A little over a week after one of the most memorable seasons in Atlético history, the man behind it all took a look back while on vacation in his native Argentina.
Diego Simeone spoke to Barcelona-based paper Mundo Deportivo on Sunday, insisting that the keys to a successful season will be to keep the core of his squad together and bring in quality reinforcements.
On the team’s success in 2012/13
What we’ve been able to achieve is important. It has been a year and a half that motivates us, excites us and gives us hope. A year and a half that has made people feel proud about being Atlético fans again. This is a reality that commits us much more and obligates us to do well up ahead.
On whether or not there is room for improvement
I was already saying it last season, well, at the beginning of this season. Losing Diego meant we lost some football, connection, link-up play, but we gained goalscoring [capability] with the arrival of Raúl [García] and [Diego] Costa. Guys that offered us more precision. From my point of view, in a lot of games, I was left with the feeling that we played better last year. But I’m certain that our draws against Racing or Sporting from my first season wouldn’t have happened with this squad. We would have won. This team interpreted, much better than [last season’s] – one that played better – that this is about scoring goals, and they went after the potential the team could give. It’s a great virtue of the players–interpreting what they are capable of playing.
I liked how we played a lot more last year, but if I had to choose a team, I’d pick this one. In this new season I hope to maintain a balance between the play of the first six months and our goalscoring ability of the present campaign.
On the criticism following elimination from Europa League
We lost 2-0 at home and we won 1-0 as visitors. We didn’t throw that competition. Possibly, if we would have qualified to the next round of the Europa League, then we wouldn’t have arrived into the Copa del Rey final with physical superiority. Maybe we wouldn’t have ended up in third place.
We did not go out to lose any game that we played.
On the season’s “key moment”
We took it step-by-step. It’s hard to single out a moment. The first half was extraordinary. What marked the strength of this team was its understanding of how it could aspire to play. We didn’t play well a lot of times, but the team knew the path to victory. We knew that if we tried something other than what we had to offer, we could lose. It’s a great virtue of the team to have played the way it could. Maintain a line and understand that the first half was a very important moment. We gave La Liga a lot of value and that allowed us to have an important base for what was to come.
On which players surprised him most
Costa has a won spot. Koke has grown enormously. They were the highest points. Koke’s positioning and personality. His performance in the final was fantastic. The continuity of the whole base. It’s not normal for a team to maintain the same base for a year and a half and that speaks very well of the team. Hopefully, that won’t be broken. It gives us our strength.
On what the future holds for Atleti
Next year will be very important for the club. After this year and a half of work we need to, absolutely, be spot on with our reinforcements. The club had the strength last summer to keep the structure of the team together, even holding on to Falcao. That allowed us to achieve what we were able to achieve. The most important step now is to choose reinforcements that are consistent with us. That will allow us to continue being internally competitive.
I remember when I arrived I went to Málaga after only having 10 days of training and with the imperative necessity of picking up points. Then, the match against Villarreal came up, in which I had acquired more knowledge of the squad and in which I bet on Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe, Diego, Tiago, Gabi, Arda, Adrián and Falcao. From that game on, if you take a look at the most important moments, that was the same line-up. The only changes were Costa for Adrián, Koke for Diego and Mario for Tiago. The enormous virtue that the club has had has been to keep the structure together and if we keep the current structure together and we strengthen it by bringing in great players — they have to be great — the internal competition will be better and we will keep growing.
On the demands of playing well in three different competitions
We will have to focus on what’s most important, which is, without a doubt, La Liga. Obviously, the Champions League and the Copa will be unique events because Atleti are historically a cup team. These tournaments will be played in accordance with our history but, for that, we need to strengthen the squad. This past year and a half has been marvelous and that cannot be lost and, so that it won’t be, we need great players.
On his ideal replacement for Falcao
Because of the characteristics of our playing style, we need a quality finisher. An inside the box player, of good positioning skills. What we will miss most about Radamel, beyond his personality, character and infectious persona, will be his goals. It will surely be very difficult to repeat the amount of goals he scored in the year and a half that I was with him, but we can try to strengthen other areas in which Radamel was lacking. We have to value everything Falcao did as a man and as a player for the club.
On what he has requested of the club and what the club have asked of him
It’s clear to us what the objectives of the club are in order to grow, and one of them is financially. In order to progress as a club, the Champions League is the way. The hope of the fans is to become champions, and the hope of the players is to become champions. We have to balance these needs. I request of the club, based on what we’ve been working with, to be able to have the strength we had this past season of keeping the structure and Falcao together. Bring in good players. If the team can sign good players, we will likely remain on the same line.
On what it will feel like to coach in the Champions League
If we play in La Liga, friendlies, Champions or Copa, Atleti have to play the same way. We can’t go out and play Champions League and put on a jacket and then go play a friendly or other game with shorts. It wouldn’t be maintaining a style, an idea, a commitment. And if there’s something we’ve been able to maintain during this time is that we went to Colombia to win, to Villarreal in the final game of the previous season to win, or to the cup final against [Real] Madrid to win.
If we carry ourselves along the same line it will be easier to continue this way. If we only get excited about playing in Champions League, we will not take everything else into consideration. The other [competitions] will have the same importance to us as the Champions.
Cholo: “Atleti cannot allow Adrián to leave”
“[The real] Adrián is the Adrián of last season,” Simeone said.
“In life, we aren’t all the same every year. I know that Adrián isn’t happy with what he’s done because he has more to give. He’s a special player. He is last year’s version. The team needs that football of his and the Champions League is in need of players like Adrián. He has speed, one-on-one skills, goalscoring ability and vision. It depends on him. He has to accept that his season wasn’t a good one and that should serve him as motivation.
“In my mind, beyond the possibilities of what he could have given us, less or more, and if he’s happy or not about how we’ve managed this drop in his form, I continue to believe that he’s an extremely important player for us. Atlético cannot allow him to leave.”