Exclusive interview: What can Catania expect from new Coach Diego Simeone?

Many calcio supporters will remember Diego Simeone, the player, for his fiercely competitive nature, his determination to win and his passion for the game. As a Coach, his experience has been limited to teams in his home country but when Catania approached the Argentine, Simeone could not refuse a chance to go back to the Peninsula where he enjoyed great success as a player.
Having triumphed in the early stages of his coaching career, leading Estudiantes and River Plate to great victories, Simeone fell from grace and left his last club, San Lorenzo after being subjected to escalating criticism and harsh bullying from the fans. So what can Catania really expect from the tactician who has experienced both the summit of success and the epitome of failure? We have asked Daniel Colasimone, Editor of the hugely popular website Argentinafootballworld.com
How would you define Diego Simeone’s style as a Coach?
Think of Simeone the player and you will get a good idea of how he coaches – a nice blend of intelligence and aggression. Although he was a defensive-minded midfielder, he has shown he is quite an attacking and positive manager.
Sharp and crafty as a player, how tactically astute is the man considering he is now coaching in arguably the most tactical league in the world?
He will definitely be on a learning curve in Italy. Argentine coaches are generally extremely tactical, and Simeone is no different, but there is a limited number of tactical set ups used in this country. He will have to be adaptable, but I believe he will be able to handle it. He obviously spent most of his career in Europe, and his vast experience on the Old Continent will serve him well now.
When it comes to substitutions, is he apt at making that key decision that will change the game around?
Simeone is not afraid to shake things up. His gambles may not always come off but he will always be proactive when things are not going well.
What is he like with his players – does he like to form a close bond or does he adopt an authoritarian approach?
He seems to be of the Mourinho style when it comes to bonding with players. He likes to form a tight-knit group and will encourage players from the side-line and give them hugs and pats on the back etc. However, he is fairly scary when he is angry. I’d say as he ages he will become more of an authoritarian manager.
He once said that he never relies on one formation, choosing instead to work with the players available to him by finding what shape suits them best. However, is there a shape he is known to prefer?
As you say, he is adaptable, but generally likes a flexible 4-4-2 or 4-3-1-2 with an enganche (trequartista). He also likes to have one or maybe two big target men up front.
As a Coach, Simeone’s star was rising as he led Estudiantes to their first league title in 23 years before then winning the Clausura Championship with River Plate in 2008. He was voted as the best Manager in the Argentine League in 2006. However, swiftly after poor results led him to resign from his post both at River Plate and San Lorenzo. What happened?
His stock was at its absolute highest after winning the title with a mediocre River team. At that stage you felt he could have moved anywhere he wanted. However he stuck around and the very next season River got knocked out of the Libertadores in dramatic fashion and were right down the bottom of the table when he left. That failure had a lot to do with the chaotic atmosphere around the club, which has persisted for the past few years. Actually, winning that championship with Simeone as Coach was a huge blip in an otherwise terrible period for the ‘Millionarios’. He also lost the goalkeeper Carrizo to Lazio which really destabilised the team. Likewise, San Lorenzo were already in a terrible state when Simeone joined. This big Buenos Aires teams are under intense pressure from fans to be successful all the time, which is why managers are fired so frequently. Things were not going great for Simeone with San Lorenzo but he was not given much time to help the team out of its rut either.
It is said that speculation linking the role of Argentina National Team Coach to Simeone prior to the 2010 World Cup had an adverse effect on his career? Do you agree with that statement?
No, not really. Simeone has not worked since April of last year and talk of him managing the national team probably kept him at the forefront of peoples’ minds a bit. I do think that he will eventually take on the role of National Team Coach.
At River Plate, many blame the poor run of form on the tensions between Diego Simeone and club legend Ariel Ortega who was renowned for suffering from alcoholism and was poorly disciplined. Would you say this is accurate?
That was rumoured to be a major issue. Ortega has had similar problems with all the River Coaches in recent years. The problem for the Managers is that ‘El Burrito’ is a club legend and if they drop him for disciplinary reasons or make a move to sell or loan him, there is a huge backlash from certain sections of the club’s fans. It’s a bit of a no-win situation for the Coach.
Simeone left San Lorenzo in unceremonious conditions. Fans said he failed to exploit the potential of their stars and motivate the team to accrue good results. Considering he arrived at a moment of a crisis in which the club was lying 18th in the league, would you say he was in over his head?
The San Lorenzo stint probably remains the biggest blot on Simeone’s career as a Coach so far. As I said earlier, he dived into a difficult situation (which perhaps calls into question his judgement somewhat) and didn’t really turn things around for the team, even though he was not given very long to do it.
What were the key reasons behind his extraordinary success at Estudiantes?
First and foremost, he was working with a wonderful team. But that is not the only element required for success – Estudiantes didn’t win the title again until another fine Coach in Alejandro Sabella came along. At Estudiantes, Simeone’s knowledge of the modern game gave him an advantage over some other domestic managers. He was able to utilise Veron to full effect and he had the respect of the players.
Like you mentioned, at Estudiantes, Simeone built his team around Juan Sebastian Veron who acted a deep-laying playmaker – apt at holding possession and dictating play. Catania are missing that key player. How will Simeone work around this absence?
It’s only been 1 day since this decision was announced and already rumours abound about players who will follow Simeone to Catania. Having coached some very good players at Racing, River, Estudiantes and San Lorenzo over the past few years, he could do wonders for Catania’s recruitment system. Do not be surprised if someone like Racing’s Claudio Yacob joins ‘El Cholo’ in Sicily soon to slot into that midfield role. Otherwise he will find a way to make do without that midfielder.
Playing with two strikers in addition to support from the wingers, an offensively-minded Coach like Simeone can really exploit the skill Catania boasts up top. However, with a defence that has conceded 25 goals this season, Can he be relied upon to shore up the back-line?
I suppose this depends a great deal on who he can bring into the team. He likes to play four at the back, but if the personnel are not there, it will be hard to fix a leaky defence.
How do you feel he will do at Catania?
Pretty soon I think Simeone will be coaching at one of his old teams. Lazio, Atletico Madrid, someone like that. Eventually I see him at a really big club like Inter, and as I said, probably in the Abiceleste role at some stage too. This Catania job looks alarmingly like the San Lorenzo situation, so there is a slight worry he could get swept up in the panic of a relegation fight and fail to impress. However, if he can recruit well and take advantage of the Argentine influence at the club, he may be able to lift the team into mid-table and will be in the shop window for ‘bigger’ teams. Away from the pitch I think he will prove a popular figure. He always looks polished in his tailored suits and he enjoys his social life. He and his model wife (who have had their problems over the years) are always on the front pages of gossip magazines here in Argentina – attending glamorous events, frolicking on the beach in their swimwear or breaking up with each other before getting back together. The Italian public may well enjoy his arrival.
What is his policy when it comes to youth. Does he depend on veterans or is he likely to nurture developing youngsters?
He is not especially known for developing young players but he seems to pick his teams based on merit and balance, meaning they are usually a good mix of youngsters and veterans.
As a Coach, he is known to admire Jose Mourinho. Would you say they had much in common?
I compared Simeone to Mourinho earlier before and yes, you see some similarities there. Simeone, like Mou, is a progressive young Coach – always keenly aware of tactical developments in the game. I don’t think he will be quite as abrasive in press conferences but he is a strong character who should greatly interest the media. We will have to check back in five years’ time to see whether he merits a comparison in terms of coaching ability — he still has a long way to go there.
Renowned to be fiercely competitive and passionate on the pitch, are we likely to witness outlandish behaviour on the side-lines from the former Inter and Lazio man?
Simeone is surprisingly calm a lot of the time, but underneath it all, he is just as passionate now as he was in his playing days and does have a temper. He does explode occasionally and he is quite interesting to watch on the side-lines – screaming and gesticulating at players and referees with his military haircut, angry pit bull face and Italian suits.

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