Friday, 27 November 2020, 19:59
As kids we used to marvel at the skill of Brazil, a whole generation has cited Barcelona as the model to follow and Manchester United's style made the football club a global brand. The names and faces changed in the teams above, but you knew exactly what you were getting with them - hence the popularity.
Nowadays, though, things are different. Brazil is no longer lauded, Barcelona has lost its aura and Manchester United's brand isn't dependent on a failing football team. The nearest thing to a recognisable 'brand' now is 'Cholismo', the continued regeneration of Atlético Madrid.
Diego Simeone took over nine years ago and has a continued level of success that can only be matched by Sir Alex Ferguson in recent years. Under Ferguson there was a recognised style as he mastered the art of continually rebuilding the side; Simeone is the only man in world football who continues to pull this off at club level.
His club is back in vogue after beating Barcelona in a La Liga match for the first time in a decade, prompting talk of claiming the league title for the first time since 2014. 'Cholismo' won the title back then and Is tipped to do that again.
It's a word that describes the philosophy of the Atleti coach. An ability to harness skill, determination, pride and a slither of the dark arts into a winning mentality. The willingness for a finely-tuned middleweight to slug it out in the ring with a heavyweight.
I needed to double-check the facts when I read that only Koke and José María Giménez remain from the Class of 2014, plus the returning Diego Costa. Whereas other clubs undergo revolutions and change managers, Atlético follow an evolutionary process and trust in their coach like no other club.
One season's Atlético doesn't differ from the previous edition. They rely on a world-class goalkeeper. Once it was David de Gea, then Thibaut Courtois and now Jan Oblak. The defence is constructed of men who can tackle and head the ball, midfield consists of footballers with a bursting heart and his strikers always find superpowers in the striped shirt. The tune is the same, but there are subtle changes to those who play the music.
When Thomas Partey departed for Arsenal, Lucas Torreira arrived to learn his role. When Antoine Griezmann headed for Barcelona, João Félix joined the club. When other clubs pondered over Geoffrey Kondogbia, Simeone swooped and then he gave Luis Suárez a new home when others hesitated. None of these players are fully established yet, but you know they will reach their full potential under Simeone's guidance.
It's like a school when the first-years step into the playground; by year two, they are more confident in expressing themselves. After five years, they are flushing heads down the toilets (figuratively speaking, of course).
Simeone may not have beaten Barcelona in a league match previously, but he knocked Luis Enrique's team out of the Champions League when they were led by Messi, Suárez and Neymar. He humbled Bayern Munich when Pep Guardiola was coach, overcame Chelsea with José Mourinho on the touchline, and ended Liverpool's reign as European champions last spring.
Simeone and his players are afraid of nobody and that's why they must be the most feared team in Spain - and maybe even Europe - in a season when it will be survival of the fittest, physically and mentally.
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