Midfielder Alessio Cerci has been finding life at Atletico Madrid difficult since he arrived in the Spanish capital from Torino in late August.
The Italian came to La Liga with expectations of being a major component in Diego Simeone’s championship side. The 27-year-old was so excited about his imminent move to Spain that he prematurely tweeted news of his transfer two weeks before it was officially announced by the Spanish champions.
But times have changed for the midfielder. Cerci isn’t as happy as he once when he first arrived for training with the club. The Italian has only made six appearances in all competitions for the Spanish champions, and all of them have been as a substitute.
Injury and fitness concerns have limited his participation in matches. He is slowly realizing that unlike some European clubs, players are held accountable for their actions and training habits while under the leadership of Simeone. You either come to practice ready to work every day, or you don’t play. It’s as simple as that.
But Cerci arrived in Madrid close to ten pounds overweight (four kilos). He lagged far behind the rest of the squad in regards to his overall fitness level and was forced to spend numerous weeks of double and triple training sessions in order to work himself up to match fitness.
Atletico Madrid’s fitness guru Oscar ‘El Profe’ Ortega designed a special regime to get the Italian up to speed. But Cerci still struggled to reach the levels required by Simeone.
Last week, the Italy international took his frustrations to the media.
“We’ll see what happens from now to January with Atletico,” Cerci told Rai Sport after he helped Italy beat Albania, 1-0. “If I continue not to play – I didn’t go there to not play football. I had a couple of great years as a protagonist at Torino, and those who know me are aware that I struggle on the bench. I lose patience pretty quickly.”
The Italian’s comments quickly made the rounds via news outlets, and his name was instantly linked to a host of European clubs, as well as an exit from Madrid.
Perhaps Cerci thought his statement would force the hand of his new manager. Maybe he theorized that Simeone would be left with no other option but to play the midfielder, or start the process of finding the Italian a new club.
But the manager didn’t do either of those things. When asked his thoughts on Cerci comments, the manager did what was best for his club – he focused on the team, and not the individual.
“I read the papers and see that Manchester United, Arsenal and Inter [Milan] all want Cerci. That must mean that Atletico are one hell of a team,” Simeone said at his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s match against Malaga.
“We already sold Demichelis [to Manchester City] without him even playing for us. Now Cerci, without playing, has three teams interested in his services.”
“Words don’t bother me. They’re not directed at the coach. I don’t train individuals, I coach the collective.”
That was that. Cerci had his answer.
Atletico Madrid would then go out and beat Malaga 3-1 on Saturday. Cerci started on the bench and remained their for the entire match. Simeone opted for Mexican international Raul Jimenez (striker), Saul (midfielder) and Raul Garcia (midfielder) when he made his three substitutions.
His post-match comments remained focused on the players who were committed to the cause of the club. Simeone praised those who have worked hard and have seen their patience pay off.
In the weeks prior to the match against Malaga, Antoine Griezmann and Raul Jimenez had confessed that they needed to do more – individually – to earn a spot in the starting eleven. Both players had been struggling for playing time, but pledged to do everything in their power to prove their worth to the club and its supporters.
Simeone recognized their efforts yesterday.
“Raul [Jimenez] will be an important player for us,” Simeone said. “He is competitive and plays well with his back to goal. Today he worked for the team to come out of a difficult situation. I hope he keeps this up.”
Simeone then turned his attention to Griezmann, who scored Atletico’s second goal on Saturday: “He’s been working very hard, and his growth is due to his daily work.”
Alessio Cerci should follow the lead of his teammates. They, as well as the rest of Atletico’s players, have proven that hard work pays off under Simeone.
Speaking ahead of Atleico’s Champions League match against Olympiacos, defender Diego Godin reinforced that the Italian needs to knuckle down in training: “Like any player, he [Cerci] wants to play but you have to work hard in every training session. Even if you play five, ten or fifteen minutes, you still have to give everything.”
Until Cerci learns this, he’ll continue to find life difficult at Atletico Madrid
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