DCSIMG

Atletico Madrid looked like Chelsea but with flair

Atletico Madrids Adrian Lopez celebrates after scoring against Chelsea. Picture: Reuters

Atletico Madrids Adrian Lopez celebrates after scoring against Chelsea. Picture: Reuters

  • by AIDAN SMITH
 

I COULD have dreamed this but did a TV station not once get us in the mood for some live fitba’ thud and blunder by creating punditry’s dream-team double-act of Jimmy Calderwood and Bobby Williamson?

OK, quit it with the jokes about the transmission only being available in widescreen and the bolts on the studio chairs’ weight-displacement mechanisms needing tightened beforehand. JimBob – not to be confused with Brangelina or Kimye – added to the gaiety of the game while they were around and, although they continue to find work in the backwaters, you wonder if we’ll ever see them back here, now that Diego Simeone is so hot-hot-hot.

Simeone, pictured, is the manager du jour, not just for getting an unfancied team – Atletico Madrid – to the Champions League final but for the cut of his suits.

Remember Jimmy on the touchline for Aberdeen and Dunfermline, or at least the Only an Excuse send-up of him? Double-breasted jacket billowing, he’d ram his hands deep into the pockets of his generously-pleated breeks.

I seriously doubt Simeone could get a hand into his strides, so spray-on are they. Tight and black, that’s the Argentine’s style. He’s got an old, mournful Argentine face the colour of a gaucho’s saddlebags. Not to typecast him to the country of his birth too much, but he looks like a tango instructor, but one who also knows how to make a bomb. He looks like he might be on nodding terms with “Benny Blanco from the Bronx”, as Al Pacino’s gangster nemesis in Carlito’s Way always referred to himself. In a movie of Simeone’s life you might cast Steve Buscemi, although his features are even more characterful than Buscemi’s, and more handsome, too, on account of the slicked-back hair apparently dipped in treacle.

But that’s enough about his appearance (for now). Last Wednesday was the moment the wider world saw the true substance of his work.

I must admit I didn’t fancy Atletico in their Champions League semi-final with Chelsea. The 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon was a good result for Jose Mourinho’s team, and seemed like a decisive one. In between, Chelsea went to Anfield and made title-chasing Liverpool crash into double-parked buses. Stamford Bridge looked like it would be caution-filled, very likely attritional and quite possibly pretty bloody boring, with Chelsea nicking it with a Ramirez dive setting up an Eden Hazard free kick for a Branislav Ivanovic grapple and a David Luiz barge to create enough room for John Terry to power a header home.

Turns out I was reading too much into the Atletico players’ demeanour in the tunnel – their smiley politeness and deference. Maybe it’s only English teams who turn this pre-match moment into schlock, the captains seemingly auditioning for bit-parts in the next Guy Ritchie flick, long since rejected by Diego Simeone. Out on the pitch where it mattered, Atletico had absolutely no intention of being bullied by Terry & Co, or of boring anyone. They were tough, quick, inventive and brave.

Afterwards, their manager, possibly reading from the script for his latest, altogether classier hoodlum feature, thanked the mothers of his players for giving them – and you have to imagine the hand-gestures here – “balls this big”.

Mourinho used to be the go-to guy for suits and quotes, used to be the man to take a club well outwith the elite in terms of resources into the final of the world’s premier club competition. But what he once did with Porto, Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and now Simeone have each done, leaving him the loser both times.

What will Roman Abramovich make of this failure? All through his frustrations with Mourinho’s successors he only wanted a beautiful football team (as well as a globe-bestriding one, of course), so now he’s got the old manager back.

Next season will be the key one for Mourinho second time around, but he already seems old in terms of ideas and, of course, he has never been an expansive coach of exciting teams. First with Real Madrid and now Chelsea he has been well beaten by younger men favouring more dynamic football, leaving his self-styled tough nuts – Pepe and Sergio Ramos at Real and the usual suspects at the Bridge – to roam around at the end looking for someone to thump.

Atletico on Wednesday looked like Chelsea with added flair, like bomb-makers who can dance, and their achievements in La Liga have, if anything, been even more spectacular. For quite some time we’ve been told, most often by the Premier League’s cheerleaders, that Spain’s top flight is an interminable two-horse race. But Atletico will still be top after today’s fixtures and after that there are only two games to play.

Barcelona’s tiki-taka is not in tiki-tatters, although they’re a team in transition. But what’s Real’s excuse? They’re royalty looking down on the rabble across Madrid, el pupas in Spanish – the cursed. Real have the money to buy the world’s most expensive superstars, Atletico have debt and unpaid taxes, £141 million of the latter, and, until now, have created superstars for richer clubs (Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao and the seemingly Chelsea-bound Diego Costa).

But, according to Simeone, they also have “aggression, intensity, sacrifice, passion, counter-attacking, strength”. A heady, irresistible mix, and don’t forget those ginormous testicles. They also have Simeone, the man who moulded these misfits, journeymen and latecomers (Costa didn’t play organised football until he was 16) into Champions League finalists.

He’s the man straight out of Buenos Aires Central Casting.

He’s the man with lots of suits, all of the same colour and testicle-imperilling design.

He’s the man whose claim to notoriety used to be the World Cup clash with David Beckham which got the England man sent off, but such have been his achievements in management that this only turns up in the last paragraph now.

He’s the man, given the Argentine temperament, probably ideally suited for the chaotic, doomed nature of Atletico.

Could he shape a team – because this is his talent – out of the more individually brilliant, the more egotistical? How would he fare at a club with a massive budget, superpower status, huge expectation? Manchester United, even as they prepare to hire one of football’s big old dependables, must be wondering this – maybe Chelsea too.

And I’m sure JimBob, avid students of the game both of them, will be sat in their relaxo-pants watching his progress with interest.

 

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