BARCELONA (Reuters) - 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 dressed all in black and with his hair slicked back, Simeone cultivated a kind of gangster look as he sought to unsettle Real Madrid and Barcelona, 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 over a full season but with effort and a never say die attitude he was ready for the challenge.
Atletico, by a distance, were the most consistent of the three teams fighting for the La Liga title, basing their play on a rock-solid defence and wearing down the opposition with their pressing game.
Diego Godin’s header against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Saturday, that earned Atletico the draw they needed to win the championship, was yet another goal from a set play and typified the emphasis that Simeone puts on strategy.
He is constantly looking ahead during matches, second-guessing the opposition and ready to switch personnel or tactics.
Atletico’s team includes many players that had never experienced success until the arrival of Simeone, who instilled his winning mentality and a “match by match” philosophy.
He took over at the end of 2011 with the team struggling in the league and made an immediate impact as they marched up the table and finished in fifth place before beating Athletic Bilbao to win the Europa League.
Simeone was in his element as 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 King’s Cup after stunning their more affluent neighbours Real 2-1 in the final in Real’s own Bernabeu arena.
“We are showing that with work you can compete,” Simeone said in a recent interview with Spanish radio.
“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 fan favourite for his attitude which he puts down to his upbringing at home and coming through the youth system at his first club Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.
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 told El Pais recently.
As a coach he was similarly organised, learning the ropes first with clubs in Argentina and he then spent time studying Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
”I watched Mourinho training for a week and then for another I watched Guardiola.
”Whether you like Mourinho’s style or not is open to discussion but he has won in different places and this has a lot of merit.
“The teams that defend well are as important as those that attack well. If you don’t concede goals it is much easier to win but it is all about having balance.”
Atletico will now look to stick to their gameplan when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday and their attitude will play a key part for them.
“From when I started to play with a ball I wanted to win everything,” Simeone said.
”Psychology is important but motivation is something that if you don’t have it inside then you can’t provide it.
“My team talks are spontaneous, I think it is the best way for them to listen.”
Editing by Justin Palmer