Simeone confident of Real upset despite Costa injury
DIEGO SIMEONE is convinced Atletico Madrid can cap a spectacular run of achievements by beating city rivals Real Madrid in tomorrow’s Champions League final.
The 44-year-old head coach insists Atletico can triumph even if star striker Diego Costa is ruled out of the Lisbon showpiece by injury.
Atletico fans fear that Costa, who has been strongly linked with a summer move to Chelsea, may have played his last match for their side.
But the club have been battling to help him overcome the hamstring problem that makes him a major doubt, going to such lengths as to put him through a course of treatment that involves horse placenta.
He trained this evening, giving hope to those who felt he had little chance of being involved.
Costa's setback came during the draw at Barcelona that clinched the Spanish Primera Division title for Atletico, the greatest success yet of Simeone's reign but one that could be topped on Saturday.
"We'll examine him but we have other injury doubts too," said Argentinian Simeone. "They trained better yesterday but we'll wait and see."
Turkish midfielder Arda Turan was also hurt in the Nou Camp game, but appears more likely to make the starting line-up on Saturday than Costa.
"Costa and Arda are important players but they're just names," Simeone added. "It will either be them playing or two other players that we know."
Such is the ethos of Atletico, who lack the 'Galacticos' their city rivals enjoy parading but can point to a spirit in the camp that appears unmatched towards the top end of European football.
This is underlined by the players' unflinching confidence in their coach.
"We believe in Simeone," said captain Gabi. "For me he is the best. He has helped us to win, we are all here to win."
Simeone was appointed to lead a struggling Atletico on December 23, 2011, and his return to the club where he had two playing spells has brought more long-lasting joy than even the most optimistic supporter could hardly have imagined.
Of the 13 players who featured in his first game as Atletico boss, a goalless draw against Malaga on January 7, 2012, nine remain in Simeone's current squad, along with a trio of the unused substitutes from that day. Theirs is a success that has been hard-earned, not bought in.
Of those who have left, Atletico had their hand forced by the big money of Monaco when selling Radamel Falcao last summer for a fee close to £50million. Falcao was a talisman of last season's team and his departure looked set to make 2013-14 a testing one for Atletico.
They acquired David Villa as a replacement for a knock-down fee from Barcelona, with Spain's record scorer widely portrayed as a Nou Camp cast-off. Yet Villa and Atletico were adamant they would not be bit-part players in the Spanish season, and Simeone guided them to the top of the table early on.
Atletico had been jostling for top spot early in the 2012-13 season too, before falling away, but this time did not squander the title opportunity.
As he watched his old team-mates celebrate the championship in Barcelona, Colombian Falcao last weekend wrote on Twitter: "All the praise that can be awarded to 'Cholo' Simeone at this time falls short of his immense management."
It is difficult not to be wowed by Atletico's trophy haul in the two-and-a-half years since Simeone took over, consisting of a Europa League title, the European Super Cup, Copa del Rey, and the Spanish league.
Simeone has mastered the art of managing an underdog - which, despite their myriad of achievements, is the description Atletico are being tagged with again this weekend. There can be little doubt by now it suits them.
Speculation links Simeone with every top job in world football, not least the post of Argentina head coach. Alejandro Sabella will lead Argentina into the World Cup, yet many would sooner have Simeone at the helm, and that day seems destined to come, later in his career.
Heading into the biggest occasion of his coaching career, Simeone added: "I don't feel as overwhelmed as some people think but I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders."
Gabi is determined to lead with the assurance on the pitch that his boss demonstrates on the touchline.
The captain added: "It's the biggest game in the history of Atletico Madrid. I'm proud to wear this shirt. We will give everything."