The slums of Buenos Aires are the home of the two biggest clubs in Argentina: River Plate and Boca Juniors, so it’s no wonder that some of the most gifted footballers in the world hail from the Argentinian city. Diego Maradona is the standout name, although his glittering playing career (including the infamous ‘Hand of God’) has been slightly marred by his recent and well documented drug abuse. But there’s someone who slips under the radar somewhat, someone who has been capped 15 more times for his country. That man is Diego Simeone, and surprise, surprise, he’s also from the slums of Buenos Aires.
Born in 1970, his playing career started in 1984 at the age of 14 where he played for his local side. His coach nicknamed him ‘Cholo’ because his style of play reminded him of Boca Juniors star Carmelo Simeone. When he was 17 he got his break and started to make his name as the defensive midfielder who would reach the highest level. Club Atletico Valez Sarsfield gave him his debut in professional football and in the three years he spent there he notched up 76 appearances, scoring 14 goals. In this time he earned his first international call up. Argentine manager, Alfio Basile, saw Simeone’s potential and played him in a friendly against Australia.
In 1990 Simeone caught the attention of Pisa and was shipped across the equator into Europe where he spent the rest of his playing career, the majority of which was in Italy. His goals to game ratio wasn’t as good at Pisa as at Valez but that wasn’t what he was about – as a defensive midfielder he sat in front of the defense sweeping up everything that came his way, and in that area he was world class.
He first made the trip to Spain when he signed for Sevilla in 1992 where played 64 games in just two years, an impressive accomplishment for someone still in the early stages of his career. Fitness clearly wasn’t an issue as he also played in that year’s Copa America, scoring in the final. However, it wasn’t until he moved to Atletico Madrid in 1994 that he started to add an impressive array of silverware to his shining ability. In 1996 he helped the club to a La Liga and Copa del Rey double before moving back to Italy in 1997. That wasn’t the end of the Argentine’s love affair with Spain, but it was a period of his life that he left behind for a number of years. In the same year he also won a silver medal with the Argentinian national side in the Atlanta Olympics.
Inter Milan was the next step in his journey where more glory followed in the form of the UEFA Cup. In the 1998 World Cup he was involved in controversy as he admitted to faking an injury to get David Beckham sent off in Argentina’s final 16 tie with England. In 1999 he made a big money move to Lazio who had a wealth of Argentine players including Hernan Crespo and Juen Sebastian Veron. It was here he won his first Italian Serie A title and Coppa Italia, completing the double for the club.
When he was 33 the experienced midfielder moved back to Atletico Madrid where he spent a further two seasons, taking his total of appearances for the club to 134. In 2005 he moved back to Argentina to play for Racing where his 36 games for his club took his club career total to 513 appearances and 84 goals. If you include his International appearances the Argentine played a total of 619 games and 95 goals. After a long playing career you would have thought that he had enough of the beautiful game – but his new career was just beginning…
After retiring from football as a player he bounced straight back into the game as manager, taking over Racing in 2006. Although the team didn’t have the best of starts, he eventually inspired them to a decent finish in the league. After leaving the post in May 2006 he took the reins at another Argentinian club: Estudiantes de La Plata. Here he continued his winning ways and won the club’s first league title in 23 years.
His next management job was also in Argentina. His fantastic work at La Plata earned him the chance to takeover River Plate where his winning ways continued as he also won the league championship there in 2008. The form didn’t continue and after a run of 11 games without a win and River Plate languishing at the bottom of the league, Simeone resigned with six games remaining.
This was followed by spells at San Lorenzo and Sicilian side Catania before he returned to Racing for another season in the hot seat.
In December 2011 he was handed control at Atletico Madrid. In less than a year in charge at the club, Simeone has brought them UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup success, beating both Athletic Bilbao and Chelsea convincingly. With the club now in second place in La Liga, eight points ahead of rivals Real Madrid, and with Falcao leading the line, who knows what the future holds? One thing is for sure: it’s a bright one.