Simeone praises former boss Bielsa

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is approaching the Europa League final with the same steely determination that made him such a fearsome competitor on the field – with no time for sentiment, eyes fixed solely on the prize.

On Wednesday, he pits his wits against Athletic Bilbao’s Marcelo Bielsa, his coach for four years with the Argentina national team. But Simeone refuses to reminisce: ”I’m not here to remember moments,” he said curtly on the eve of the match. ”We’re here to play a final. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Marcelo.

”He knows what I think of him – and I don’t need to talk about things that don’t relate to tomorrow’s game.”

When asked if he had any words of encouragement for the club’s fans back home, Simeone, 42, again showed no emotion: ”I don’t like sending messages,” he said.

Bielsa, 57, cut an altogether different figure as he took the podium, reading and taking occasional notes – and not once looking up – as his players spoke of their excitement. Even when the questions came his way, he only reluctantly looked up a couple of times, immersed in thought and talking in his usual introverted, hushed tones.

Nicknamed ”El Loco” (”the madman”), he’s a footballing obsessive who took more than 1,000 video tapes of opposition players to the 2002 World Cup in Japan when Argentina, with Simeone as his midfielder enforcer, was eliminated after a disappointing group campaign. His playing career was exclusively in Argentina, although he also went on to coach Chile’s national team.

His attention to detail was clear Wednesday as he talked in convoluted fashion of possible approaches to Wednesday’s all-Spanish encounter. The contrast with Simeone – and most coaches – couldn’t have been greater.

In his own inimitable manner he spoke of the need for his team to show a ”balanced dose of anxiety and calm” – with the goal of attaining the right ”composition of two such great condiments.”

Simeone, 42, is one victory away from becoming only the third person in history to win the competition as both player and coach having lifted the trophy in 1998 with Inter Milan.

Dressed in his team’s kit, he admitted he’d sooner be putting on his boots Wednesday to be able to directly influence the outcome.

”You can smell it, you can feel it,” he said of the pre-match atmosphere building up around the stadium in the Romanian capital. ”It’s strange. It’s definitely better to be a player,” he said.

”As a coach, a load of ideas, thoughts and images pass through your mind. As a player, the greatest thing is playing a final. When a player goes out on the pitch, it’s all about him.”

”You need personality – and not to think too much about what’s going on around you. Everything that fills your head can prevent you from performing in a final,” he said. ”None of that is of any use. What’s important is the final.”