Diego Simeone celebrates Atletico Madrid's win against Valencia. / EFE

Simeone and his love for Atleti

At most clubs, we'd be writing about how the fans had protested and the coach had reached the end of the road

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

The Spanish newspapers had declared that it was 'rock bottom' for Atletico Madrid last week.

The club lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup, were knocked out of the Copa del Rey, and ninth-placed Valencia could have closed the gap to one point.

Going into half time, Atleti were two-nil down. The natural reaction is for the stadium to turn on the manager, the white handkerchiefs to come out, and the directors to panic after the game.

But this isn't any club: this is Atletico Madrid; the coach is the longest serving at a top-level European club.

Diego Simeone is reportedly the highest-paid manager in football; last weekend he showed why he's valued so highly and has a unique connection with bosses and supporters.

As Valencia scored in the final minute of the first half, his name was chanted rather than taken in vain. He took decisive action, introducing striker Ángel Correa in place of a defender. That didn't work; so 12 minutes later he sent on young Matheus Cunha, who has been struggling to justify his 33-million-euro price tag.

There was a buzz of uncertainty, as record signing João Félix was the player withdrawn. Had Simeone finally lost the plot?

Clearly not. Within minutes, Cunha gave the Champions a lifeline. With two seconds remaining of the 90 minutes, Correa equalised. Atletico allowed Valencia to restart the game and found the third and winning goal less than a minute later.

Simeone went wild. The stadium erupted with excitement. The players hadn't celebrated like this since winning the title last May. Atletico had rediscovered the soul of the club.

Simeone's job was safe. Truthfully, his job was never in danger, but even the great man had learned a lesson.

"Maybe the coach doesn't clearly individualise which players can transmit what we saw in the second half. He must identify those who can do that." This was a humble admission that he's been getting things wrong recently, his tactics were stale, and he was selecting his teams based on reputations and price tags.

He's found his focus again. From so called 'rock-bottom' they've hung onto fourth sport, still ahead of Barcelona and their Champions League opponents Manchester United need to be very afraid.

As other clubs search for an identity and manager to reflect what they are all about; Atletico Madrid are the envy of all clubs. Only Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are such an integral part of the club's fabric. When other top jobs become available Simeone's name is never linked. He is Atletico Madrid and Atleti is the man they call "Cholo."