Maybe it is Simeone’s role in Beckham’s sending off in the knockout round of the 1998 World Cup, his defensive tactics or his lack of charm compared to fellow managers such as Klopp or Guardiola that leads the British media to criminally underrate him. However it cannot be denied that currently no other manager comes close to matching his ability.
After Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, the title of greatest manager was up for grabs again and the general consensus was that the frontrunners were Mourinho, Guardiola and possibly Klopp. Since then, Simeone has managed to bring Atlético Madrid up from mid table mediocrity to title-challengers year in year out in arguably the highest quality league in the world. The previous dominance of the ‘top two’ in Spain has been broken and Atlético have also been transformed into UEFA Champions League heavyweights.
Compared to Mourinho and Guardiola, Simeone had a far tougher challenge ahead of him. Due to Atléticos limited budget, he had to cope and adapt with his best players such as Diego Costa and Arda Turan being poached by wealthier clubs at the end of each successful season. Operating shrewdly in the transfer market, finding cheaper replacements for your best players each year is not something Mourinho and Guardiola have to contend with. However Simeone’s Atlético triumphed convincingly when they came up against Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2014 and are on the brink of knocking Guardiola’s expensively assembled Bayern Munich out of the Champions League.
Mourinho’s teams were previously renowned for ‘parking the bus’ and being near impossible to break down, particularly after his European success with Inter Milan in 2010. His Inter Milan side conceded 9 goals in that campaign, whereas Simeone’s Atlético have only conceded a remarkable 4 goals so far all tournament. Simeone has turned Atlético into one of the most compact and solid defensive units of all time, despite lacking world-class talent in his back four. For that he and his coaching staff must take enormous credit.
Only Jurgen Klopp’s task when he took over Dortmund can compare to Simeone’s challenge, although in Klopp’s case there was just one far wealthier team that Dortmund had to compete with. Klopp fared similarly initially, winning the Bundesliga in 2011 and 2012, and reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition the following year. But the key difference is that Klopp was unable to sustain this success and challenge Bayern Munich consistently in the league as Dortmund fell away in the 2014/15 season, flirting with relegation until February before recovering to finish 7th in the league. Klopp resigned at the end of that season. Simeone has been able to change the dimension of La Liga over the long term, and Atlético continue to challenge their far wealthier rivals each season, whilst reaching the latter stages of the Champions League consistently.
Atlético are not as entertaining to watch as the Barcelona and Bayern Munichs of this world, and their resolute defending is never going to generate the same excitement as the feats of Europe’s top attackers. Yet their sustained overachievement is indisputable. Currently they sit level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga, and they are 90 minutes away from their second Champions League final in 3 years.