‘Albacetazo’, ran the headline of sports newspaper AS in December of 2011. Atlético Madrid had just suffered defeat at the hands of lowly Albacete, confirming their exit from the Copa Del Rey, a defeat which would cost then coach Gregorio Manzano his job. Now, eight years on, that same headline read ‘Culturalazo’, as the shock 2-1 defeat suffered against Cultural Leonesa in the Copa left many questioning the management and indeed future of Diego Simeone. All that begs the question, where has it gone wrong for the most successful coach in the club’s 116-year history?
? PORTADA del @DiarioAS
— El Larguero (@ellarguero) January 24, 2020
When ‘El Cholo’ took charge, Atlético were in ruins. The cup elimination was embarrassing, and despite his reputation within the club as a former player, not even the most fervent Colchonero could have envisioned the trophy-laden success he would bring.
Not only has he challenged the Barcelona – Real Madrid duopoly that dominated La Liga, winning the Primera division in 2014, but two Champions league final appearances, a Copa Del Rey victory and two Europa League winners medals place him comfortably atop the pantheon of the club’s most successful managers, yet it is all unwinding before him at an alarming rate.
Prior to the Leonesa defeat, his side were beaten on penalties by Real Madrid, before being soundly brushed aside 2-0 away to Eibar. The penalty defeat to Real was not without controversy, as Álvaro Morata was scythed down cynically when 1-on-1 with the opposition goalkeeper late on. However the loss stands on the record books and Atleti sunk to a fresh low with an appalling performance against Leganes in La Liga last time out.
So appalling that Simeone watched his men booed off the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano, his side failing to create many – if any – chances that could be deemed clear cut, while Jan Oblak was his typical unbeatable self, making one or two saves of real importance to keep the opposition at bay.
However, in a circumstance, that is perhaps telling, the players were not the only target of the hauls of abuse that rained down from the stadium, as Simeone too was jeered and taunted at full-time by small sections of the Atleti fans. He said in his post-match interview that the fans ‘will boo’ him and played down speculation that he has lost his desire to coach at the club, but the fact remains that they find themselves in unfamiliar territory under him.
— The Spanish Football Podcast (@tsf_podcast) January 31, 2020
This result now leaves them ten points adrift of Real Madrid, who sit clear at the top of the table, while a win could have pulled them back to within four of Barcelona. It could be argued that figures of the stature of Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann, so pivotal under the Argentine’s tutelage but no longer at the club, are proving difficult to replace, but that is the reality of Simeone’s situation, and one which needs rectifying quickly.
And when taking a glance ahead, proceedings for ‘Los Rojiblancos’ may only get worse. A visit to the Bernabeu awaits them this weekend, while a trip to the Mestalla to face an in-form Valencia will take place on the 15th of February. This comes three days before they host Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie, while over the next seven weeks showdowns opposite Sevilla, Villareal, Espanyol, Liverpool again and Barcelona at the Camp Nou are sure to give Simeone some cause for concern.
While some may point to the aforementioned loss of key personnel as instrumenting his sudden downfall, or even the rumoured fall-out with long-time assistant coach ‘Mono’ Burgos, one thing is abundantly clear. The era of the most successful coach in Atlético Madrid history is surely nearing its end.
by Rob Barter – @RobertBarter16 on Twitter