Praise be to the glorious, Klopp-slaying king of the sh*thouses…

Date published: Friday 13th March 2020 1:15 - Ian Watson

Johnny chooses someone or something in football that deserves celebrating for what they’ve done this week.

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is a distinctive 49-year-old Argentinian from Buenos Aires who was a tenacious midfielder that played for Vélez Sársfield, Pisa, Sevilla, Atlético Madrid, Inter Milan, Lazio and Racing Club. He himself described his style of play as “holding a knife between his teeth” and he’s not joking. That was his game. He probably even had an actual knife.

When he retired, he took this same gaucho style into his management career and from 2006 – 2011 he managed Racing Club, Estudiantes, River Plate, San Lorenzo, Catania and Racing Club before landing the Atlético Madrid gig. Remarkably, he has been there ever since. One of the most striking figures on the touchline, he always dresses in shades of black and is unshaven. Give him a poncho and he’d look like a bandit in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western who has his own musical riff every time he appears on screen. It’s easy to imagine ‘The Good The Bad and the Ugly’ theme playing each time the camera pans to him. You wouldn’t back against him in a knife fight as he paces around the technical area, lean and mean, kicking every ball.

First came to many English people’s attention in the 1998 World Cup for getting Saint David of Beckham sent off with a typical bit of shithousery.

Gnarly, aggressive, full of energy and a will to win that rules out nothing in its objective, he brought all of this into his management career

To say he has a temper would be to call a tornado a stiff breeze. Quite capable of absolutely losing his mind, raging at officials, players, managers, anyone and everyone. No stranger to being sent off, there is no better example of a football team being the extant expression of their manager’s character. It is as though there are always 11 of him on the pitch. The continuity with which he’s done this across nine years has been little short of incredible.

He’s won two Europa Leagues, and has twice been a runner-up in the Champions League but it is his La Liga win in 2013-14 that will go down in history as an incredible achievement. The only man to break up the Big Two duoply since Rafa Benitez’s Valencia in 2004.

Loves an extravagant goal celebration, none better than this one

There is simply no other manager like him. That’ll be Diego Simeone, then.


What have they done to deserve this then?
Let’s face it, they were outplayed on Wednesday. Some might say they were battered, as over 60 crosses flew into the box and Liverpool kept attacking, holding the ball for minutes on end.. They conceded twice. It looked all over. But Atleti are not a normal team. Simeone not a normal coach.

“Simeone taught us to enjoy suffering,” said Arda Turan, a few years ago. Their resilience under constant pressure is remarkable. Many teams would have just been beaten down by Liverpool’s dominance and lost that game four or five nil. But just when you think they’re beaten, it turns out they were just playing dead and, given half a chance, will suddenly turn around and give you a proper savaging. And so it was.

This season there has been talk of it being his last in Madrid. The side hasn’t been at the same level as previous seasons, but if that’s the case, the way they played in the Liverpool tie was surely a throwback to their glory days; a last hurrah for the old wolf.

But for all the fact that he loves to be the stick in the spokes of the high and mighty, he made a great and magnanimous point after the game. One that I don’t recall having been made in such a high profile way before.

“What I have to say, and will be saying at the next Uefa coaches’ meeting, is what I think is unfair. Today was unjust because we had 30 minutes of extra time to score three away goals. Liverpool never had that. We had 30 more minutes to score an away goal and Liverpool didn’t. That’s not fair. The rule favoured us today but it might go against us in future. Liverpool had 30 minutes fewer to score an away goal. That’s wrong.”

And of course he’s absolutely right and it needs addressing. More broadly his nine years at Atleti have seen him emerge as a unique and successful coach, capable of organising a side to defend like their lives depend on it. In an era where defending as an art form has been on the wane, he has fought against the trend, largely with an at times impenetrable 4-4-2 and in that he has no peer. He stands alone

Anyone grumpy about it?
Well Jurgen Klopp wasn’t enamoured with him and how his side had gone about winning the tie. He isn’t the first and won’t be the last manager to be aggravated by Atletico Madrid’s uber defensive tactics combined with a ruthless desire to use any means necessary to win a game.

Michael Owen was especially sour.

“I don’t think there’s anything genius about setting your team up to defend. Genius is what Pep Guardiola does. Genius is what Jurgen Klopp does. Being expansive no matter what you face, that’s what genius is. Putting loads of men behind the ball – great players at that – what’s genius about that? You can respect it, but I don’t think it’s genius.”

Perhaps predictably Owen doesn’t appear to understand that to inculcate such a mentality into players is a very special talent indeed.

It must be very bloody annoying to know you were the better side by far, played decent football, had the majority of possession and yet still lost. Frustrated, angry, and bitter losing opposition fans always end up accusing his sides of playing terrible football and being cynical shithousery merchants. And they’re right. But that is Simeone’s great art.


What the people say
A lot of people love his attitude, love his side’s legendary ability to take a lead and to hold it, love that he is so committed to the cause and so passionate about it.

* Bastard, warrior, champion. The man is a genius.

* Looks like a cross between Johnny Cash and a poodle ..fitting for the epitome of under-doggedness

* One of the few managers who is genuinely bigger than his club

* An icon. I don’t think any manager has been consistently more impressive across the past decade given he only got significant financial resources in the past 2/3 years. The way he continually inspires players contrasts with those who have to leave after one team cycle.

* A true god who has flattened quite a few on English soil. Brilliant

* A game changer for how to set up and regularly defeat or at least compete with the elite teams of the last decade in the Champions League against Bayern, Real, Barca or Juve. It’s a breath of fresh air to watch rather than the staleness of a dominant team endlessly scoring.

* People who say it’s not fun to watch forget that they also have the option of watching him on the touchline.

* The manager that Jose Mourinho would love to be – in Jose Mourinho’s wettest dreams

* Pound for pound best coach in the world I would say

* There was an amazing quote after a victory a few years back when he said something like ‘I have to thank their mothers for producing all these men with such massive balls’.

* He’s basically transformed Atleti from a joke outfit to serious, respected and feared sporting institution. Also he employs the genuinely terrifying Mano Burgos rocking his Google Glass.

* It’s hard to think of one single person who has done so much to move a club forwards into the elite of European football without using their enormous wealth. As a coach he consistently makes players better and Atletico Madrid are a world class club because of him.

* One word: Beckham. Shithousery of the highest order.

* Has built a successful team based on his own identity. A cheating, cynical sh!thouse coach of cheating cynical sh!thouse players and fair play – it works!

* The manager that Arsenal should have paid all the money in the world to get when Wenger left.

* He is a better manager than he was a player in my opinion and he was a bloody brilliant player

* The footballing equivalent of Johnny Cash. Makes me want to wear head to toe black 24/7. A footballing alchemist.

* A glorious shithouse, able to get the maximum effort from his players. Lives and breathes every game.

* The significance of the La Liga win/Champions League final run in 2014 can never ever be downplayed. Went toe to toe with Real and Barca in their Messi/Ronaldo pomp and took their league title. Deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Pep and Klopp.

* Was mostly an awesome Liga & Serie A midfield machine. Then hung up his boots & became the world’s best gaffer after Klopp

* The man Spurs fans think Pochettino is but isn’t. Wins stuff. Annoys “purists”.

* He was the most beautiful and ultimate shithouse as a player and has managed to create a team in his own glorious image. To do that takes a sublime talent and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how tactically astute he is.

* The tantrums from the holier-than-thou section of football fans who criticise his football are deliciously satisfying to see.

* King of the shit houses. Players seem to love playing for him. Maybe has hit his glass ceiling with Atletico? Stylish mentalist who seems like he may combust at any moment

* To European eyes, he’s an exotic Allardyce. To Argentines and Uruguayans, he’s the symbol of a football culture: a Bilardista antifútbol hero; a man who laughs at the grand “philosophies” of his contemporaries, and proposes to overcome them with testicular fortitude alone.


What does the future hold?
European results aside, it hasn’t been a great season. Atletico are currently sixth in La Liga having drawn more games – 12 – than any other side, but only two points off third. Many commentators didn’t give them a chance against Liverpool, but his time at Atletico can’t go on forever. Nine years at the same club is a long stretch in modern day football. When he decides to leave he will be the most in-demand manager in world football. He’ll be 50 this year, so has a long career still ahead of him. But where next?

The question he’ll have to answer is whether his art will only work when the club is a perennial underdog snapping at the heels of two behemoths. If he goes to a team that is expected to win titles, that is a wholly different sort of pressure. We know he’s the best at beating the odds. We know he’s the best at putting together a team to shut down a game and protect a lead, but how good is he when on the front foot and is expected to be the dominant side?

If he’s as canny an operator as he appears to be, he should pick a club that needs reviving from a period languishing in the doldrums, rather than one with a recent history of winning things. A club that needs shaping into a Simeone team, not one which demands expansive free-flowing football. A team which will relish the fight, will celebrate the grinding down of the opposition.

Some suggested he was the manager Arsenal needed, others that he will replace Guardiola. Both seem mismatches. He is the perfect replacement for one of his inspirations, Marcello Bielsa at Elland Road. How he would relish reviving the once feared ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag. A once great club that he could shape and make great once again is perfect for him, his style of play a perfect fit for a Yorkshire mentality.

But wherever he goes, broadcasters will continue to have a camera trained on him at all times and he will remain an irresistible force of nature.

John Nicholson


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