OPINION: Simeone's genius is remarkable given Atletico Madrid's history of lunacy 4 years ago

OPINION: Simeone's genius is remarkable given Atletico Madrid's history of lunacy

Prostitutes, crocodiles, and corruption. Simeone has utterly transformed Atletico Madrid.

Before Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona side coined the phrase 'tiki-taka' to define the golden era of Spanish football, there was another term that the incoming Manchester City boss used to describe Atletico Madrid's unique mix of unpredictability, madness and self-inflicted misery.

He called it 'kamikaze football'.  Like many things during his time at the Nou Camp, Pep was 100% right. Atleti somehow managed to beat Barca that weekend in a seven goal thriller, but the phrase was indicative of a club that seemed like they were happy to jump off a cliff without even checking to see if they had a parachute.

MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 22: General view of Vicente Calderon Stadium pitch before the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and UD Las Palmas at on August 22, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Welcome to Atletico Madrid during the pre-Simeone managerial era.

A club that revelled in their bat sh*t crazy nature and one which excelled at snatching defeat away from the jaws of victory. Quite frankly, they were one of the worst run clubs in Europe.

The general rule amidst their fans was that if things could go wrong then they usually did, spectacularly. The clearest indication of this was in their meetings with local rivals Real Madrid. Don't forget that it wasn't until the Copa Del Rey final of 2013 that the Colchoneros finally ended their 14-year winless run against their neighbours from the Bernabeu.

During this bleak run of matches against Real, there were moments when you could genuinely see Atleti players being frozen in fear of those white jerseys.

This tifo perfectly summed up the gulf in attitude between both clubs, their players and fans.


The winning goal from Miranda in extra-time that clinched the cup was incredibly important though. Not only did it break the cycle and end Jose Mourinho's tenure at the Galacticos, it was a statement that Simeone's Atleti weren't happy to be Madrid's second team anymore.

To comprehend the seismic changes that Simeone has brought to the club, it's important to understand the culture and calamitous history that engulfed it before his arrival. This goes back a long time.

Getafe CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga

Have you ever heard the story/myth about Pepe Reina's dad? If you believe the legend, with the clock ticking down and his side protecting a narrow 1-0 lead, Atletico goalkeeper Miguel Reina, father of Pepe, was already taking off his gloves to give to then to a photographer as a souvenir from the 1974 European Cup final. Bayern scored in these moments when his attention was diverted. The Bavarians hammered Atleti 4-0 in the replay.

As a player, Simeone won the double in '96 at Atleti and he was a firm favourite of the-then club president, the corrupt, foul-mouthed and larger than life, Jesus Gil.

Paolo Futre next to Jesus Gil and Patxi Ferreira Presentation of the Atletico de Madrid team for the season 1989/90 (Photo by Matias Nieto/Cover/Getty Images)

After living most of his teenage years in a brothel, Gil took control of the club in 1987 but during his 16-year tenure, he sacked an incredible 39 managers, including 15 in one stunning three-month burst. Ron Atkinson only lasted 93 days.

The turmoil didn't end there though because managers weren't the only people who suffered. Gil also decided to shut down Atlético's youth academy, a move which saw a very gifted 15-year-old striker switch to their bitter rivals Real Madrid. This kid's name? Raul.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 21: Real's Raul Gonzalez dribbles the ball through the Atletico defense during a La Liga match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on May 21, 2005 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Some of Gil's other 'colourful antics' included robbing funds from the Marbella council and channelling them into the club, punching a fellow president, verbally abusing a judge and threatening to feed Atleti players to his pet crocodile.

Even when the club won the double in '96, they were still an embarrassment. Their president paraded the La Liga trophy around the ground whilst riding on top of an elephant. Despite their traditional status as Spain's third-biggest club, Aleti were relegated four years later.

In 2002, Gil was banned from holding public office for 28 years, forced to stand down as mayor of Marbella and imprisoned. Two years later he died, but his spectre still hanged over the club.

Atlético might still be the only place where the owners have been convicted of fraud – against their own club. The farcical nature of the boardroom was reflected in their transfer policy and performances on the pitch.

16 Apr 2000: Atletico Madrid President Jesus Gil during the Primera Liga match against Malaga at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Spain. Picture by Nuno Correia. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

In terms of attacking talent, Atleti were absolute box-office with names like Futre, Kiko, Penev, Vieri, Juninho, Hasselbaink, Torres, Aguero, Forlan, Falcao, Costa, Villa, Mandzukic and now Griezmann all wearing the jersey.

If you could compare these strikers to a Hollywood film then it would be Ocean's 11.  It's just a shame that their defence was more like the cast of Police Academy.

MADRID - FEBRUARY 16: Fernando Torres Sanz of Atletico brings down Miguel Soler of Mallorca during the La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca played at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on February 16, 2003 in Madrid. (Photo by Firo Foto/Getty Images)

In a truly wonderful piece of journalism, Sid Lowe recounts a story about how Atleti appointed nine potential coaches in a single day, hours before a Champions League meeting with Chelsea.

Truth be told, Atleti needed a saviour from themselves. That's why El Cholo and the Colchonero's are the perfect match, he understands the absurd nature of the club better than most and what was required to take drastic steps away from their past.

Prior to Simeone's arrival, the club had 11 managers in a 10-year spell. Being at Atletico fan used to be associated with being a loser, wearing that long-suffering anguish as a badge of honour and accepting the fact that the club will always be inferior to Real Madrid. Not anymore.


There were countless previews, tactical discussions and analysis pieces ahead of the final in Milan, but one thing that's overlooked in Simeone's revolution is how he gave a metaphorical two-fingers to the club's farcical history of slapstick and the toxic culture that allowed the idea of failure to be acceptable.

Two other managers also deserve praise for beginning the process of tearing down the shambolic structures at Atletico Madrid. Javier Aguirre got them back into the Champions League in '09 while Quique Sanchez Flores went one better - he added the Europa League and Super Cup in '10. Remember Falcao torturing John Terry?


When you look at the two managers of both Madrids, you can't help but compare the careers and styles of Zidane and Simeone. Opposite sides of the same coin, both winners but through different skills and qualities.

The Frenchman will always be remembered as one of football's greats because his technique, balance and vision was a joy to behold. Zidane could do things with a football that defied logic.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Manager Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid greets Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The Argentinian was a combative midfield general that drove his side on via an incredible ability to read the game, clever distribution and an unshakable belief that nothing was impossible.

Real's 4-1 win against Atletico in Lisbon in '14 may have broken some hearts, but there was a palpable feeling that this defeat was different to the many others down the years. The wounds weren't going to be fatal because this is a new Atletico. Unshakable, unrelenting, unforgiving, rabid, driven and together.

This is Simeone's team.



Whatever the future holds after Saturday night's defeat, Simeone has created a legacy at Atletico that should endure for some time.