Diego Simeone is fast earning a reputation as one of the best young coaches in Europe having achieved the seemingly impossible at Atletico Madrid.
Sure, the Argentine had already shown his potential since hanging up his midfield boots. Having led Estudiantes to their first league title in 23 years in 2006, he then guided River Plate to the 2008 Clausura championship. Spells at San Lorenzo and Racing Club sandwiched a stint in Italy with Catania, before he returned to Spain in 2011.
Simeone was first introduced to Spanish football when he joined Sevilla in 1992, spending two years with Los Rojiblancos before he signed for Atletico. He spent three years at the Vicente Calderon, during which he won the La Liga and Copa del Rey double in 1996, before he left for Serie A and spells with both Internazionale and Lazio. He then returned to the Spanish capital for a second spell, before finishing his career at Racing.
Having worn the red and white stripes with such merit as a player, his appointment as Atletico coach in December 2011 was warmly received. Yet not even the most optimistic of supporters could have expected him to deliver to the level he has: The UEFA Europa League was soon followed by the UEFA Super Cup and, last season, he took his side across the capital to defeat rivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final.
Had Simeone decided to walk away there and then, he would have been remembered a hero. But the 44-year-old could see the quality he has at his disposal and, on Saturday evening in the Camp Nou, he achieved what many felt impossible when a 1-1 draw in Barcelona’s back yard was enough to give his club a first league title in 18 years.
Even the home fans, who knew one more goal from their heroes would have seen them crowned, broke out into applause at the final whistle. They will also be cheering on the champions next weekend when they travel to Lisbon to take on Real in the final of the Champions League, a competition in which runner-up in 1974 is their best showing.
Yet for all they have achieved under Simeone, especially this season, few would back against Atletico banishing the memories of that 4-0 replay defeat to Bayern Munich 40 years ago. Fans will be keeping everything crossed that star striker Diego Costa and midfielder Arda Turan will be fit for the showpiece in Portugal, both having suffered injuries in Catalonia. But there are stars elsewhere in the team: Diego Godin, who scored the crucial equaliser against Barca, on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, midfielders Koke and Gabi, and David Villa, who could play a leading role if Costa fails to recover from injury.
As for Simeone, he knows that less than a month after he celebrated his 44th birthday, he is already on the verge of a clean sweep of major honours as a manager.