Simeone’s work with Koke embodies Atletico turnaround
There are few players that represent the turnaround in Atletico Madrid’s fortunes since the arrival of Diego Simeone as coach than Jorge Resurreccion, or Koke as he is more commonly known.
Simeone’s own resurrection of Atletico has carried the club to four trophies in two and a half years – including a first La Liga title in 18 years this season – and into Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid in Lisbon.
A product of the Atletico youth academy, the 22-year-old has had a stellar season which has seen him become not just a regular in Simeone’s set-up but also in the Spanish national team.
However, he didn’t always seem destined for great things.
Koke was part of the Atletico side that were eliminated from the Copa del Rey by third-tier Albacete just days before Simeone’s arrival in December 2011 and has admitted he was on the verge of leaving the club when the transfer market opened the following month.
“Simeone has helped me improve physically and on the ball,” he told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
“When he arrived I was about to leave, I wasn’t playing a lot and I needed minutes to keep improving.
“The manager told me to trust in him, that I wouldn’t necessarily be a starter every week but to work hard because my opportunity would come. We believed in each other.”
That trust has borne spectacular success for both men as on top of being Atletico’s top creator with 18 assists this season, Koke has also shown an eye for important goals amongst his tally of seven for the season.
He scored the winner in vital away victories at Real Sociedad, Malaga and Athletic Bilbao as well as scoring at home to Real Madrid in the 2-2 draw at the Vicente Calderon in March and the only goal of the game in the second leg as Atletico eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
That form will see him follow his best season at club level with his first senior international tournament at the World Cup after winning the under-21 European Championship last summer.
“I have blind faith in Koke, he thinks a lot about the team,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque after naming Koke in his provisional 30-man squad for the tournament in Brazil next month.
“He has given a lot to Atletico and Atletico has given a lot to him. He can play in any position and he always does well. He is an important discovery.”
Del Bosque’s words have been shared by Spain’s most decorated player of all-time in Xavi Hernandez, who believes the Atletico starlet will be his successor in the national team.
“He is destined to carry the baton in the Spanish national team for the next 10 years. He is already an extraordinary player,” said the Barcelona midfielder.
There have been rumours that Koke could even replace Xavi at Barca in the coming years, while he has also attracted interest from Manchester United.
However, of more pressing importance is securing his status as a living legend amongst the Atletico fan base by being part of the first Rojiblancos side to win the Champions League and deny rivals Real their much-awaited 10th European crown in the process.
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Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM