Diego Simeone's son has the winning mentality that Argentina need
Helping Juventus become champions is not a new experience for the Simeone family. On the last day of the 2001-02 season, Inter famously needed to beat Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico to win Serie A, and took the lead twice in the first half. But Lazio's Diego Simeone headed in the crucial third goal against his former club as they won 4-2, Inter were heartbroken and Juve celebrated winning the Scudetto.
On Sunday, 16 years on, it happened again, even though the situation is not exactly identical. Granted, there are still three matches remaining in Serie A, and the Old Lady are not champions yet, but they opened a very promising four-point gap on Napoli, who were soundly beaten 3-0 at Fiorentina thanks to Giovanni Simeone's first career hat trick. Like father, like son.
Not everyone in Florence was happy. Fiorentina fans hate Juventus with a passion, and the rivalry goes back to a title race in 1982 and Roberto Baggio's transfer to Juve in 1990. Emotions are so high that social networks were full of suggestions that Fiorentina might as well lose to Napoli on purpose, so that Partenopei would have a decent chance to dethrone Juve. Fortunately, such speculation was proved wrong, and Simeone Jr. clearly stated so ahead of the game.
"We are only three points behind Milan. We could beat them on the last matchday and qualify for the Europa League," he said, claiming that Fiorentina care only about themselves. When asked about Diego Maradona's wishes for a Napoli title win, he replied: "He is a legend, but we must not be distracted by Napoli's dreams. We have our own dream" -- and then proceeded to insist that Juventus were favourites to win the title.
That was hardly music to the ears of Fiorentina and Inter supporters, let alone Napoli, but a true Simeone is never diplomatic. They are always blunt, starting with Carlos, Diego's father, who has always been his grandson's harshest critic, helping him to improve and motivating him. According to family members, Carlos demanded the uncompromising, never-say-die attitude that became associated with Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.
He is not just an emblematic coach at Atletico. As a midfielder, he was hugely instrumental in the squad that won the sensational league and cup double in 1996. Giovanni was born in Madrid just before that triumphant season had started, and it is only natural that he aspired to follow his father's footsteps. The kid played in central midfield and enjoyed every minute, until Diego noticed that his skills are very different from his own.
His father demanded that his son switch to attack, and forbade him to leave the penalty area. As far as Diego was concerned, Gabriel Batistuta -- and not himself -- should become Giovanni's role model.
Gradually, he understood that the change was the right decision. However, instead of trying to emulate Batistuta, he followed other strikers, including Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Radamel Falcao. Their styles are quite different, and that is why Giovanni became a versatile attacker, able to score more than a goal per game for River Plate youth teams.
Being the son of a legend didn't help him in those days. "Life was very difficult at first, since I had to prove that I am not only playing because of my name," Giovanni said in 2014, claiming that he had to be even tougher mentally than his dad. That was probably the reason why he didn't go to La Liga, but rather moved to Italy, signed for Genoa in 2016 and scored 12 goals in his first Serie A season.
Immediately afterward, he felt ready to make another step forward and join the club very closely associated with Batistuta. Fiorentina paid €15 million for his services, and never regretted the deal. At the beginning of the season, Simeone proudly promised to improve his personal record and score at least 13 times. "I always have to raise the bar," he said. Now, thanks to the hat trick against Napoli, he had accomplished the feat, reaching 13 goals with three games still remaining.
It was a big game against top opposition, with all the country watching closely, and true to his genes, Giovanni enjoys being in the spotlight. He wasn't afraid to take on the magnificent Napoli stopper Kalidou Koulibaly, who scored the dramatic winner at Juventus a week previously. Instead of running away, the Argentine got Koulibaly sent off in the opening minutes, and Napoli fell apart. The goals were taken extremely well, and he celebrated emphatically.
Bringing joy to Juventus wasn't one of his targets, of course. He loves scoring against them too. As a matter of fact, he made big headlines last season after putting two goals past Gianluigi Buffon in one of his first games for Genoa. In short, he is just a born winner who thrives when it matters most. This season, he scored against Inter, netted a late equaliser against Milan and was on target in both fixtures versus Roma, including in the 2-0 away win a month ago.
And this makes one wonder: Isn't it strange that Giovanni is still uncapped for Argentina as he approaches his 23rd birthday? After all, he starred for the under-20 national team that won the South American championship in 2015, topping the scoring charts with nine goals in nine matches.
Granted, Argentina have an embarrassment of riches as far as strikers are concerned, but manager Jorge Sampaoli is about to leave Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala out of the World Cup squad. Instead, Angel Correa, Dario Benedetto, Cristian Pavon and Lautaro Martinez were invited to rival Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. Isn't Giovanni better than them? Doesn't he deserve a chance to go to Russia, having scored six Serie A goals in the past month?
As far as winning mentality is concerned, few can rival the Simeones, and the feeling is that is exactly what Argentina are missing. They scored just 19 goals in 18 qualifying games on the way to the World Cup, and Lionel Messi is responsible for seven of them. The superstar needs a partner like Batistuta who is not afraid to take the game on himself, and Simeone could take responsibility when needed. But would Sampaoli gamble on him?
Michael Yokhin is an experienced international football journalist who writes for ESPN, Blizzard, Guardian and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @yokhin.