La Liga champions Atletico Madrid have become the mirror image of Diego Simeone as a well-organised and hard-working team with a fierce commitment and a strong rebellious streak.
Prowling the touchline clad all in black with his hair slicked back, Diego Simeone has cultivated a kind of gangster look as he successfully unsettles Real Madrid C.F. and Barcelona FC, the football establishment in Spain.
The combative Argentine refused to accept publicly that Atletico, with far inferior resources, would be able to compete with the big two but with huge effort and a never say die attitude he proved he was up for the challenge.
Atletico Madrid were the most consistent of the three teams fighting for the La Liga title last season, basing their play on a rock-solid defence and wearing down their opponents.
Diego Godin’s header at Barcelona in May on the final day of the 2013-14 campaign, which earned Atletico the draw they needed to win their first La Liga crown in almost two decades, was yet another goal from a set play and typified the emphasis Simeone puts on strategy.
After wrapping up the Spanish title, they came within a whisker of beating Real Madrid in the Champions League final, leading 1-0 until Sergio Ramos equalised with seconds remaining and eventually falling 4-1 after extra time.
Atletico are currently third in La Liga and through to the last 16 of the Champions League, suggesting Simeone has been able to cope successfully with the exit of leading players like top scorer Diego Costa and defender Filipe Luis, both sold to Chelsea.
Simeone is constantly looking ahead during matches, second-guessing the opposition and ready to switch tactics.
Atletico’s team includes many players who had never experienced success until the arrival of the man said to play with a knife between his teeth, who instilled his winning mentality and a “match by match” philosophy.
He took over at the end of 2011 with the team struggling and made an immediate impact as they finished in fifth place before beating Athletic Bilbao to win the Europa League.
Atletico showed by beating Chelsea in the European Super Cup that they were ready to challenge the continent’s elite.
In a further sign of what was to come, they won the 2013 King’s Cup after stunning Real 2-1 in the final in Real’s own Bernabeu arena.
“We are showing that with work you can compete,” Simeone said.
“There are a lot of fans of Madrid and Barcelona that congratulate me for what we are doing and that makes me proud,” added the 44-year-old.
“Fans of all the teams in Spain can identify and feel a small part of this Atletico Madrid.”
Simeone showed the same fighting spirit as a player with Atletico, helping them win the domestic Spanish league and cup double in 1996.
He was a fans favourite for his attitude which he puts down to his upbringing and battling through the youth system at his first club Velez Sarsfield.
He was born in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires and began playing football on the street, but he did not have a disadvantaged childhood with his mother a hairdresser and his father a salesman.
Simeone says it is from his parents that he learned to work hard and he was also influenced by the routine at Sarsfield.
“There they taught me values, wash your clothes, respect, order, everything that helps you in life. From order you start living better,” he said.