The Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was opened in 2017 at a cost of €310million, but no value can be put on the 70,000-strong Atlético Madrid congregation that flock religiously to the ground to be conducted by the greatest choirmaster in the world, Diego ‘Cholo’ Simeone.
Jürgen Klopp might catch attention by routinely ranting and raving, and riling and inspiring devotion in equal measure, but even the German was left utterly Medusa’ed by Simeone’s own performance as Liverpool travelled to the Spanish capital to suffer a 1-0 Champions League defeat in the first leg of their Last 16 tie with Los Rojiblancos.
Simeone smashed and grabbed through Saúl Ñíguez then subsequently shut up shop, a tactic that appeared to be not all that surprising but nevertheless grating to his counterpart, accentuated by Simeone’s exuberant eccentricities that made the Wanda electric.
“If you want to play like this, and the stadium are happy with how you play, just for the result, they are not here to see sensational football, but they got the result and they are now happy” were Klopp’s comments.
Simeone won’t care, the man with the cojones that he enjoys letting the world - friends and enemies alike - see, almost literally.
Under Simeone not only have Atlético Madrid never lost a Champions League knockout match at home, his Rojiblancos have only ever conceded 11 home goals in the Champions League. That’s just two more than the number of years he’s been managing them.
After Tuesday night’s narrow victory, Atleti have not only now kept five clean sheets in their last six UCL games at the Wanda Metropolitano but also become the first team in 34 games to stop Liverpool - top of the Premier League pile - from scoring.
Salt was further rubbed in the wounds when Klopp was shown a yellow card by referee Szymon Marciniak for his remonstrations, a booking that Simeone somehow brilliantly, bastardly avoided through the course of the game.
"Welcome to Anfield... It's not over yet."
Jurgen Klopp knows it's all to play for despite a 1-0 loss to Atletico ð
Mere minutes after half-time, Simeone was master of ceremonies, conjuring up the crowd to revel in the ecstasy he appeared to be imbibed with. Seemingly using the serrated touchline markings as a guideline. If the markings were instead said to be the boundaries for a tied-up rabid dog, and said dog was substituted in for Simeone, then get your shots in. Air must be frightened to be around the Argentine for fear of being punched so much.
Atlético may be disciplined in defence, but their manager is far from disciplined on the touchline.
Combining Atlético Madrid’s pragmatism and efficiency (the result over performance) with his own individual image, in his all-black attire like a malicious Neo, it isn’t harm to paint Simeone as the dastardly antagonist, one twirling moustache away from the full package.
Many of the thousands of English Liverpool fans in attendance will likely remember that it was Cholo who helped get the Three Lions’ David Beckham sent off in their tragic encounter with Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.
But this image is somewhat unjust. His £36.2m salary may grate against the working class stigma of his character and nickname, but Simeone has hidden depths to his character. On the way to winning La Liga in 2014, returning after 18 years, Simeone invited Paralympic skier Irene Villa to address his footballers and provide the team-talk. Villa was 12 when she lost her legs in a terrorist attack in 1991, and her influence was said to profoundly move the Los Rojiblancos in attendance.
Simeone is said never to skip dinner with his family, despite the fact they reside in Buenos Aires. The 49-year-old ‘joins them’ by placing a laptop opposite him while he eats from the comfort of his own home.
And that said family are football through and through. Not only was his father, Carlos Alberto, an amateur footballer, but Diego’s sister is his agent. Simeone has been shown in attendance at son Giovanni’s games in Italy, where he has been a player at Genoa, Fiorentina, and Cagliari, and revelled as a spectator, as a fan in celebration when the occasion calls for it. His middle son Gianluca also currently plays for Ibiza.
But Diego Simeone takes that to a whole new level ð®
A manager who lives and breathes for his team.
The highest paid manager in the world has gone some way to legitimize his salary. Never finishing outside of the top three in Spain, Atlético's first-round knockout tie versus Liverpool means they are still back in the last 16 of the Champions League for the sixth time since 2014 (Los Rojiblancos had previously reached this same stage seven times in sixty years). His Messiah quality in the shadow of the behemothic city rivals Real has seen him return the Spanish La Liga title as both player and manager to Atleti.
Before the recent meeting Jürgen Klopp acknowledged the qualities that observers have said the two managers share before bowing to Simeone’s peerless passion: “People say I’m emotional,” Klopp said, “If I’m level four, he’s 12. Wow. I’m like the kindergarten cop against him.”
Klopp was of course full of certain boisterous rhetoric in the aftermath: “0-0 would have been OK for them,” with a sensation of salt as he prepared to swiftly sneak out of Spain, “Our people will be ready...Welcome to Anfield.”
Anfield will need to be ready for Simeone.
Him and his big cojones.