Far afield in Kolkata, it was a moment of pride for Sourav Ganguly as well. The former India cricket captain is now a part of the Atleti family. The Spanish club is a major stakeholder of the Kolkata franchise that will play in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL). Ganguly is a co-owner of the franchise and was instrumental in bringing in Atleti to Indian football. He has chosen the right model.
To the outside world, Spanish football has always been about Real Madrid and Barcelona. So Atletis rise to break the two-team hegemony has come as a pleasant surprise. But things didnt happen overnight. Weve to go back to December 2011 when after another poor start to the season, another coach was sacked. This time, it was Quique Flores and when Atleti unveiled Simeone as his successor, they virtually had no other option. Simeone was a former player of the club and fan favourite. He went about his task with honesty and humility.
To paraphrase a Beatles line, Simeone took a sad song and went on to make it better and better. He made very few signings and stuck to what he had in his first season. He gave his players the confidence to perform on the big stage and helped them dream big.
Simeone was an excellent midfielder himself who earned 106 caps for Argentina. He was always one of the most energetic characters on the field and carried that positive energy to his coaching as well. Under him, Atleti learned the build-up play. They became better tactically.
Simeone prefers a 4-4-1-1 system, but he allows his team to be flexible and gives his players the opportunity to express themselves. He taught Atleti to be intimidating and helped his boys get rid of their inferiority complex.
The best thing about Simeone is his transfer model. In these days of silly money and kamikaze spending, his method is refreshingly different. Simeone has managed to achieve success without splashing cash.
Under his charge, the club has accumulated 69 million euros from transfers alone in the last two-and-a-half years. He has brought in the likes of Radamel Falcao, made them big stars and sold them to the nouveau-riche for millions without compromising on his teams success.
Falcao went to Monaco for 60 million euros, Eduardo Salvio went to Benfica for 11 million euros, while Martin Demichelis was sold to Manchester City for 5.5 million euros.
Simeone replaced Falcao with Diego Costa. He made Filipe Luis one of the best left backs in the world. He brought Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea on loan, which turned out to be a masterstroke. He snapped up David Villa from Barcelona for only 3 million euros and gave him a new lease of life.
And here are his achievements: in his first season in charge, Simeone won the Europa League, decimating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the final. Atleti then met Chelsea in the Uefa Super Cup and gave them a 4-1 hiding. They top La Liga this season with 88 points and with just three matches to play, theyre favourites to clinch the title. Theyve reached the Champions League final without losing a match and brushing aside AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea in the knockout stage.
Atleti will face Real Madrid in the final at Lisbon on May 24 and the result notwithstanding, theyre going to be depleted at the end of the season. Costa and Luis will leave for the greener pastures of Stamford Bridge and Cobham for around 40 million euros and 18 million euros, respectively. But Simeone will never cry foul. He will bring in another set of youngsters and will make them champions.
Hopefully, Ganguly would be able to persuade Atleti management to send Simeone for a brief visit to India during the ISL. Indian football would be privileged to listen to his ideas first-hand.