Diego Simeone has fast become one of the most successful, charismatic and tactically adept coaches in European football.
The former Argentina midfielder has revitalised a debt-ridden Atletico side since taking charge in December 2011, securing their first La Liga title since 1996 last week.
Despite selling the likes of Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Radamel Falcao for huge profits, Atletico's financial problems had previously made it hard for them to challenge Spain's leading teams.
However, Simeone has changed all that and is now seeking the perfect ending to a season in which his side have exceeded all expectations by beating Real Madrid and Barcelona to the Liga crown.
"We always expect the best," he said. "We work and train to achieve the best. But this is a game and obviously destiny will take you wherever it has to take you.
"We are convinced we showed football can be played and understood differently. Without Real Madrid or Barcelona buying power we proved that a team can still compete the way we did, with different weapons.
"I cannot express how being European champions would make me feel because I have never experienced (it)."
During a playing career that spanned three decades, the tough-tackling Simeone played in Italy, Spain and his homeland. He represented Atletico in two separate spells, winning the double in his first stint at the club. The 44-year-old also earned over 100 caps for his country.
After ending his playing days in Argentina with Racing, Simeone began his coaching career with the same club. He then went on to join Estudiantes and led them to their first championship success in 23 years.
After short-lived and unsuccessful spells at both River Plate and San Lorenzo, Simeone staved off relegation at Italian Serie A side Catania before returning to Racing in June 2011. Six months later, he went back to Vicente Calderon, this time as coach, and he has not looked back since.
The passionate Argentine, who once likened his playing style to "holding a knife between his teeth", enjoyed immediate success at Atletico, leading the club to UEFA Europa League glory in 2012
In Simeone's first full season in charge, Ateltico won the UEFA Super Cup, finished third in La Liga and obtained the Copa del Rey for the first time in 17 years – ending a 14-year winless streak against rivals Real Madrid in the process.
However, those impressive achievements have now been comfortably eclipsed.
With one of the smallest squads among the European elite, Simeone has already ended Atletico's wait for league glory.
They are now ready to contest the final of Europe's premier club competition for only the second time, having lost out to Bayern Munich 40 years ago.
Simeone was understandably elated when the Liga title was secured at the Camp Nou earlier this month courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Barcelona, whose fans duly applauded the new champions.
"The bigger the challenge the better. This has been a wonderful season," he said.
"We won in Bilbao; we won in Seville; we drew here; we won at the Bernabeu. I am proud of the group. When opponents congratulate you it makes it even more special."
It remains to be seen whether Atletico can round off their magnificent season with an even greater honour by defeating city rivals Real.
Yet, regardless of the result in Lisbon, Simeone has guaranteed a place in Atletico folklore.1 comment