Simeone never stopped believing in Atletico title pursuit

MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said he never stopped believing they would win the La Liga title, even in the midst of a stuttering run of results in April, after his side lifted the trophy on Sunday.

Atletico clinched their 11th title and their first since 2014 with a 2-1 comeback win at Real Valladolid on Saturday but were not presented with the silverware until the presentation at their Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

Atletico stayed at the summit from December until the end, pipping their bitter city rivals Real Madrid to the crown by two points on the final day.

Many people expected them to surrender their lead when they took only seven points from five games in April to let Real, Barcelona and Sevilla into a nail-biting race to the finish.

But Simeone said he believed more than ever that his side were going to do it after a 1-1 draw at Real Betis.

“Everything clicked after the game with Betis. We had players out with coronavirus and injuries and it was very tough, but after that day I could sense we were close,” he said.

“With four games to go I knew it wasn’t going to slip away from us, even though others were still struggling to believe.”

No fans were allowed at the trophy presentation due to coronavirus restrictions although the club encouraged supporters to toast the title by waving Atletico flags from their cars and beeping their horns along the streets of the Spanish capital.

Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales handed the trophy to Atletico captain Koke, while city mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida and regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso praised Simeone and his side for their achievement.

“Diego, winning trophies isn’t so hard, the most difficult thing is changing history and that’s what you’ve done,” said Martinez-Almeida of the Argentine coach, who took over Atletico in December 2011 when they were near La Liga’s relegation zone and has led the team to win eight trophies.