Club Atlético de Madrid's UEFA Champions League final shirts are dedicated to the memory of Luis Aragonés – and captain Gabi vowed to do it proud in Lisbon.
Aragonés, who played in Atlético's only previous European Cup final 40 years ago and coached the club in four separate spells, died in February and his name is stitched in the collars of the shirts that Gabi and his colleagues will don against Real Madrid CF on Saturday. The 30-year-old skipper, an Atlético academy product, had kind words for the UEFA EURO 2008-winning coach.
"He's a unique character in the history of the club," midfielder Gabi said. "We're all indebted to him; let's hope that we're at his level tomorrow and play the game as he would have wanted. I'm sure he'll be with us."
The current coach, Diego Simeone, is another inspiration to Gabi, the charismatic Argentinian providing a bubbly presence at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica on Friday. "We believe in him," Gabi said. "Beyond whether people like him or not, he's helped us to win, and as long as you win that's fantastic. I'm here to win, we all are, and he's allowed us to do that. It's a fantastic thing to have happened."
Gabi's team-mate Tiago went further. "For us, for everyone at the club, [Simeone] is like a god," the midfielder said. "He arrived at the club, changed everything and what he says comes true.
We follow him; if he asked us to jump from a bridge, we'd jump. We follow him and we're very proud to have him as a coach."
Tiago is the sole Portuguese player in a side who in Lisbon could face his compatriots Fábio Coentrão, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo, with many locals thought to be siding with Atlético's rivals on that basis. "I'm not at all bothered," said the 33-year-old. "I know Madrid have Ronaldo and other Portuguese players. I also know plenty of Portuguese people who are rooting for me and Atlético. People support who they prefer.
"Of course it's a special moment to be able to play in this stadium I know so well, it's a childhood dream. I'm very proud to be here, wearing Atlético's colours – I only hope that tomorrow we'll have the cup in our hands ... I'll save [chatting to his compatriots] for after the match. At this point, I can't see them as friends."
That said, Tiago is keening aware of what Ronaldo can do. "There are major players on the other side; Cristiano is perhaps the foremost among them. We'll try to keep our wits about us, as we have all season, and we hope Cristiano will see as little of the ball as possible – we know he's a dangerous player so the less he sees of the ball, the better."
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