Manero

Cholismo

By: Alfonso Duro

“We go game by game.” That’s how Diego “El Cholo” Simeone makes sure his players at Atlético Madrid don’t lose focus.

The message is the core of a set of beliefs the Argentine coach has ingrained in his team. He needs his men to keep their eyes on the ball, to grind their teeth when things get tough, and to never let their intensity fade when they are on the pitch. Cholismo has become more than a mantra; it is now a religion, a living philosophy that has taken the Colchoneros to the top of the world and made a legion of Rojiblanco fans as proud as ever of their team.

Beyond the Field, a Social Change: Cholo Simeone’s ideals have not only helped Atlético Madrid cut down the distance with Real Madrid and FC Barcelona (despite managing a 10th of the budgets the two Spanish giants usually work with), they have also permeated onto Spanish society. For example, Cholismo has now become the editorial line of Pablo Iglesias and his political party Podemos, the independent force that threatens to bypass the established bipartisan enclave that has ruled Spain since 1982. It has also become an attitude-shaping model for the disenchanted Spanish youth that’s tired of the privileges surrounding the elite, both in soccer and on the streets. The movement has become so big that in 2014 Cholismo was one of the 12 new words that were proposed to receive an entry in the dictionary of the Real Academia Española. Much to the relief of Spanish-language purists, the word was ultimately not accepted, but its consideration shows the power of Simeone’s doctrine; that his team has become the image of the hardworking people of Spain, those who can’t afford the best of the best and who need to go step-by-step through life in order to achieve their dreams.

How Long Can You Go? In his return to Atlético Madrid, Fernando Torres said he had left the team seven years prior because he “needed to win trophies.” Ironically, in that time the Colchoneros won seven major trophies, while Torres lifted only three in his two and a half years at Chelsea, and none at Liverpool.

With Diego Simeone at the helm, the Rojiblancos beat Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final of 2013, won La Liga in 2014 and also the Super Cup the next summer. In 2012, he had already won the Europa League and the European Super Cup, only months after reaching the club and injecting the squad with his energy and fury. In between all these titles, Atlético was just seconds away from winning their first Champions League, in Lisbon last year.

But how long can the team stay at this level? Atlético has systematically sold its best players year after year, but somehow managed to stay competitive. Since Torres’s departure in 2007, until his return, Forlán, Agüero, Falcao and Costa have come in and out of the squad, all the while confirming one simple fact: that Atlético Madrid is no longer just a stepping-stone club for players looking to (re)launch their careers. If Simeone can convince the core of his squad, still young enough to make the team more competitive in the next few years, the club will continue to thrive amongst the top in Europe.

Koke has already made up his mind. It’s now up to Miranda, Arda, Godin and Griezmann to do the same. The fact that FIFA refuses to acknowledge their superiority can only help El Cholo’s plan to keep the squad together.

Raúl Jiménez, the Black Sheep: Simeone’s psychological game is simple: give 100% on the field and the coach will back you up 100%. This way, the Argentine has managed to keep every player on his squad so motivated that it doesn’t matter who plays: they all perform when on the field. As an example of this, take Arda Turan’s case. In this start of the season, in which Atlético Madrid has topped Real Madrid five times, Simeone’s Turkish delight has not started a single one of those matches. Yet, the team has been able to not let the present European champs breathe for a single second, and when needed, Arda has come to the rescue from the bench.

And so, the question remains on how Simeone will proceed with Mexican striker Raúl Jiménez. He is the only player that has not fully clicked with the squad, and while El Cholo keeps reassuring everyone that he will remain—and flourish—on the team, pundits from across the globe are not so sure about the likeliness of the youngster succeeding in Madrid.

With Torres back in the team, Jiménez will face even tougher competition and enjoy less playing time. The kid wants to tough it out (which is a sign of fortitude within the realm of Cholismo), but perhaps next summer it is time to find a new club. Either way, Simeone will find the most tactful way to deal with the Mexican, as he’s done in the past with players like Salvio, Alderweireld, Insúa and others that never really fit at Vicente Calderón.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.