He only took over the Club Atlético de Madrid reins in December, but, still infused with the gritty tenacity of his playing days, Diego Simeone fully intends to pip his former coach Marcelo Bielsa to UEFA Europa League glory on Wednesday.
"Winning is always beautiful," said Simeone, who gained his first experiences in the dugout in his native Argentina, along with a short spell at Calcio Catania, before he succeeded Gregorio Manzano just before Christmas. It has proved a superb return to the club he served in two stints as a midfielder, and the 42-year-old is thriving in his new role.
"Perhaps I'm more level-headed [as a coach]," he told UEFA.com. "As a player, you can be more spontaneous and instinctive, but now as a coach I have to find a psychological balance within the team. If you look at the situation at the moment, then it's the same. There is happiness, responsibility. It's very emotional, but the player plays and the coach doesn't. The coach thinks a lot more and lives '25 hours a day' – 24 hours, thinking about Atlético all the time."
Vying to become only the third person to win the competition as a player and a coach, having lifted the trophy with FC Internazionale Milano in 1998, Simeone will not let his focus slip as he plots victory against Athletic Club. He oversaw a 2-1 win for Los Colchoneros against Bielsa's men in March, but he knows that will mean nothing when the teams reconvene at the National Arena in Bucharest.
"We'll need to be compact and fast, and more focused than in a league match," he said. "To face another Spanish club, having played each other before in the league, also means that we know each other very well on many levels. And the best thing about facing a Spanish club is that this is very important for Spanish football."
Above all, though, Simeone retains huge respect for the Basque side. "They're a team with a lot of intensity, a direct style of football, quick, brave – a team that isn't afraid to play their way, even in away matches," he said. "They've played like that throughout the whole season. And knowing the team and their coach, I know they will be the same in any game, whether it's a friendly or a final."
Simeone certainly knows Athletic's coach. He served for four years under his compatriot in the Argentinian national team and collected the last of his then record 106 caps while Bielsa was in charge at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. "Like I've always said, I have great admiration for him and great memories of a great professional person," Simeone said.
The former Sevilla FC and S.S. Lazio holding player nonetheless doubts that his insight into Bielsa's methods will give him an edge in the showpiece – "the players play it; we just stand outside" – just as he is downplaying Atlético's final pedigree after they beat Fulham FC at this stage two years ago.
"When it comes to matches like this, those who've already played in one know what to expect, but that guarantees you nothing," he stated. "They know what it's like – the nervousness, the pressure and how to deal with it. I hope they continue like that, but, like I said, I don't think it will determine the outcome."
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