Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has led his club to numerous honors since he assumed control in December 2011. Over the course of three years, the 44-year-old Argentine has led Los Colchoneros to a Europa League title, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Supercopa, Copa del Rey and a La Liga title.
Along the way the manager has uncovered talent which had been overlooked by most European sides, as well as influence the development of players within Atletico’s famed youth system. There are few who will question Simeone’s ability to motivate and get the absolute most out of his players.
The former Argentina international was known as a tenacious, two-way player during his professional career. He played club football for numerous sides in Europe including: Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Internazionale and Lazio. The former defensive midfielder was also capped over 100 times for Argentina and helped lead his country to two Copa America titles and FIFA Confederations Cup.
Perhaps the biggest compliment a coach can receive is when he’s told his team “plays in his image”. That is exactly the case with Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone.
The manager will have to continue that trend when Fernando Torres makes his return to the Vicente Calderon in January.
There are few players in world football who are at a lower point professionally than Torres. The heights he reached during his first stint with Atletico – and later with Liverpool – have been matched by the lows he’s fallen to since he moved to Chelsea, and more recently AC Milan.
The forward who once terrorized European defenses is now the butt of millions of jokes around football stadiums and inside pubs across the globe. The Spaniard even cuts the figure of a beaten man, with his shoulder slumped over and a smile the furthest thing from his expressionless face.
But while Torres’ goalscoring prowess seems to have abandoned him, his drive and competitiveness on the pitch has not diminished. The striker has not completely thrown in the towel. Torres has shown the he’s willing to fight in order to regain his previous form. He just hasn’t been able to find the back of the net, no matter how hard he tries.
Diego Simeone will find a way to get the best out of Fernando Torres and he will do it by simplifying things for the player.
He knows the striker from their time together as teammates in Madrid, and the manager has continually heaped praise on the former product of Atletico’s youth system.
“He [Torres] is a great striker,” Simeone said prior to Atletico’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea last season. “Fernando is a lad who loves this club, his club. There are his people. He always remembers us, he always keeps us in mind, he always asks after us. I think he will play and he knows that this is a huge game for us.”
“He is from here: deep down he is one of us. He will always be an atletico wherever he is, whoever he plays for.”
This is Simeone’s best trait. He’s proud to have played for the club and the manager nurtures that pride with each player every day.
The Argentine is aware his team is supported by Madrid’s working class and he has built his team around that mentality.
Simeone’s philosophy is very simple and the entire squad has bought into it – “game by game”. Atletico Madrid play every match as if it’s a cup final. Each player does whatever it takes in order to win the moment. What happened yesterday, or last week, or last month, doesn’t matter. Now is the most important time.
When a match ends, Atletico players and their manager are completely drained both physically and mentally. It is a total commitment that Simeone demands from his side. The Argentine is right there with his team on the sidelines, pacing up and down, and emphatically urging his players (and the supporters) to fight for every ball like the match was dependent on it.
Fernando Torres will fit in perfectly with this philosophy and he will be welcomed back “home” with open arms by Simeone and the entire club.
Even though most will say the striker is being brought in to score goals, he won’t be relied on to be the team’s savior. Simeone is aware he’s not getting the same Fernando Torres who lit La Liga on fire during his teenage years and early-twenties. The manager knows he’s getting a 30-year-old who has seen some hard times in recent years, but still has something left in the tank to offer the club.
Atletico scoring is spread throughout its team. Mario Mandzukic is the club’s number nine and has scored six times this season. The summer signing from Bayern Munich will play alongside Torres.
Antoine Griezmann (six goals) has shown that he can carry the load in the absence of a goalscorer. Midfielders Tiago and Raul Garcia have scored three times each, while centre-back Miranda has also chipped in with three goals. Saul Niguez, Arda Turan and defender Diego Godin each have two goals a piece.
Even last season when Diego Costa was scoring 36 goals for the Atleti, there were numerous times when other players (non-strikers) had to bail the team out of trouble. This is a squad that has been built to perform as a collective unit.
Perhaps the two biggest goals in the club’s recent history have come from defenders.
Diego Godin’s game-tying goal at the Camp Nou on the last day of the season in 2014 gave Atletico the La Liga title. While Miranda’s 99th minute header against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu gave Los Colchoneros their first Copa del Rey title since 1996 and broke a 25-match winless streak in the Madrid derby.
It’s just the make-up of this squad and how Simeone has been able to get each player to sacrifice and perform for the good of the team. At any time anyone can step up and be the hero.
It’s the perfect environment for Fernando Torres to step into.
While some pundits will say the striker needs to score 15-20 goals from now until the end of the season in order for it to be considered a success, Simeone won’t place a number on the player’s success.
All the manager will ask is for is that the striker treats every match like its a cup final – the same way he does for every other player within the squad.
And he’ll also ask Atletico supporters to welcome home one of their own.
That simplicity will see Simeone get the best of what’s left of Fernando Torres.
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