When the time comes to chronicle the history Atletico Madrid, there will be a before and after Diego Pablo Simeone.
The enigmatic Argentinian spent four and a half seasons striding vehemently across the pitch as a player draped in those famous red and white stripes. Yet, his near decade spent striding vehemently up and down the touchline as manager has brought the club’s most successful era in decades.
Simeone’s legendary status among those of an Atleti persuasion has long been cemented, but even in his ninth year at the helm ‘El Cholo’ continues to break records, recently surpassing the lofty milestone of 200 La Liga wins as the club’s coach.
After a year of adaptation for an exciting roster of expensively assembled attacking talent, the addition of proven goalscorer Luis Suárez and that familiar parsimonious backline, it’s more than likely plenty more victories will be around the corner.
After taking over midway through the season, Simeone’s first match as Atlético manager at the Vicente Calderon earned him a debut victory as head coach.
Not only did Simeone steer Atleti from tenth to fifth in the league that season, he guided his new side to Europa League triumph. Simeone would later describe that European trophy as the start of a ‘new, important cycle’.
After mounting a faint title challenge in Simeone’s first full campaign, Atletico ultimately ended 2012/13 in third place, but capped it off with a Copa del Rey win at the expense of Real Madrid.
However, going into the first Madrid derby of the following season, Atletico hadn’t beaten their arch rivals in the Spanish top flight since 1999. To stack the deck even more in favour of their white-shirted hosts, the world’s most expensive transfer of the time, Gareth Bale, was making his debut.
Yet, Simeone and Atleti ensured it would be a night to forget for the Welshman and one to cherish for themselves. One Diego Costa goal was enough to claim the spoils, inflict Madrid’s first league defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu in 34 games and end their derby hoodoo.
Simeone’s Atleti are often (and largely fairly) regarded as a purely defensive outfit. However, after a great start to the 2013/14 season, they recorded a staggering 7-0 victory at the expense of fellow Madrid side Getafe.
Unsurprisingly, this remains the largest margin of victory in Simeone’s reign as a La Liga manager and was Atletico’s biggest top-flight win since they recorded the same scoreline more than a quarter of a century beforehand.
The day after the club’s former player and coach Luis Aragones passed away, Atletico paid him a fitting tribute with a 4-0 victory over Real Sociedad. This win earned Atleti the status of outright leaders of La Liga for the first time since their double-winning season of 1995/96, when Simeone was a player.
El Cholo replicated that iteration’s league-winning feat, guiding Atleti to their first La Liga title since his playing days and ending Barcelona and Real Madrid’s decade-long duopoly of the trophy in the process.
To date, this remains Atletico’s only home league victory over their fierce rivals in the 21st century – and only once in Atleti’s history have they won the Madrid derby by a larger margin.
This victory came halfway between Atletico’s six league match unbeaten run in the Madrid derby, the longest sequence in the club’s history. However, in this same period – between 2013 and 2016 – Atleti lost two Champions League finals both, painfully, at the hands of Real Madrid.
Just as he had started his managerial career at the Vicente Calderon, Simeone ensured Atletico ended their 50-year stay at the famous ground with a win.
To make the afternoon even better, boyhood Atleti fan Fernando Torres netted twice inside the opening 15 minutes, ending the match with more La Liga goals in the Calderon than any other player in the 21st Century.
As any West Ham fan can tell you, moving to a new stadium often involves teething problems.
However, in their first game at their new ground, the Wanda Metropolitano, a 61st-minute Antoine Griezmann goal was enough to scrape all three points against a Malaga side destined to finish rock bottom in the top flight.
It may have been in unfamiliar surroundings, but it was very much the same Atletico which still firmly subscribed to Simeone’s result-first approach, wonderfully summed up by the former coach Aragones: “Ganar, ganar, ganar y volver a ganar” – “Win, win, win and continue to win.”
When the season was suspended in March, Atletico Madrid sat in the unfamiliar position of sixth place. Los Colchoneros hadn’t finished lower than third in any of Simeone’s full seasons at the helm, but they were in serious danger of missing out on Champions League football.
Despite the lack of a crowd to turn towards and orchestrate, Simeone guided Atleti to 11 league games unbeaten to close out the campaign. A narrow victory against Real Betis in the penultimate home match confirmed their Champions League qualification for an eighth consecutive season.