Madrid (AFP) – When German Burgos was told in 2003 he needed surgery to remove a cancerous tumour on his left kidney, Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper said it would have to wait until after the next game.
Now Burgos is preparing to take charge of Atletico’s Europa League final against Marseille without Diego Simeone, standing in as motivator-in-chief while his head coach serves a suspension in the stands.
“I’m a bit crazy, like all goalkeepers,” Burgos once said. He has survived cancer, fronted a heavy metal band and saved a Luis Figo penalty with his face.
Burgos played for Atleti between 2002 and 2004, and made 35 appearances for Argentina, recognisable for his long, black hair, contained either by a thick headband or bright red cap.
He was renowned for readiness to throw his body in front of an opponent’s boot or rush out to close down a striker, long before the trend of today’s sweeper-keeper had taken hold.
Aggression was not always beneficial.
In 1999, after just signing for Real Mallorca, Burgos was suspended for 11 matches after punching Espanyol’s Manolo Serrano in the face before a corner.
In a Madrid derby in January 2003, he played on with cotton wool stuck up his nostrels after saving Figo’s driven penalty with his nose. “It was one of the worst blows I ever took,” Burgos said. “I will remember the pain for the rest of my life.”
Two months later, Burgos was diagnosed with kidney cancer. “They told me on the Thursday and I wanted to play against Mallorca on the Sunday so I said ‘let’s operate afterwards’,” Burgos told Cadena SER.
“For me it was like, ‘OK, so the battery’s not working. We’ll just change it’.”
He retains the scars of the successful operation, as well as his habit for smoking cigars. “I am a loyal addict,” he said.
When Burgos’ playing career finished, he turned his attention to another long-held obsession, music, as the frontman of his own heavy metal band ‘The Garb’, named after his own initials.
One song, titled ‘Old Dog’, begins: “I’m an old dog, I have neither a brand nor a hairdresser, I was born only with the wind”.
Burgos was finally persuaded by Simeone to put down the microphone in 2011 and take up coaching, joining him on the staff at Catania, who were struggling in Serie A.
They steered Catania clear of relegation and, after a short spell with Racing Club, were rewarded with a move to Atletico in December, with Simeone as coach and Burgos his assistant.
By the end of that season, the club had won the Europa League and the next, the Copa del Rey. In 2014, Atletico won La Liga for the first time in 18 years.
The team’s success did not dampen the fire in Burgos’ belly. In 2012, he told Jose Mourinho during a heated Madrid derby: “I’m not Tito Vilanova. I’ll rip your head off.” Mourinho had once poked Vilanova, the former Barcelona coach, in the eye.
But Burgos’ hard tactical nous and the trust he shares with Simeone has been key to Atletico beating bigger, more established rivals.
It is Burgos’ job to analyse opponents and a few minutes into every match, he describes to Simeone the other team’s formation and positioning.
Burgos became one of the first coaches to wear Google Glass during a competitive fixture in 2014, as he had live statistics from the game in front of him fed in every 30 seconds.
When Simeone decides to leave Atletico, it has been suggested his assistant would make an excellent successor. Burgos will be given a taster in Lyon on Wednesday.
“We have Burgos,” Simeone said, after missing the semi-final second leg against Arsenal. “We don’t even need to look at each other to know what we want.”
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