Little more than a week has passed since Atletico Madrid’s heartbreaking Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid, and tempers, emotions and feelings have — just about — started to calm.
The excruciating circumstances in which Atleti lost their second European Cup final in three seasons to their fierce rivals made even the most neutral of fans feel immense sympathy for the club known as “el Pupas” — the cursed one. Then came the bombshell. The words none of Los Rojiblancos fans expected to hear, especially not immediately after such a defeat.
“It’s a moment for me to think about things,” Diego Simeone said in his post-match news conference. “When you give everything and it’s not enough, it’s hard. These have been three wonderful years but I am not happy tonight. I do not know which hurts more, this final or the last one.”
The Argentine coach went on to describe losing two finals in three seasons a “failure” and was visibly spent as he discussed the end of a cycle. It made for a worrying watch.
In a way, though, it was an understandable outburst. He was frustrated, he would have felt sick and as such an emotional character, he wears his heart on his sleeve and does not mince his words. Now with time to think about what he has said, Atletico fans everywhere will be hoping it was just a spur-of-the-moment comment.
After all, while they lost the final, the fact they got there (again) is testament to the job Simeone has done at the club. Taking over a side in mid-table, having just been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by a third-tier outfit in December 2011, he has taken the perennial underachievers to kings of the capital.
He’s broken the Madrid-Barcelona hegemony at the top of La Liga despite having nowhere near the same budget; he’s won a Copa del Rey, the Europa League and reached two Champions League finals; and he’s helped average players become great ones.
In La Liga Atletico finished just three points behind title-winners Barcelona despite playing three quarters of a season without a decent No. 9 before Fernando Torres started to find some form. That is all down to one man.
Likewise, he tactically masterminded victories over Barcelona and Bayern Munich en route to that Champions League defeat in Milan. After making a bad start against Real, Simeone re-jigged his tactics at half-time and Atleti were by far the better side from minute 46 until the penalty shootout.
Then of course, there is the attachment he feels with the fans. This is his club. He is loved, lauded and every other kind of superlative you can throw at him. Simeone is very much king of the castle in one half of the Spanish capital and long may it continue. It would be disastrous for the club if he left and they must make sure he honours that new five-year contract he signed last season.
Local reports have suggested that the 46-year-old’s outburst was a brave play in order to ensure this summer, just like last, he is given ultimate power and his requests are met.
They claim that Simeone’s biggest demand is that quality reinforcements are brought in. That too, admittedly, was the plan last summer, however for every Yannick Carrasco and Stefan Savic there was a Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto.
Indeed, had one of the latter duo worked out and the club not been so reliant on an aging Torres, they probably would have lifted the Champions League. All season they looked a world-class striker away from greatness, and there is no reason that cannot be rectified and better players targeted this summer.
Benfica’s attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan is reportedly nearly a done deal, while rumours continue to abound regarding a possible return for Diego Costa and a bold move for Uruguay star Edinson Cavani, whom Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez will no doubt be tapping up during the Copa America.
With reported interest in Simeone from the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico must pull out all the stops in order to get their manager to commit his future to the club. Aim high with signings, go for top-level players and show him that they really do mean business.
Two of those three players would catapult Atleti to another level. They have managed to close the gap so close to Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent years, and a couple of quality additions to build on the outstanding core of Jan Oblak, Godin, Koke, Saul Niguez and Griezmann would see that gap bridged, perhaps even see Atleti over the line.
Joseph is a sports journalist based in the Spanish capital and covers Atletico Madrid regularly. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_in_espana.