?Recently, I was lucky enough to live out a childhood dream.
To be coached by one of the best managers in the world at the Wanda Metropolitano – the arena that hosted the 2019 UEFA Champions League final.
The coach in this case was Diego Simeone, who has been training in LaLiga for the last 8 seasons, hosted at Atletico Madrid’s brand spanking new stadium.
Let me set the scene a little bit. Sure invited us at 90min to take part in their ‘Move Like a Pro’ event, led by Simeone, alongside two LaLiga stars in Ivan Rakitic and Alvaro Morata.
For starters, the stadium is impressive. If you’ve never been before it’s somehow vast but still intimate. The last time 90min were there was the Champions League final. For Liverpool fans a dreamy sunny day ending with their sixth Champions League trophy, but for me, a Spurs fan, a grotty, grotty, hollow evening.
Diego Simeone would have been watching on that night, no doubt thinking about how he would like his team to be in the Champions League final again, having come up a little short a couple of times before against Real Madrid. And from the moment Simeone entered the changing room – where a group of us nervously waited for his arrival – you could see if you were one of his players you would want to do everything in your power to make that happen for him.
He has that look. That look that without any words at all seems to say: ‘Don’t let me down’. Even though he was putting us through a session with very few people watching on and zero pressure, he promised to run the session as if it were his ?Atletico Madrid side preparing for match day. I for one was going to follow, to the word, everything he said.
I can imagine as a player you would do anything to get his approval. The way that Simeone carries himself with such assertive confidence makes you think that you’d have no qualms as a player falling in behind him. Simon Sinek, who wrote a book called ‘Start With Why’ says that ‘the very best teams don’t do it for the trophy, the best teams want to win one for the coach, they want to make the coach proud.’
And given the affinity that Atletico seem to have for Simeone, you get the impression those players embody that message.
He spoke very clearly to us about idea of not always needing to make an individual happy, that the team comes first and that even though individual players require special management, they all need to understand that they are a part of something bigger.
We all know he’s a passionate man, but up close he has an energy that suggests he could burst into action at any moment. He walks in a way that suggests he’s like a coiled spring ready to erupt – perhaps positively, perhaps with a more disciplinary tone.
From the almost obedient way Alvaro Morata stood alongside him, it was clear that the Simeone was the boss, and that when he talks you listen. Even during the warm up he almost prowled around – scanning everyone.
We started out with a finishing drill; testing our movement, touch and ability, and ultimately our ability to ping a ball past the keeper. He consistently barked orders, keeping his intensity high through his gesturing and consistent cajoling.
We then moved on to get involved in a Rondo. And after the dizzying highs of of me pinging one into the top bins, dreaming of Diego handing me that five-year contract in Madrid that I suddenly felt I deserved, Ivan Rakitic nutmegged me with the first pass of the drill brought and very kindly brought me agonisingly back down to earth. My legs flailed beneath me.
There must have been a mix up with the cameras at this point, as this footage unfortunately has gone missing and will never see the light of day…
Finally, we had our ability to pass and move examined, by this point my passing was rather let down by my very leggy movement! A casual glance over at Alvaro Morata, who completed all the drills alongside me, saw a man looking box fresh – with not a hair out of place.
The biggest takeaway from what was a pretty special day was that whilst I was blowing and almost seeing spots from Simeone’s elite drills, on the flip side, ?Rakitic and Morata seemed to coast through with ease.
The effortless and efficient way they moved, and the calm micro efforts that they made to position themselves perfectly to receive and give the ball, left them walking back toward the changing rooms immaculately turned out…and probably capable of doing it all over again.
I, on the other hand, was off to strike a deal with the camera crew filming to permanently erase the record of my face contorting as Rakitic so elegantly put the ball straight through my legs.