Diego Simeone has identified the soft under-belly of tiki-taka football and wasted no time in ripping out the flesh of the flawed philosophy. The Argentinian has guided his Atletico Madrid side to the Champions League final once more, felling the biggest of tika-taka adversaries in the process – getting his hands on the illustrious trophy would be the prize he deserves.
The Champions League has become a formulaic competition in recent years, any side that can eliminate Pep Guardiola from the draw has proceeded to triumph in the final. After the disappointment of 2014, fans of Los Rojiblancos will be praying the prophecy holds as they prepare for the 2016 rematch against their bitter rivals Real Madrid.
As the philosopher behind tika-taka, Guardiola’s concept of football is overwhelmingly oppressive, choking the life out of his opposition. At the peak of it’s powers, Pep’s dominating style of football reduced unprepared opponents to mere shadow-chasers, sapping both the energy and the spirits of opposing sides trying in vain to prevent Pep’s missionaries from scoring goals that preached tika-taka to the masses.
Yet the compensation for resisting the endless onslaught and relentless movement, has consistently been the glory of a final victory: Mourinho’s Inter, Di Matteo’s Chelsea, Ancelotti’s Real Madrid and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona – all passed Guardiola’s tika-taka test on their routes to the final.
Mourinho and Di Matteo’s sides both weathered the storm and got lucky, Ancelotti met Pep’s Bayern on an uncharacteristic evening and Luis Enrique simply fought fire with fire, ultimately outgunning the German outfit.
Only Simeone can really boast consistent success across two legs against Guardiola sides. After eliminating Guardiola’s disciples of Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the quarters, Atletico outwitted Bayern Munich in the semi-final to book their place in the final. Simeone looks into the eye of tika-taka football and punches it square in the face with force.
Simeone’s Ateltico Madrid are the epitome of a unified defensive outfit, almost entirely impenetrable yet capable of unleashing incisive counter-attacks that can dismantle even the best teams in the world. In the Champions League there is nothing overtly complicated Simeone’s tactics – his teams work hard and just bide their time.
Both Bayern and Barca boasted more than 70 per cent of the ball over four legs against Simeone’s men, employing the Guardiola philosophy to break down the Atletico backline. But winning does not revolve around passing and Simeone knows this, pulling off the smash and grab time and time again.
“He always asks for more, he never wants you to slacken off,
“There should always be tension – in training and in our games – and he always seems to find the right words to say to you, so that you give everything and you’re at 100 per cent. He has turned me into a better player. He’s turned me into a winner.”
Simeone deserves great credit for his ability to gel stand-out talents like Griezmann alongside fan-favourite veterans like Fernando Torres – each fulfil an invaluable role in the Atletico setup, kogs in the wheel of the Argentinian’s design. There is an unbreakable team spirit running through Atletico, from the coach to the players to the supporters, a collective strength that can overpower even the finest of footballing philosophies.
Diego Simeone personifies Atletico Madrid. His Champions League final squad has been constructed in entirely his own image. He understand the strengths of his players and plays to them, it’s as simple as that.
The incisive ball through the middle when Atletico momentarily gain possession, their dominance in the air both defensively and offensively, the unwavering discipline across the midfield ranks – forget tika-taka, this is Simeone’s formula for success.