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Simeone: "I had 35 million reasons to leave Atleti..."

In the first of a two part exclusive interview with AS journalist Marco Ruiz, Atleti boss Diego Simeone openly discusses his current situation at the LaLiga club
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Simeone, durante un momento de la entrevista.
Felipe Sevillano / Diario AS

Has being Atlético Madrid first team coach taken its toll on you?

It's now been over five years and I'm still happy as that adrenaline that football players give you on a day to day basis is tremendous. It revitalises me. Look at the way the team responded the other day in the game against Sevilla. That's what keeps me going.

Is it ever a burden that so much focus falls on you?

This is a responsibility I've had from day one at the club. When I arrived I was the former player and club hero, not the coach that I've shown to be. I've always felt a level of responsibility and I felt people saw me arriving as a symbol of change...

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Are you comfortable in that role?

In life I respond better when the challenge and the level of responsibility is greater. So to answer the question then yes, in this past five and a half years I have absolutely no complaints...

However, after the Champions League final in Milan, you claimed that you wanted to reflect on your future with the club. Was that a spontaneous comment or something premeditated?

As I proceeded to the press room post game, I had to pass by the area where the Madrid squad were celebrating and I felt, and still feel pain. It suddenly dawned on me that a difficult year lay ahead and it would be complicated to be totally committed to the guys...

But you managed to overcome that situation?

No, I didn't overcome it, I stated how I felt at the time and I wanted space to reflect. Is that wrong? If I'd wanted to move to another club, then I had 35 million reasons to go, 35 million reasons ! But in the end I didn't go because I didn't want to and I still don't want to. I still feel a strong sense of identity with the club and in what I do here on a day to day basis and have a massive attachment to the squad and feel that we are still 'raw recruits'.

You really feel that way?

Without a doubt. The club are having an excellent time at present but there is room for improvement. We're about to move to a new stadium, our budget is improving and with God's help we'll stay in the Champions League and that in turn helps us too…

So what prompted you to reduce you're contract from 2020 to 2018?

I felt that was something best for me and the institution.

* Video interview of Diego Simeone (in Spanish)

For the club, in what way?

How can I explain this… There was a contract improvement as nowadays clearly it's complicated for a football club to hang onto their manager for extended spells of time. Paying less in a shorter spell of time is less damaging.

When you amended this contract term, you did it without advising your backroom staff?

They were aware of everything that was going on.

And did they secure a salary increase too?

Those who think that I'd forget to look after the people who work closely with me obviously don't know me. I think first about my staff and then worry about my own issues.

So as we sit here today, can you guarantee that you'll be on the Atleti bench next season?

I've already stated that I plan to stay. Look at how difficult it is to get a starting place in our team as the past five years have seen the likes of Juanfran, Gabi, Koke, Godín, Saúl, Tiago… The exciting thing is that now the team is compensated by young talents such as Carrasco, Griezmann, Correa… Did you see Lucas play? He's got a huge future at the club, what a player! This is a guy who could play for Bayern or at Real Madrid. He's got it all, technical skill, intensity and is in fantastic condition. And he's our player, one of our own, you get me?

Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Atletico de Madrid at Anoeta stadium on November 5, 2016 in San Sebastian
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Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Atletico de Madrid at Anoeta stadium on November 5, 2016 in San SebastianDavid RamosGetty Images

Are you happy with Gameiro?

I feel he's on the right path. He's already scored 14 goals this season and I'm sure he'll be on target again…

Did you expect more from the player?

He links up really well with Griezmann and has provided plenty of assists. I like the Gameiro -Griezmann striking option and our opponents know that playing against them will be a complicated task.

Do you feel the season would have worked out differently had Diego Costa returned?

It could have been better or worse. He's playing really well with Chelsea and I'm convinced that he's one of they keys to their great season.

Diego Costa of Chelsea
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Diego Costa of ChelseaMatthew Ashton - AMAGetty Images

Why didn't the move materialise?

Atlético tried everything to get him to come back and Diego played his role too in trying to secure the move...

So he wanted to come back too?

Yes, yes, he was keen to move.

What does Griezmann mean to you?

He's the player in the team that is first to react to our forward strategies. You give him an instruction and bingo! He assimilates the information and carries out the instruction to perfection. It's incredible...

Is he a little robotic?

No, far from it, he's extremely bright. Apart from what he offers the side in an attacking capacity is his ability to read the game.

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Is there a risk that he may leave the club?

Yes, because he has a release clause. There is no strict guarantee.

Have you talked to him?

Last summer we discussed the matter in-depth and he decided to stay.

Did he decide to stay because you decided to remain at the club?

Well, that's how he pitched it to me: "If you stay, I'll stay", so our respective representatives went to work. Going forward, I'm not sure of what will happen. The success of this team will benefit the players as the best players always want to play in the Champions League and endeavour to reach the final but Griezmann is a fine player and I would never force him to stay. I didn't try that with Diego Costa or even Falcao. Players who have given their all should be free to make their own decisions but having said that, those who stay will get the chance to grow with the team and the club.

Gaitán, Vietto, Jackson… Do you feel responsible for these poor signings?

I feel responsable for all that has happened at this club since my arrival so you can imagine how happy I am.

Do you view Torres as a "hot potato". Did you want to sign him for his ability or for his iconic status with the club?

We needed Torres the player, at the time Mandzukic was our key forward as Costa had left and we need someone with his style of play. We all spoke about him coming at length and we were always upfront about him joining.

And what about Torres the idol?

His goals are his testament. When a player can get 50.000 people to watch their presentation then there has to be something there. 

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Will Torres renew?

It's impossible to answer that at present.

Does he deserve it?

It all depends on what the team needs. When the campaign finishes, we'll sit down and look for the best interests of the football club.

Will you miss the magic of the Calderón?

The nostalgia and affection that one holds for the Calderón will never change and will live forever with all the fans. But we all need to evolve and the club is striving to grow and become bigger. I'm sure that even the detractors will be change their minds in the future.

A general view of the Vicente Calderon stadium ahead of the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Granada CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.
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A general view of the Vicente Calderon stadium ahead of the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Granada CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.Denis DoyleGetty Images

Will Simeone leave Atlético without winning the Champions League or will he go when Atlético win the Champions League?

I really hope we remain in a position to keep competing as we are as it's an excellent feeling. The other day when I arrived at the ground I found myself wrapped up in emotion and that rarely happens to me!

Why do you say that?

It's because the Vicente Calderón has that ability to affect you. When we play at four the sun hits the stand at a particular angle and the red and white seats glinted in an unusual manner. With the sun shining, the atmosphere, banners and flags can all generate an incredible energy. I really hope that this is something we can bring to the new Metropolitano.

Read the second part of the interview with Diego Simeone

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