Before they became rival coaches of Atlético and Real Madrid, the two friends used to meet for dinner once a week to share confidences and discuss football tactics.
“Solari and I had a great relationship at San Lorenzo at the end of his career. I have a great memory of and affection for him. As a person, I wish him the best,” so stated Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone last November when Santiago Solari was appointed as Real Madrid’s interim manager following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.
Solari was a player at San Lorenzo when Simeone was brought in to manage the Argentine club in April, 2009. And in Simeone’s debut game in the coach’s seat, it was none other than Solari who scored a stunning goal in the 1-1 draw with Racing de Avellaneda.
During their recent years spent in Madrid, the pair have maintained a close friendship. They used to meet weekly for dinner – sometimes in the centre of Madrid, and other times next to Atlético’s training ground in the suburb of Majadahonda – to share confidences and discuss football. Both coaches (Simeone as Atlético first team coach; Solari as a coach in Real Madrid’s youth setup) would analyse what had happened in matches the weekend prior and discuss strategies, systems and solutions to problems that may have occurred.
The two friends and compartiots share a lot in common: they have spent part of their players careers at the same clubs, Atlético Madrid and Inter Milan; they have both played for the Argentinean national team (although the Madrid coach to a much lesser extent than Simeone); and both have made Madrid their home, where they have settled with their respective families.
It was at a Madrid restaurant called De María that the two resumed their friendship, after Solari had returned to the Spanish capital to take on a coaching role at Madrid’s youth academy. They had run into each other a couple of times, until one day they decided to meet for dinner to talk about football – a ritual they kept up for some time after that.
Solari's admiration for Simeone
In 2015, Solari was honest with the Argentine press about the nature of his meetings with ‘Cholo’ Simeone, and spoke of his admiration for his former San Lorenzo coach.
"What are you going to talk about with Cholo if it's not football!? He’s a phenomenon and I feel the greatest admiration for him, because he achieves what he sets outs to do,” said Solari.
“He is ready to manage the best teams in the world. Barcelona or Real Madrid? I don’t know. Not because Cholo has a limit, because he doesn’t. But because I see him very identified with Atlético and their style.”
Fast forward to 2019 and the wheel of fortune has turned in such a way that the pair will now face off for the first time as rival coaches in the Madrid derby – becoming enemies for 90 minutes. In some ways, it is a pity then that they won’t be able to meet up for dinner after to talk out those 90 minutes, as they once did as two simple friends.