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Diego Simeone: Play-Acting Cheat Or Hero?
Tuesday February 21 2006

By Sheridan Bird

We all know him as the man who acted as if hit by a sniper and not David Beckham's flick of the foot. But to Sheridan Bird and a nation of Italians, he is one of the true footballing greats. We look at the retiring player...

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Say the name Diego Pablo Simeone to a room full of Italians and in response you will hear words like 'forte' (strong), 'grintoso' (gutsy) and very possibly even 'furbo' (sly/cunning). If you repeat the same name to a load of English fans you will hear a different type of word, rather more industrial and less complimentary.

Last Friday the international cult figure played his final match, and is now officially a coach at Racing Club. But the question is, which opposing view of Diego the player is nearest to the truth?

There is no point in denying that 'El Cholo' (The Native) is a streetwise, sometimes dirty player. We all remember 1998’s theatrical tumble that resulted in David Beckham’s red card, and how in Japan during the tense England-Argentina group match, he did his best to steal centre stage once again. After Collina had awarded the penalty, the dastardly number 14 was trying to shake hands with Becks, as if to wish him good luck, but, in reality to put him off. This is the kind of villain that smiles before stabbing you, the charming Mafiosi in the shiny suit with the biggest hug for his worst enemy.

It was a tribute to Beckham’s character that he slotted that fabled penalty home, but the whole episode showed that while cloggers just kick, the best bad guys use more intelligent tactics to try and gain an advantage. Interestingly, Simeone shook the England captain’s hand in a genuine show of respect as the two ran off for half-time. Maybe he was not only saying 'well done' to him for scoring, but also for not letting the snidey strategy get to him.

These things have long fuelled the legend of 'Dirty Diego'. In an interview on Argentine TV the other Diego, Mr Maradona, chortled and complimented the central midfielder on getting two players sent off in consecutive matches through his diving at France ’98 (Arthur Newman of Holland also saw red after a fracas with Simeone). Our papers love to bitch about this 'cheating Argie'. However, there is much more to this wily South American than just trouble-making.

Anyone doubting his ability has only to look at his record. In 1989 he starred for Argentina in the Junior World Cup, and helped the senior squad to successive Copa America victories in 1991 and 1993 - an incredible feat considering his age (21 in ’91) and position as holding midfielder. A team which plays with as much flair as Argentina needs a strong man to do the spade work, freeing all of the creative players to perform their magic. He then picked up a silver medal in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. His final cap was in that infamous defeat by England in Sapporo at World Cup 2002, and his overall record stands at an impressive 106 appearances (the Argentine record) and three World Cups in sky blue and white, proving he isn’t merely a hatchet man.

Despite a slow start in terms of honours at club level he went on to have football’s equivalent of the Midas touch. At Atletico Madrid he did the unthinkable and won a league and cup double in his second season in 1996. After he left Spain for a second spell in Italy, Atletico were relegated, and have never looked like hitting such heights again. He drove a star-studded Inter to UEFA Cup glory and to within a hair’s breadth of Lo Scudetto in 1998, working tirelessly in midfield for the likes of Djorkaeff and Ze’ Elias. The Nerazzurri, like Atletico, haven’t won a major trophy since he left.

His final Italian club, Lazio, won their first title since 1975 in his first season in sky blue in 2000, during which he contributed five goals from midfield. None of these honours can be a mere coincidence. Sure, the teams he has played for have had great players, but this man has got unbreakable spirit. Maybe he hasn’t got the skill of Baggio, but he gives everything. His presence, determination and football know-how are priceless in an era of mercenaries and non-caring football stars with no love for the shirt they wear.

In the summer of 2003 Cholo returned to his spiritual home in Europe, the Vicente Calderon. One last hurruah with the people’s club of Madrid. A final chance to wind up the pompous Real and show his stuff in front of his adoring fans. Alas, time had long since caught up with him, and in this ill-fated second spell he struggled with his fitness and was no longer a regular in the starting XI. It goes without saying that he will always be a cult hero among the fans of Atleti though.

Tired of Europe after 14 seasons and sick of the politics of Spanish football the ageing legend signed a contract with his boyhood team Racing in January 2005. The move had been widely predicted, but such was the midfielder’s desire to return home he joined earlier than had been expected. "We thought Simeone might come to Racing in June (2005) but (the move) has been brought forward," General Manager Fernando Marin told Argentina's Radio Continental at the time, quite clearly thrilled at the coup. "He is a gritty and proud player," added Marin.

This closing adventure had its fair share of scrapes with the authorities, well-taken goals and naughty fouls, but is over. "I will play until June 2006 and after I will go. It's definite because the moment is right for me," he announced on December 8. True to his word, he played his final match last Friday and the lovable rogue has now taken over as coach of Racing. Anybody who worked with him in his colourful career (stopping off at Velez Sarsfield, Pisa, Inter Milan, Lazio, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Racing for the record) will vouch for his motivational skills.

One final story typifies the player. During the 1999 Champions League quarter-final second leg at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, when Inter were playing Manchester United, the influential midfielder had to be substituted after injuring an ankle. He disappeared down the tunnel and got it strapped up. However, ten minutes later, he was back at pitch side, in a heavy warm-up jacket, hobbling around with one boot and sock off shouting and encouraging his team-mates. Many players would have showered, put on their expensive suit and watched the remainder of the match with the President or inside the dressing-room on television. Not this man though.

This man, a combative tough guy from Buenos Aires, is what they call a born winner, for whom the phrase 'Never say die' was written. If you don’t like Diego Pablo Simeone, you don’t understand football. Now let’s all sit back and see what mayhem he can cause with a suit and tie on from the dugout...

http://www.football365.com/features/f365_features/story_177851.shtml
 

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simeone is my hero when i was young, he is always a rojiblanco !!
 

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Simeone was a great player and definetly an Atleti legend, i was one of the English people mad with him though at WC 98!
 
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