Diego Simeone reached the age of 40 on April 28 and for the first time in his 23 year career, the Argentine is unemployed. They say life begins at 40, but for one of Argentina’s most iconic football figures it seems to have ground to halt.
The South American once described his style as “holding a knife between his teeth.” He was a natural born winner, extremely competitive and fiercely passionate. Never one to shirk a challenge, Simeone has already taken three of Argentina’s biggest jobs. He became a figure of hatred in England after the infamous clash at France 98 with David Beckham, but has grown into a cool-headed and promising Coach. He made the transition seamlessly, with successful spells at Estudiantes and River Plate providing an early boost to his reputation. By choosing to surround himself with the faces and the formations he had worked with during his playing days, Simeone took the safe option, and ultimately the one that would bring him his first success: “You can not have a favourite formation for the simple fact that as managers we have to adapt not to what we would like, but to what we have to work with. I think the best thing a coach can do is look for what is best for the team, not satisfy oneself saying ‘I play in this way’. Because one is not the important thing. One is a part of what’s important.”
Estudiantes was built around Simeone’s former midfield cohort Juan Sebastian Veron, with the ex-Manchester United man becoming their archetto, playing as a deep-laying playmaker. The focus was upon attacking and Simeone was lauded. Success with Estudiantes was rewarded, as he claimed Argentina’s top domestic job, signing for rivals River Plate. Victory followed once again as River won the Clausura tournament, the club’s first title in four years and Simeone’s work was beginning to be noticed internationally.
In October 2008, Alfio Basile filed his resignation from his role as Argentina Coach following a shock defeat to Chile in World Cup qualification and Simeone was touted as a possible replacement. The South American Press believed Simeone’s offensive style and youthfulness would unite their immensely talented squad of individuals. He would finally have had the opportunity to bury his reputation and re-write the adjectives that seem to correspond with the mention of his name. ‘Cheat’ and ‘actor’ could now become ‘tactician’ and ‘manager.’ Surprisingly, the Argentine FA opted instead for their country’s most famous footballer of all time, Diego Maradona.
Two years on and the other Diego has suffered a rather forgettable World Cup qualification campaign. Maradona used 78 players throughout qualification and tactics and schemes have been adopted and discarded with worrying briskness. South American journalists left mystified by his outlandish selection decisions and even stranger celebrations such as sliding on his knees against Peru. The speculation that surrounded Simeone in 2008 seemed to have an adverse effect on his promising career. The following season River slumped to their worst ever run of results. A mixture of poor form and public falling-outs with River legend Ariel Ortega saw the Coach’s inevitable departure, stating: “I was responsible when we were champions but also right now, during this atypical time for River.”
His most recent spell as a Coach with San Lorenzo ended with a dismal run of results and an unceremonious resignation. Vilified and booed by the club’s expectant fans in his final game, he wore a blank look, a rare image in a man like Diego Simeone. He was once called a ‘born manager’ by former Argentine international Roberto Perfumo and yet despite his early managerial success, he is still just as renowned for his antics on the pitch as his career spent in the dugout. Throughout his livelihood Simeone has joined and left clubs with startling regularity, in fact it would seem his only loyalty lies with his country. When asked if he would like to coach his nation he answered: “The best moments of my career have been with the Albiceleste, and I gave everything for my country. I knew that the only way to get there was by playing well. Now, it is the same. If I do well at the clubs I coach, I will have greater possibilities.”
Last week, the English FA revealed plans for a friendly against Argentina in a game to mark the 150th anniversary of the Football Association in 2013. The opportunity to exempt revenge upon old foes will have English fans licking their lips. Argentina begin looking forward to the