Simeone gives Atletico belief to triumph again

As a combative, no-nonsense midfielder, former Argentina captain Diego Simeone gave no quarter and expected nothing in return. As a coach he appears to be capable of mixing straight talk with a more philosophical side.

Simeone, who bids to win the first European trophy of his managerial career when his Atletico Madrid side take on La Liga rivals Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday, offered both on the eve of the match.

"We have to play with enthusiasm and imagination... with the imagination of a young lad who is playing his first final," Simeone, dressed in an Atletico tracksuit top and sporting several days growth of stubble, told a news conference at the National Stadium on Tuesday.

"There is no tiredness. We are all starry eyed and enthusiastic about it. We face a team with strong character."

The 42-year old has already tasted domestic success as a coach in his homeland with Estudiantes and River Plate, and his arrival in the Spanish capital at the end of December has transformed the season of a team perennially in the shadow of crosstown rivals Real.

A huge fan favourite at the Calderon where he won a league and cup double as a player in 1996, Simeone has demanded and received the same qualities he showed as a player - namely an uncompromising work ethic and strong will to win.

Tenth in La Liga when he took charge, Atletico have improved to fifth and still could claim a Champions League place if results in the final weekend of the season go their way. Equally impressive has been his side's Europa League form in which they are the top scorers, with 30.

A second Europa League crown in three seasons beckons against Athletic.

"Ever since I arrived I had a team that was willing to work, that was willing to obtain better results in the second half of the season," Simeone said.

"We had a squad that was very motivated, from day one until today they have responded to our expectations. A motivated player always wants more. When I came to Atletico I really have to say I felt it was a team that I had coached for a long time.

"This is a very important week for Atletico Madrid, playing a European final and we are still in contention to qualify for the Champions League. But nothing will be given to us and we have to work hard."

In the rival dugout on Wednesday will be fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, coach of Athletic and well known to Simeone, who played the last 30 of his 106 international appearances during Bielsa's six-year run at the helm between 1998 and 2004.

Simeone on Tuesday was in no mood to reminisce or offer gushing praise.

Asked what memories he had of Bielsa and what he had learned from a man affectionately nicknamed The Madman, Simeone retorted: "I am not here to recall memories, I am here to play a final.

"I have already declared my admiration for Marcelo Bielsa, so there is no need to comment on that now. These memories of the past have nothing to do with the final we are playing tomorrow."

Simeone, warming to his task, did show that he had perhaps inherited some of his counterpart's predilection for more philosophical musings.

"I have always believed that everything you feed your mind before a final is what will afterwards influence your performance on the pitch," he said.

"If you have all these ideas... what if? what if? what if? All that is useless because it does not count to what actually happens on the pitch. If you start thinking of what's around you, that can affect your performance."