Diego Simeone was so distraught when he lost his second Champions League final to Real Madrid within three years in 2016, that he considered leaving Atletico.
The club that also lost the 1974 final against Bayern Munich and had a reputation for being Spain’s most unlucky team before taking the helm still feels sad when it comes to winning the biggest prize.
But there is a growing feeling that this year could be different. There is no Real Madrid to beat them in the final, they were given a, in theory, easier path to the final when the draw meant they dodged Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City in the quarter and semi-finals, and it felt like fate supported them too when they somehow beat Liverpool at Anfield in the last sixteen.
Diego Simeone was thinking about leaving Atletico Madrid after losing the Champions League final in 2016
His side had lost the final two years earlier, both to arch-rival Real Madrid
Atletico has reached the quarter-finals after a shocking victory over defending champions Liverpool
“That victory does not help us now,” said Simeone on Wednesday. “The enthusiasm it generated has waned, it’s been a long time.”
However, it is better to think of that triumph at Anfield than those last two defeats. It was in 2016 when he felt he might not be able to continue.
Immediately after the game that Atlético lost on penalties, he was asked if he intended to quit, he said: ‘It’s time to think about it. That’s what I’m doing. Losing two finals is a failure. ‘
A year later he said to Diario AS: “I came to the press room [in Milan] and I had to cross the part where the Madrid players were celebrating. It hurt. And it went through my mind that there was going to be a difficult year and it would be difficult to motivate the players. ‘
And regarding an offer of a job elsewhere, widely believed to be at Paris Saint-Germain, who offered him a huge salary, he added: ‘I just told me to think. Is that so bad? If I wanted a reason to go, there were 35 million. I stayed because I wanted to. It looks like PSG offered him € 35 million per season to win a European Cup.
What made 2016 so bad was 2014. Atletico were seconds away from winning their first Champions League when Sergio Ramos headed into Luka Modric’s corner to extend the match. Madrid were stronger and it was no surprise when Gareth Bale headed them up front before Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo made the final stand emphatically from the penalty spot.
Simeone said the momentum from that victory is not helping them now, as it did in March
Back in Lisbon, the scene of that first final, there is a chance to make amends. It won’t be the same without supporters. Simeone said he felt primarily for those who traveled to Milan in 2016. He cares more than most that the stadiums are full, there is no one to go to and orchestrate in the last 10 minutes of games since the lockdown.
But it will be his greatest achievement as a coach when he hands out the trophy on the third attempt. Atletico fans would argue that they are still the greatest club to ever win it.
Nothing is ever easy for Atletico. Of the two players who have been banned for testing positive for coronavirus this week, Angel Correa will certainly be missed.
Tensions ran high during the 2014 Champions League final when Atlético was just ahead of victory
Right back Sime Vrsaljko probably wouldn’t have played, but the Argentinian forward’s direct attack unsettles the defense and he would have played a part.
It could have been a lot worse for Atletico Madrid. There was a nervous wait as subsequent test results came through, ultimately allay fears that the virus had spread through the squad as it did two weeks earlier in Madrid-based second division Fuenlabrada. That old feeling that Atlético was cursed in this match came back to the surface.
Lisbon is not only special for Atletico, it also marks a kind of homecoming for Joao Felix. Without the pandemic-induced flat atmosphere in Portugal, he would be in the center of attention right now as Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to make it to the last eight.
The signing of Atletico’s records has so far been hampered by an injury and the inability to click with Simeone. There was an incident earlier in the season when the player appeared to deliberately ignore his coach’s instructions from the sidelines to move to a wide position to accommodate a substitute who wanted to deploy Simeone at the center.
Two of their players tested positive for coronavirus; Angel Correa will certainly be missed
Right back Sime Vrsaljko probably wouldn’t have played against RB Leipzig in the quarterfinals
Joao Felix blamed the incident on a communication breakdown; it seems the 20-year-old and his wayward coach are constantly out of communication.
For a long time it was a real problem for Simeone that the big takeover did not deliver in his first season, but the club brought Yannick Carrasco out on loan in January and he looked supersonic and skated over the wings, counterattacking Atletico. were previously missing.
And then there’s Anfield’s hero, Marcos Llorente, who has gone from being a tenacious midfielder struggling to get into the squad to the second striker likely to be called up soon by Spanish coach Luis Enrique and expected to face Leipzig will start.
Lisbon is not only special for Atletico, it also marks a kind of homecoming for Joao Felix
Carrasco is a veteran of that second last failure in 2016. He got an equalizer in the 79th minute on the night against Real Madrid, but watched as they scored all five of their penalties to win the tournament again at their neighbor’s expense.
‘Atlético deserves a Champions League after losing two finals, one with the leader and one after penalties. Atletico deserves this cup, ” said the Belgian attacker this week.
Simeone, veteran of a million nervous strides in a hundred different technical areas over the past eight years, because Atletico coach knows that ‘earning’ is not going to get in.
Atletico has a great opportunity in this strangest Champions League, but they have to take it.
Marcos Llorente (R) has moved from midfielder struggling to side up to second striker