Before Diego Simeone was a LaLiga winning coach of the current warrior-like Atletico de Madrid team, the Argentine was also a fearsome midfielder who lifted many trophies including a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double with the rojiblanco outfit.
A mobile, technical and aggressive box-to-box midfielder capable of stopping, starting, and finishing moves, Simeone starred for over a decade in LaLiga, first with Sevilla and then in two different spells as an Atletico player.
After coming through the ranks at Velez Sarsfield in his home country, Simeone played two seasons at Italian club AC Pisa before joining Sevilla in summer 1992. The super competitive 22-year-old quickly settled in the Andalusian capital, where his fellow Argentina international Diego Maradona and current Sevilla sporting director Monchi were teammates.
When I left Atletico as a player I was leaving to be able to return one day. I know what the people want, what the club wants, I knew I was coming back—I knew.
Belonging is important and I belong to Atletico."
—Diego Simeone was the captain and heartbeat when Atletico won the LaLiga and Copa del Rey double in 1995/96
Atletico legend Luis Aragones had a huge impact on Simeone when he arrived in Sevilla as coach in 1993, and also played a role in the midfielder moving to the Vicente Calderon club a year later, having hit 12 goals in 64 LaLiga appearances for his first Spanish club.
Simeone arrived at a team in transition, with his battling qualities coming to the fore in a relegation struggle, and a goal back at his former club Sevilla on the final day of the season was crucial in helping keep the team in the top flight.
I decided at 27 that I want to become a football manager after my playing days.
I would come home from training and start 'planning' for the next fixture as if I were my team's manager. I wrote every single detail down: By the end of the day I'd be surrounded by sheets of paper, each one covered with drawings or notes. I was obsessed like that."
—Simeone begun preparing for his managerial career at his playing peak with Inter and Lazio
12 months later Simeone also scored on the last day of the campaign, but in very different circumstances. A new-look Atletico team coached by Radomir Antic roared to the 1995/96 LaLiga title, with goalkeeper Jose Molina, defender Santi Denia, and forward Kiko all key members of a side which represented many of the deepest qualities of the rojiblanco club’s traditions. El Cholo was the beating heart of a team which also clinched the Copa del Rey final by beating Barcelona 1–0 in the final, thanks to a goal from prolific Serbian midfielder Milinko Pantic.
Summer 1997 took Simeone to Italy, where he played two years for Inter Milan, winning the 1997/98 UEFA Cup. There followed four further seasons for Lazio, where he lifted four trophies including the 1999/00 Serie A title in a team coached by Sven Goran Eriksson.
I clattered into David Beckham and we both fell to the ground. I was trying to get back up when he did that little kick—I immediately took advantage of it.
You take advantage of all the opportunities you find in your life. If you don't, you've already lost."
—Simeone famously got David Beckham sent off during World Cup 1998 which he sees no wrong
Simeone returned to Atletico in 2003 to help the club going through a difficult moment in their history. With new teammates including fellow countryman Ariel Ibagaza, and two new homegrown talents by the names of Fernando Torres and Gabi Fernandez, he helped re-establish the team in the top flight after two seasons down in the second tier.
His international career with Argentina was also long and successful, including 11 goals in 108 caps, appearances at three World Cups, and two Copa America titles. After finishing his playing career back home with Racing Club, he also began his coaching career in Argentine football, before answering another call to return to Atletico as manager in December 2011.
We fight game by game to stay alive, the same way the man on the street fights day by day.
When we fight we can compete with any opponent. As soon as we stop fighting, we have no chance. We are both a beacon of hope and warning to people: The only way to keep going is to fight."
—'Fight' is the one F word Simeone brings with him wherever he goes
Simeone immediately looked to instil the same spirit he knew and had displayed week in, week out as player into that ailing Atletico squad. Other teammates from the 1995/96 double winners Juan Vizcaino and Jose Luis Caminero were also back at the club, as Simeone led them to their next and against all odds LaLiga title in 2013/14.
The indefatigable rojiblanco midfielder was still recognisable in the manic character driving his team on from the sidelines, as he will be doing again now with Atletico returning to action as LaLiga resumes following the enforced Coronavirus break. First as a player and now as a manager, El Cholo is Atleti through and through.