Diego Simeone has been giving interviews ahead of the start of the Champions League group stages. In a wide ranging interview with UEFA.com, Simeone spoke about Atlético Madrid’s group opponents, signings Luciano Vietto and Jackson Martínez, his team talks and their unbeaten home record.
UEFA.com: You are in Group C with Galatasaray, Benfica and Astana. Would you say it’s quite a favourable draw for Atlético Madrid? How do you see it?
Diego Simeone: Using words like that can generate complacency. Once the competition starts, it’s never as you imagined. We start away from home which isn’t a good thing and demands a lot of focus.
Last year we were in what many considered a favourable group, but we found it very hard to get through because we lost our first match away from home and then we had to win many matches on the bounce to recover and end up finishing top.
Let’s hope we’ve learned from that experience so we can make a strong start in Turkey. Then it’s Benfica at home. In theory they are our strongest opponents and will be battling to qualify with us. Our first two fixtures therefore invite a cautious approach. But as we’ve always done here, we’ll just focus on the first game.
UEFA.com: In the minutes before a game, what do you do: speak to players specifically, or with the whole group?
Simeone: No, normally we get everything done across the week – we prepare for the game in every training session. Let’s say on a Saturday evening we have an instructional video outlining what we have to work on during the week. So then, just prior to a game, there are five minutes to focus on a detail you may have forgotten about. That’s the sort of situation you encounter at that moment; you push a certain button helping the players to operate in the best way possible.
UEFA.com: What are the qualities of your new signing Luciano Vietto, whom you know from Racing Club, and Jackson Martínez?
Simeone: Vietto is a boy I gave a debut to in Argentina. He’s had his first year in European football with Villarreal at a very high level. Obviously we wanted to bring him here so he can provide greater competition up front. He has the attributes the squad needs. He’s a good forward who can play as a second striker. He can get assists and goals and is a hard worker. Of course he’ll have to develop. I always tell the new players that when I joined as coach, Koke wasn’t a starter.
When Diego Costa came here after loan spells elsewhere, he wasn’t a starter. When Jan Oblak arrived, he wasn’t a starter. When Antoine Griezmann arrived, he wasn’t a starter. The new boys need to integrate as well as possible so they quickly understand what the team need. Of course the coach will see that even faster.
Jackson is a finisher. He’s also very strong in the air and good with both feet. He’s a bit older than the likes of Ángel Correa, Griezmann and Vietto.
He has a few years’ more experience and that’s what we need: people who are ready to play. He can put on the Atleti shirt and play. We have competition for places here with Fernando Torres and now Luciano too. All the players like to compete, which is great for us. I hope and want Jackson to have a great season because that would definitely mean the team and the club will have a great season.
UEFA.com: Under your tutelage, Atlético have never lost a home game in the UEFA Champions League. How important is the Vicente Calderón crowd for motivating players and transmitting energy?
Simeone: I can tell you what happened to me when I played here and when I came back as a coach – the Calderón is a special stadium. The people don’t need you to win, they need to see clear commitment and hard work.
Once that happens, they give their full support to the team. That then transmits to the team’s tempo and the fact the opposition can feel added pressure, even though you might be up against quality players who are at the top of their game. It isn’t the same as when you have a stadium that generates pressure whenever a decision goes against them. It can be difficult to explain, but there is a difference.