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Jose Maria Gimenez and the soul of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid – “You have to fight”

Atletico de Madrid are a team built in the identity of Diego Simeone on the touchline – and that spirit is epitomized on the pitch by Jose Maria Gimenez.

The centre-back, 27, joined the club as a teenager from little-known Uruguayan side Danubio back in 2013 and has been a mainstay in Simeone’s ranks ever since.

Since being spotted from his homeland, Gimenez has become one of Simeone’s most trusted figures and played over 200 games for the club.

He has been part of some of Atletico’s most successful years, including lifting the LaLiga trophy last year for the second time, and admits he will be “grateful eternally” for his manager’s trust.

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Gimenez has become a trusted figure under Simeone and is driven by a desire to always fight


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“You all know who Diego Simeone is for the players and for the club itself,” Gimenez says.

“On a personal level, I’ve been here now for 10 years. I never left and was never loaned out, and at the end of the day I’m very grateful.

“What I’ve always done is do my utmost out on the pitch for the club and for Simeone. I’ve played big games and played at World Cup matches, and a lot of this is down to Simeone.

“He always trusted me, always believed in me. He has always been there to teach us, and you continue to learn all the time. He’s there on a daily basis. It’s obvious he’s a very key part of my career, and I will be eternally grateful for him.”

Speaking to Gimenez, it is easy to see how he fits into Simeone’s philosophy, which is underlined by passion, fight and a desire to defy the odds.

Gimenez was left in tears as a teenager when Penarol, his boyhood club and one of the biggest in Uruguay, released him and told him he didn’t have what it takes to play football.

Gimenez says he will be “grateful eternally” for the moments he has shared with Simeone


David S. Bustamante/Socrates/Getty Images)

His response was ingrained in him from his father, and bars similarities to the message and attitude Simeone brings to his side. It is easy to see why he is now a leader at Atletico and part of Simeone’s trusted captaincy group.

“I had a series of, not inconveniences, but experiences when I was young,” Gimenez says. “I went to try and play for a team but I didn’t stay with them. When you’re young, you want everything straight away. When that happens, you feel rather upset and it affects you.

“But when my father, from a young child he said ‘you have to really be a fighter. You have to fight for everything in life, you have to really fight on a daily basis. In school, in football, you have to really fight for everything you want in life until you achieve it’.

“I think at the time it meant that it was something good. There was a change, then I really put in double effort. I had to put in double the effort.

“If there’s a message I’d send to young people, it’s that if they have to go through that sort of situation, you have to find your right place, because opportunity can come along in lots of different situations.

“But you have to find the right place. Not everyone plays in the same way, not everyone is going to receive you and give you opportunity in the same way.

“You have to find the right place at the right time, and be ready for it. You have to train, try and improve, be very strong mentally and fight to achieve your dreams.”

Gimenez overcame rejection as a kid in Uruguay to become a top performer in LaLiga


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Gimenez, who reveals close friends joke he is “that nervous guy” because he constantly moves at 100mph, has certainly found the right place at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Whilst this season has been a disappointment, he has firmly established himself as a top performer in both LaLiga and at international level.

His hard work, sacrifice and perseverance was vindicated in one particular moment of glory when, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, he scored a last-gasp winner for Uruguay in their opener against Egypt.

It is a goal which he still replays and which, like so many aspects of his life and career, he turns into a form of motivation.

“That day I think was one of the happiest days of my life, after having my children,” Gimenez recalls. “I don’t remember anything that made me so happy, and I think that, from my point of view, it was one of my best goals ever in my football career.

Gimenez’s perseverance was all worth it when he scored a last-gasp winner for Uruguay in the 2018 World Cup


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“This week, I even watched the video of it on the television before I went to bed. It’s motivation for me because it shows, also, what Uruguay is. We’re so competitive until the very last minute, we never stop fighting.

“The memories I have of that match are unforgettable. The way I could see the ball coming, I could see my dad in the stands, shouting away, I will never forget that.”

For years, Gimenez was tied to Diego Godin both at club and international level.

“You can learn a lot from him just from looking at him,” Gimenez says. “The way he competes, he’s a highly competitive player and he shows this all the time. He always wants to feel good, he’s always competing.

“When we were here, together, and he left, it was strange for me, because I thought we’d continue to share more time together in the dressing room.”

Gimenez spent years alongside international teammate Diego Godin but has stepped out of his shadow


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Since Godin’s departure in 2019, Gimenez has emerged from his shadow as a leader of Atleti’s defence.

After a below par season defending their LaLiga title, they face newly-crowned champions Real Madrid today (Sunday) looking for their first win against their local rivals at the Wanda Metropolitano.

It is a game Gimenez recognizes has special meaning and one which evokes fond memories whether on the winning or losing side.

“I’d like to say that a derby is not just another match,” he declares. “We always want to win every match but this is a special match. It’s a derby, it represents a lot for our fans and the reality is it’s wonderful if you win.

“The fans really enjoy it and us as players enjoy it a lot, too. It’s a sports rivalry that’s been going on for many years, and we want to win it.

“Well, there’s been lots of special matches for me (against Real Madrid). I think I’ve enjoyed all the matches, the ones we’ve won and the ones that we didn’t win.

Gimenez scored against Real Madrid back in 2015 and says the fixture is always special to play


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“But I think the most special one was a cup match in 2015. I played a home match at the Vicente Calderon Stadium and I scored one of the goals.

“It was a very special match for me because we won it, and I was also able to score one of the goals.”

Real Madrid arrive looking to cap off a dream week after winning the title then stunning Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals.

But for Gimenez and Atleti, the motivation is to try and earn a huge three points to take a massive leap towards securing Champions League qualification themselves next season.

“The motivation is ours,” Gimenez says. “We motivate ourselves. We put on the shirt, we’ve got our fans out there and we want to go out and achieve our goals, whatever the match.

“Of course it’s a special match because it’s a derby, but our objective is the same, always. We’re not worried about the fact they’ve already won the league, what we’re worried about is our objective, which is to qualify for the Champions League.

“So Sunday is a very important three points to achieve our goal to qualify for the Champions League.

“I think the whole squad Real Madrid have a very top level. They’re all playing really well. The starting 11 and all those in the match day squad have shown it.

Atleti are underdogs against Real Madrid but can never be written off under Simeone


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“For example the other day, Rodrygo came on with just a few minutes to go and he scored two goals. That just shows what the quality of the Real Madrid squad is and the difficulties all the players represent.

“The match, I think, really, we need to know what we have to do. We’ve got to compete and we have to know what’s at stake.

“I think we have to get the boost from our fans, try to defend all the different parts of the game and try to get as much ball possession as we can.

“Each time we get the ball, I think we have to play like it’s the last opportunity, the last ball ever.”

Typically, Gimenez’s final thoughts on the game involve a narrative of fight, desperation and determination. It is a mirror of Simeone’s mantra and one which means Atleti, like their rivals Real, can rarely be written off.

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