Arsenal need to consider many names as a replacement for Arsene Wenger.
Diego Simeone shouldn’t be one of them.
After guiding his Atlético Madrid side to victory over Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Simeone is the soup du jour. Seeing one of the greatest attacking trios of all time reduced to mere spectators, due in large part to a brilliantly executed defensive scheme devised by the Argentine manager, has left many to wonder what would happen if he was asked to do the same at the Emirates Stadium.
The answer is simple; the fans wouldn’t accept it.
Much of the jubilant reaction after Atlético’s win didn’t stem from seeing the underdogs win, but from seeing Barça lose. Arsenal fans have a special disdain for the Catalan club, garnered over many years from constantly seeing their best players poached and having all too many experiences of seeing Barcelona’s gamesmanship first hand.
So when a team nullifies Barcelona in the manner that Atletico did, it’s only natural that the immediate response from those who want Wenger replaced in the immediate future, is for him to be replaced by the man who made Barca look ordinary. But there are a few important reasons why they should reconsider:
Simeone’s record isn’t as good as you think it is.
Under Simeone, Atlético Madrid have played Barcelona 17 times. They’ve won two of those games. Two. He’s about to finish his fourth full season at Madrid. He’s won the league once and the cup once during that time. That’s it. He has turned Atlético into the third best team in La Liga, which, granted, is no small feat in a league dominated by Barca and Real Madrid. But are they better than their rivals? No.
It’s not like there’s a huge gulf in talent between Atletico and the big two either. Diego Godin would walk into any starting XI in the world at the moment. Saul Niguez is a bona fide superstar in the making. Antoine Griezmann has the ability to win Euro 2016 by himself if France come to their senses and build the team around him and Paul Pogba instead of Karim Benzema.
Atlético aren’t over-achieving under Diego Simeone, they’re simply achieving.
Simeone’s style of football is not good to watch.
We all know how skilled Barcelona are at the dark arts of football. The dives. The cheeky off the ball kick at a defender when the referee isn’t looking. The constant haranguing of said referee when a decision doesn’t go their way. Whenever Barcelona aren’t beating you with footballing talent, they beat you with footballing chicanery. But at least they try to beat you with their talent first.
Under Simeone, it’s the other way around.
At the start of every game, Atlético Madrid set up to stop the opposition from playing. This is their primary concern, and they will do so by any means necessary. Their high press may be a joy to watch when it is applied as brilliantly as it was against Barcelona on Wednesday, but when that failed, anything that could be described as aesthetic also become obsolete.
For large periods of a game in which they needed to score or else be eliminated from the competition, Atlético kept two banks of four behind the ball at all times, and took turns to kick whoever was in possession of the ball. If a successful tackle was made, the ball was drilled up the pitch towards either Griezmann or Ferreira-Carrasco up front, in the hope of their pace catching the back four off-guard. If it didn’t work, they’d retreat back to the half-way line and the whole process would start again.
Is it acceptable whilst playing against a side of the calibre of Barcelona? Absolutely. But this has been Simeone’s game plan for every game they played this season. He simply isn’t interested in beating you, he’s far too concerned with you not beating him. He is, in essence, Jose Mourinho, except without all the antics that the Portuguese one engages in with the media. On the sideline, they are mirror images of each other.
If Simeone won trophies at Arsenal, does it matter how he wins them?
This is the million dollar question; should Arsenal settle for merely winning? This seems like an asinine question, but in an age when Arsenal fans are asked to hand out thousands of pounds to watch their team play every year, should they expect to see their team try to merely win games, or try to win games and maintain their ethos of attacking football at the same time?
It’s all very well by saying you wouldn’t mind at the end of the season if Arsenal have a trophy in their hands, but asking someone to pay £100 to watch the football that Simeone will make Arsenal play, will become a very tall order once it becomes routine. Ask anyone of their memories of Highbury during the George Graham years and the responses will be very similar; great occasions, lousy football.
In 2016, with ticket prices at an all-time high, Arsenal have a responsibility to give its fan base value for money during the course of the whole season, and not just at the end of May. Those fans deserve to watch a team trying to be better than the opposition, and not trying to bring the opposition down to their level. Winning a trophy, and being better than the opposition are two completely different goals, but are not incongruent of each other. Arsenal should always be looking to do both.
Diego Simeone is a good manager doing a good job. and deserves a lot of praise for his work at Atlético Madrid. But Arsenal can do better than him if they want to.