Atletico Madrid’s prominent ascent in the last decade has been a dream run that any club can ever fathom. Living in the shadow of their neighbours, Real Madrid, Atletico have always been considered as the team of the ‘working class’ people of Madrid. But since 2009, there has been a slight shift in power, making the Los Rojiblancos a dominant force in European football.

Diego Simeone, often referred to as ‘El Cholo’, played a pivotal role in shaping Atletico’s future since his appointment as head coach back in 2011. Having already played for the Rojiblancos earlier in his career, Simeone earned praise for his defensive abilities. Although the Argentinian played as a midfielder, he was instrumental in building attacks and winning possession back.

He instilled the same qualities in the squad he inherited from the go. Diego Godin, the former Atletico defender, once mentioned in an interview about his head coach, “He found a group of players who were waiting, who wanted to rebel.”

Simeone insisted on putting adequate time on tactical plays and what each player needs physically.

His training drills were physically draining as compared to Barcelona or Real Madrid as he always pushed his players to improve their work rate and keep it at an optimum level. This was one of the biggest reasons that Atletico conceded just 26 goals in the 2013/14 season in La Liga.

Simeone is often credited for unleashing Diego Costa that season as the Spaniard was utterly ruthless in his pursuit to score goals. And the Brazil-born striker duly paid back the trust by scoring 27 out of the 77 goals Athletico scored that season. He was assisted well by the striking abilities of David Villa who scored 13 goals in the league along with Raul Garcia whose position as an attacking midfielder worked wonders for Simeone.

But putting aside the heroics of Costa, the man who really made the midfield tick was Koke. The Spanish midfielder was the standout individual in Atlético's stunning season. A box-to-box midfielder, Koke ended up with the second-most assists (14) in the 2013/14 La Liga season.  

The Argentinian manager was known for his uncontrolled aggression and semantics. His most prized possession was his steady and rigid defence who would stand toe to toe with opposition forwards and emerge victorious in reclaiming possession. Godin was the centre of the most watertight defence in Spain that season and developed a formidable partnership with Juanfran in the backline.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was at the peak of his powers in 2014 and made invaluable saves to safeguard Atletico’s lead in crucial matches. On the final day of the 2014 La Liga season, Atletico faced Barcelona with a chance to lift the La Liga title for the first time since 1996. For long, the Spanish Primera division has been a two-horse race with Real and Barcelona reigning supreme, but this was an instance to see a new gladiator in the Colosseum.

The title seemed out of hand when Barcelona broke the deadlock, but a strong goal from the defensive stalwart Godin sent the Atletico fans in a frenzy. Although the encounter ended as a tie (1-1), the job was done. The Rojiblancos were three points clear at the top and were renounced the 2014 La Liga champions.

Simeone had pulled off the impossible. This was a statement to the entire football community that this was a team built on hard work and belief. Atletico have enjoyed great success under Simeone by lifting a La Liga, Copa Del Rey, two Europa Leagues and two Super Cups.

His stint as a manager also includes two Champions League finals, but what he achieved back in 2014 will forever be a crown jewel in club’s history.       

Feature image courtesy: AFP/Dani Pozo