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Diego Simeone will make an emotional return on Thursday when he takes charge of his first European game, leading out Club Atlético de Madrid in the familiar surrounds of Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
Simeone spent four seasons at S.S. Lazio, winning a domestic double to add to the one he picked up in Spain with Atlético. He also won the 1997/98 UEFA Cup with FC Internazionale Milano yet the 41-year-old ranks the reception he received upon returning from long-term injury while at the Biancocelesti on a par with any silverware. Friendships will be put to one side over the next few weeks, however, as Atlético and Lazio vie for a place in the UEFA Europa League round of 16.
UEFA.com: What are your memories of Lazio?
Diego Simeone: I have great memories. They had only won the domestic title once before and we managed to become champions. Today they are a good team, their coach [Edoardo Reja] has been there a while now and he is doing a good job. He knows the city and club. It will be a very hard tie because they are having a good season in both league and cup – knowing Lazio, going a long way in the Europa League will also be a target.
UEFA.com: How do you think you will be welcomed for the first leg on 16 February?
Simeone: There is a strong bond between the fans and me. I had four years at Lazio and one season [2001/02] I struggled with injury.
I will never forget the moment I came back from my knee injury and how they welcomed me – it was just amazing. It was a very emotional moment, comparable to becoming champions, and I am eternally grateful. It will be nice to return but we can't really enjoy it. We are going to get a positive result for Atlético.
UEFA.com: What are Atlético's chances of going all the way in this competition?
Simeone: Atlético are historically a cup team, a side that thrives in competitions played over two legs. They're always well prepared, they have a strong mentality, there's something that gives them strength. I hope we can repeat our success of 2010 and win but we know it's becoming more and more difficult in the Europa League, because you have very strong teams involved.
UEFA.com: How did it feel to return to Atlético as coach in December, replacing Gregorio Manzano with the side 13th?
Simeone: It's something you dream of.
The offer was unexpected, but I think that's when things happen in life, when you least expect them. There was no possible answer but to say 'yes'. The situation at the club, football-wise, was not ideal, but looking at the objectives, the team and the time ahead of us, I believed we could turn things around. The players have responded immediately. There are certain expectations – and we have the belief that we can satisfy them.
UEFA.com: What do you bring to Atlético after nearly five years coaching in Argentina (Simeone also had six months with Italy's Calcio Catania)?
Simeone: I'm pretty hard-headed. I think every Argentinian player and club thinks they can beat Barcelona. And that is a plus, to have that courage – it is something admirable and should be passed on. I think the best way to achieve your goal is not to look too far ahead, but to improve as a team, to improve as players and as a coach. That will make us stronger and take us where we want to go.
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