If anyone in football is capable of pulling off a passable impersonation of Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe then it would be Diego Simeone. It’s fitting then that news of him reducing his contact at Atletico Madrid by two years feels like the beginning of a long goodbye.
It’s difficult not to see Simeone’s length of contract coming down by two years as anything other than the behaviour of a man who is starting to think about leaving the party. He’s looked at his watch; he’s fetched his coat; he hasn’t put it on yet but – having been the life and soul of things for most of the night – he’s poised to quit while he’s ahead.
Several media in Spain on Thursday claimed the 46-year-old Argentine had brokered a reduction of his contract in the summer that will leave him a free agent in 2018. Leaving then would fit his sense of loyalty to Atletico Madrid. They move into a new stadium next season and they can’t sign any new players until January 2018 so leaving at the end of this season would have been far crueller.
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Walking away last May - when, after another heartbreaking Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid he told the world he would need to think about his future, or at least think about thinking about his future, as he later clarified – would also have felt like a low blow.
But going in 2018, after one season in the club’s new home and with transfer business resumed, he will skip off guilt free. Not that Simeone – former captain, double-winner, and now manager of a team that has won five trophies and reached two Champions League finals since he took over – need ever feel he has let the club of his life down.

Simeone, entrenador del Atlético de Madrid

Image credit: AFP

In fact, it’s a minor miracle that he has lasted this long. Leading Spanish football’s third force might not be quite as exhausting as fronting Real Madrid or Barcelona but Atletico are still a club that went through 52 coaches in 25 years before Simeone arrived.
There will probably never be another Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger in football and if there is another manager who makes it across the two-decade threshold at the same club it almost definitely will not be in Spain.
The hierarchy at Atletico know that, which is why they travelled to Buenos Aires this summer and appear to have given in on Simeone’s demands to cut the length of his contract. If he goes in 2018 he will have been at the club for seven years – it will be an itch that he can no longer avoid scratching.
There were claims in Spain on Thursday that he had to resist various suitors in the summer – most notably Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. Clubs trying to tempt Simeone away from Atletico is nothing new. Chelsea and Manchester United have tried before and Simeone even made some half-hearted attempts to learn English with the Old Trafford position appeared on the horizon.
Going to a club where he cannot speak the language still feels dishonourable to the former Argentina captain and PSG, Chelsea and United were all rejected on that basis.
Inter may have been a different story had they not baulked at the compensation they will now not have to pay in 2018. It still feels like a return to Serie A, where he spent an enjoyable part of his playing career, looks like his most likely next step.
Arsenal could perhaps persuade him otherwise – tempting him to join the managerial all-stars of the Premier League - but they could also have landed Pep Guardiola had they put their minds to it and they failed, so it would take a major change of philosophy within the club for that to happen.
Of course, the fact that Simeone has reduced his contract length does not have to mean the end. He may use it as his greatest weapon in the summer of 2018: buy me a team I can win the Champions League with or I will walk away.
But he has been in the job since 2011 and few coaches in Europe – Wenger, naturally one of them – can boast of such longevity. It does feel like the beginning of Atletico Madrid’s Long Goodbye.
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