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May 242014
Diego Pablo Simeone was hired by his former club Atletico de Madrid late in December of 2011 less than a week after the club had been eliminated from the Copa del Rey by third-tier Albacete. It was the final straw for previous coach Gregorio Manzano, but it marked just the latest in a long-line of missed opportunities, self-destructive administrative infighting, insurmountable debt and taxes, and lack of investment in the club. The fact is that what makes this miracle that Simeone has led his charges to, a berth in the Champions League final and the most unlikely league title in the last decade in Spain, is how far they have come from the Atletico de Madrid that they were.

Everyone called them Patetico de Madrid. Pathetic. They hadn't beaten Real Madrid in a derby match in over a decade and in that span from 1999, when they had coaches Claudio Ranieri and Radomir Antic and were relegated, they had thirteen coaches. Some like Quique Sanchez-Flores and Javier Aguirre were more successful than others but primarily Atleti were in the business of hiring and firing coaches on a whim. Considering who had owned Atleti at the time of their relegation: Jesus Gil, the former mayor of Marbella who ruled Atletico de Madrid with an iron fist and a corrupt and open palm, it was no wonder the club had fallen into disrepair. Lets not forget that Atleti in the 50s and 60s were Real Madrid's primary rivals. When Gil died in 2003 of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 71, he left the club to his son Miguel Angel Gil Marin as the primary investor and former Vice-President Enrique Cerezo succeeded him as club President.

Since then it has been a sustained an often public struggle for control of the club. They bought and sold players without consulting coaches, sporting directors or even each other. For every coaching vacancy they each had their own preferred option and would wind up settling for a second or third just to spite the other. Finally, the supporters had had enough and marched on the Vicente Calderon. They carried banners, shouted slogans and called for their heads. Former coach Abel Resino, a club legend who filled the colchonero goal for almost 10 years, called it best. He said it was a madhouse, and the instability on top had effected the squad.

Sanchez-Flores famously hired sports psychologists to increase their confidence, but this was a club that continued selling off its best players: Fernando Torres to Liverpool, then his successors Kun Aguero to Manchester City and Diego Forlan to Inter Milan, and now recently Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco. Somehow they continue developing or plugging in players to serve needs at the most basic level investment. Despite Atleti's close relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes and his company Gestifute (over the years they have seen many of his clients come and go through the doors of the Calderon) the club subsists at an economic level below most Premier League clubs.

This all illustrates how tenuous this all really is. Diego Simeone changed the culture of the dressing room. He is a spectacular man-manager with this particular group of players. His gritty midfielder Tiago said it best, "if he told us to jump off bridges we would." Would it translate to another club, maybe one in the Premier League? I highly doubt it. This is a very special mixture of player and coach, both who have bought into something higher than themselves, something you just can't easily transplant. Simeone had a similar relationship with Inter Milan and that has always been considered his next stop so that might flourish as well with his high-intensity method, but even that has a shelf-life. Sooner or later the great basketball coach Pat Riley had to leave the Lakers because his players just had gotten tired of his high-octane motivational speeches.

What it also means is that we should enjoy this moment for what it is, that peaceful quiet before the storm, and yes the storm will come again because other than on that pitch and in that dressing room led by El Cholo Simeone, everything above him is still the same from when the place was a madhouse.
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