all starry eyed and
enthusiastic about it. We face a team with strong character."
The 42-year old has already tasted domestic success as a
coach in his homeland with Estudiantes and River Plate, and his
arrival in the Spanish capital at the end of December has
transformed the season of a team perennially in the shadow of
crosstown rivals Real.
A huge fan favourite at the Calderon where he won a league
and cup double as a player in 1996, Simeone has demanded and
received the same qualities he showed as a player - namely an
uncompromising work ethic and strong will to win.
Tenth in La Liga when he took charge, Atletico have improved
to fifth and still could claim a Champions League place if
results in the final weekend of the season go their way. Equally
impressive has been his side's Europa League form in which they
are the top scorers, with 30.
A second Europa League crown in three seasons beckons
"Ever since I arrived I had a team that was willing to work,
that was willing to obtain better results in the second half of
the season," Simeone said.
"We had a squad that was very motivated, from day one until
today they have responded to our expectations. A motivated
player always wants more. When I came to Atletico I really have
to say I felt it was a team that I had coached for a long time.
"This is a very important week for Atletico Madrid, playing
a European final and we are still in contention to qualify for
the Champions League. But nothing will be given to us and we
have to work hard."
In the rival dugout on Wednesday will be fellow Argentine
Marcelo Bielsa, coach of Athletic and well known to Simeone, who
played the last 30 of his 106 international appearances during
Bielsa's six-year run at the helm between 1998 and 2004.
Simeone on Tuesday was in no mood to reminisce or offer
Asked what memories he had of Bielsa and what he had learned
from a man affectionately nicknamed The Madman, Simeone
retorted: "I am not here to recall memories, I am here to play a
"I have already declared my admiration for Marcelo Bielsa,
so there is no need to comment on that now. These memories of
the past have nothing to do with the final we are playing
Simeone, warming to his task, did show that he had perhaps
inherited some of his counterpart's predilection for more
"I have always believed that everything you feed your mind
before a final is what will afterwards influence your
performance on the pitch," he said.
"If you have all these ideas... what if? what if? what if?
All that is useless because it does not count to what actually
happens on the pitch. If you start thinking of what's around
you, that can affect your performance."
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