In an interview conducted and shared by the club, Atlético coach Diego Simeone looked back at a very special 2012 for the Red and Whites, a year in which he completely transformed the collective Colchonero mentality.
Two European titles later and 40 points collected in the present league campaign (good for second place and seven more than reigning Spanish champions and bitter rivals Real Madrid), ‘El Cholo’s’ hiring has been a resounding success, bringing glory and respect back to a club that was in tatters upon his arrival.
“While at the time [I was hired] I was living a situation, internally, that can be described as ‘complicated’, I felt great joy,” he said.
“I started looking at the squad, I had seen a couple of games like anyone into football always tends to do, and when I saw the squad I immediately got in touch with Atleti officials and let them know I liked the challenge.
“I knew the challenge was a difficult one because the team was hurt in a football sense, so their mentality was at risk, but the football [quality] would always be there. The coach was in a position in which he needed to convince the fans, who would have high expectations of him because of the personality that was arriving.”
Looking back at the transformation
In this long year, little-by-little, we’ve been changing the mentality. Only looking at things day-to-day, game-by-game, wanting to improve, focussing on the positive things, being optimistic, on always wanting to be better, and we worked on all those things with a great squad.
I found players that were committed to getting the team out of the difficult situation they were in, with a sense of belonging, and with a capacity to understand everything we were proposing to them.
Above all else, something we wanted to transmit was: to be a team. And today, Atlético Madrid are a team.
On his first impressions upon returning to the Vicente Calderón
At one point, I don’t tend to lie, at the beginning, [my arrival] generated calm during the tough times the club were going through, because of the affection the people had for me.
I remember the first day, when I arrived at the Calderón, there were a lot of people there for the presentation and when I left the stadium I was very happy.
I told the players, ‘Look, I’ve been criticised and questioned at certain times myself’, because it’s football and the fans always want to see the best and when they don’t, they protest.
But I told them, ‘the Atlético fan is different because, win or lose, they want to see absolute effort, and when that effort is there, the fan always goes home happy’.
On how he went about changing the club
I always get asked that. Us coaches have several keys to hit, and sometimes we have the luck to strike the right one. I think we hit the right one. We based ourselves primarily on the sense of belonging. ‘I am where I want to be. I have the luck of working at a place where I want to be, where I’m committed, I feel it deeply, and I give myself absolutely’.
I think that at some point, the people that work with us, in this case the players to whom we transmitted that knowledge to and what we needed to show to the outside, felt it and within the group, we found players that were on the same line as we were, which is something that facilitated things for us.
After I was at the club for a month, everyone was asking me, ‘How did the team find themselves so quickly?’ I would say, sincerely, ‘After a week and a half to two weeks, I felt that my relationship that united me with them was something natural’.
Obviously, that’s not easy to achieve, but there was a back and forth between what we felt and what the guys felt that was very strong, and from there, we were able to create the most difficult things to have in a team: stability, a sense of commitment, always thinking about the collective, having respect for those that surround you; that was the path we took.
The Atlético fan is special
I think the Atlético fan has that characteristic: he’s there. At all times he makes his presence felt. Coming to the Calderón is a symptom of the joy of the colours, sometimes of the atmosphere, what the people transmit to you on the streets, and you feel that. So I think the Atlético fan is evidently different from the rest and makes you feel that.
What he liked best about the year
The group, because without a group of football players like the ones we have, and the ones we had, because some of our guys left, it’s impossible for a coach to have success and have a team that achieves the objectives they set for themselves, and we have great players.
[Our success] is a consequence of what these great players are doing.
Remembering the European finals
It’s a beautiful feeling. I remember the moments before both finals and I was convinced that we would win. I didn’t have a doubt that we would win. Why? Because I could see the players, the atmosphere, there’s this wave of energy that you can feel, it reverberates, and Atlético were doing well. We arrived very strongly to the final, always under the game-by-game mindset, but we were racing against the clock for Champions League qualification and we missed out on it by very little.
We were trying to qualify for the next Europa League while at the same time not straying off course in the domestic tournament and remaining competitive in the Europa League we were participating in at the moment.
But when we got to the final, the team was ready. I remember talking to one of the players that night, and I went to sleep knowing that the team was going to win.
And against Chelsea, I had an even better feeling because Atlético are a cup team. So when Atlético Madrid are in a cup final, it’s very tough for their opponents and we made that case once again.
On Atleti’s record numbers this season
The statistics are based on a lot of hard work. In a year in which, while I’m the person that speaks or, the face that is seen, there are a lot of people that accompany me that work daily to continue making Atlético Madrid better.
The numbers end up being cold, they are important, but they are cold, but there’s a lot of hard work behind them.
And beyond how I always praise the players, I also have to give special recognition to the people that work with me because without them these numbers wouldn’t exist.
To build great things you need people that are prepared and committed, and here at Atlético Madrid there are people that love the club and work to continue making the team a tough one to face.