Arsenal must replace Arsene Wenger with Atletico coach Diego Simeone
MADRID -- As Diego Simeone prowled the touchline in the Vicente Calderon during Atletico Madrid's 1-0 Champions League quarterfinal first leg victory over Leicester City on Wednesday, the sense of unity between the coach, his players and the club's supporters was tangible.
Simeone understands the Atleti fans, who adore the Argentine in return, while the 46-year-old also has the players in the palm of his hand, with each one dancing to his tune and sacrificing individuality for the greater good of the team.
Whether it be the golden talent of Antoine Griezmann or the understated excellence of Gabi, Koke and Juanfran, Simeone gets the maximum from his players, regardless of their talent and status.
For anyone who watched Arsenal's meek surrender during their 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on Monday, in contrast to Atleti's efforts against Leicester, the difference between the two clubs could not be more striking.
Arsenal arguably possess more individual quality than Atletico, but so many of Arsene Wenger's players consistency underperform and fail to deliver, with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott repeatedly producing exasperating displays.
Where everything revolves around Simeone at Atletico, Wenger stands in isolation at Arsenal with supporters now angrily calling for him to go after 21 years in charge. Yet throughout the debate about what happens at Arsenal when Wenger finally chooses (or has it chosen for him) to leave, the suggestion of Simeone as a potential successor has generally been dismissed on the basis that he would not fit Arsenal's DNA.
Simeone has been dismissed as too combustible, too hard and too demanding of his players for Arsenal, while his tireless brand of football has also been deemed by many as lacking the aesthetic quality to suit a club which still reveres the "Invincibles" of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.
There may be an element of football snobbery when it comes to Simeone among the Arsenal fanbase, but the contrast between Monday night at Selhurst Park and Wednesday in the Vicente Calderon suggests he is precisely what the Gunners need right now.
If he were to be named as Wenger's successor, it is true Simeone would inherit a group of players spectacularly unsuited to his football philosophy of supreme effort and collective spirit, but if Monday night's capitulation at Palace highlighted anything it's that the time has come for the Wenger years to be consigned to history and if that means taking the team in a new direction, so be it.
Arsenal are in a malaise, but searching for a new manager who would remain loyal to the Wenger ethos of pure attacking football would be the wrong approach for a club in desperate need of regeneration.
Manchester United attempted this approach when replacing Sir Alex Ferguson with David Moyes in May 2013. The message from within Old Trafford after Moyes had been given a six-year contract following his arrival from Everton was that the Scot would bring the same commitment to youth development and long-term stability as Ferguson.
But Moyes was wholly unsuited to the job and it quickly proved to be a disastrous appointment -- one United are arguably still suffering the consequences for four years on. United needed a new direction, but Moyes was nothing more than a vastly inferior version of what had gone before.
Arsenal risk a similar meltdown to United if they pursue a manager who will take on the Wenger mantle and keep faith with the Frenchman's approach. Expecting any manager to follow the blueprint of his predecessor is hard enough but in Arsenal's case, that blueprint has clearly been flawed for at least a decade.
Arsenal no longer challenge for the biggest honours and have not found as much success in producing, or buying, world class young players as they did during Wenger's early days.
They are working with a broken strategy, so why not change it completely, attempt to prise Simeone from Atletico and allow him to start from scratch at the Emirates?
Arsenal need passion and a new energy and Simeone has both qualities in abundance. But he is also a winner, a man who has broken the Real Madrid/Barcelona stranglehold on La Liga and established Atleti as the third force in Spanish football, as well as reaching the Champions League final in two of the last three seasons.
And all this with Atleti unable to compete financially with their super club rivals, as their best players, such as Diego Costa, are lured away for greater rewards elsewhere.
Simeone has become one of the most sought-after coaches in world football by turning one of the game's underdogs into one of the most feared teams in Europe, so imagine what he could do to a club with Arsenal's resources.
So what if the first thing he did after arriving was to jettison half of the squad? Only a man with his motivational qualities could persuade the likes of Ozil and Walcott to run through the brick walls that they would rather seemingly rather stand and study under Wenger.
Arsenal clearly need a change and there would be no bigger statement for the club to make than to do all they can to bring Simeone to the Emirates.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_