Diego Simeone's history with United
Since taking the reins at Atletico Madrid a decade ago, Diego Simeone has established himself as one of the best managers in world football.
When the Argentinian succeeded Gregorio Manzano as boss of Los Colchoneros on 23 December 2011, the club from the Spanish capital were at something of a low ebb.
A home defeat to Real Betis had left them languishing 10th in La Liga, with around half the number of points amassed by the-then dominant pair of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Fast-forward almost exactly 10 years, though, and Simeone presides over the Spanish champions. He can count not one, but two, La Liga titles from his spell in charge, as well as two Europa League triumphs and a couple of Champions League final appearances, with Atleti so cruelly denied by city rivals Real in Lisbon back in 2014.
It’s an impressive CV which deservedly ranks Simeone as a member of Europe’s coaching elite, but younger readers, especially, might not realise that the uncompromising manager known for wearing all black on the touchline had a very successful playing career of his own.
He can look back on plenty of history with United too, as his Atleti side prepare for a first meeting with the Reds in over 30 years.
Simeone made his first appearance as a pro at Velez Sarsfield in his native country and was already a full international by the time he made his move to Europe, with Serie A side Pisa, in 1990.
A spell with Sevilla followed and he was still with the Andalusians when he won a second successive Copa America with Argentina in 1993.
Domestic success came at his next club – a double with Atletico in 1996 – before a move back to Italy with Internazionale, the time around which Simeone’s links to United revolve.
The midfielder captained his country at the 1998 World Cup finals and the South Americans had been paired with England in a repeat of the famous grudge match of 12 years earlier.
“Quite apart from all the political history, the desire of the whole country is to defeat England,” Simeone told The Observer, four years after the event.
“So we knew that in 1998, and we knew that the hearts of the Argentine people were with us. And, every time we meet, this desire to win is bigger and more heartfelt. This is a classic. And we play it as a classic because we are all conscious of how happy we can make our country by winning.”
That desire to triumph at all costs reached fever pitch after 47 minutes of the round-of-16 clash in Saint-Etienne, as England and United star David Beckham went down under a heavy challenge from Simeone in the middle of the park.
Momentarily frustrated, Becks raised a boot in retaliation, flicking Simeone on the back of the thigh.
It was the slightest of touches but, aware that referee Kim Milton Nielsen was hovering in the vicinity, Simeone fell backwards, arms spread in outrage.
It was a clear attempt to get Beckham sent off and tilt the match, tied at 2-2, in Argentina’s favour –which Simeone freely admitted to later.
“I had tackled him,' recalled Simeone. “And we both fell to the ground. As I was trying to stand up, that was when he kicked me from behind. And I took advantage of that. And I think any person would have taken advantage of that, in just the same way.
“Sometimes, you get sent off, sometimes you don't. Unfortunately for the English team, that time they lost a player.
“Anyway, you take advantage of all the opportunities you find in your life. If you don't take advantage of a chance that comes your way, you are lost.”
Glenn Hoddle’s side went on to lose a classic knock-out tie on penalties and Beckham, unfortunately, became vilified outside of Manchester for falling victim to Simeone’s trap.
But sport has an incredible knack for offering redemption and that opportunity to get one back on Simeone quickly appeared for Becks.
The 23-year-old was having a phenomenal campaign on the right-hand side of United’s midfield, helping the Reds to the Champions League quarter-finals where we’d face – yes, you guessed it – Inter.
The previous season’s UEFA Cup winners, the Nerazzurri boasted Simeone plus the likes of Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio and Youri Djorkaeff and many fancied them to go on and lift Europe’s biggest prize.
All eyes were on the pre-match handshake, which the pair went about without too much drama - although Paul Scholes, stood next to his David, saw fit to crack a joke or two - before Becks set about proving his point on the pitch.
After just six minutes, our no.7 crossed for Dwight Yorke to beat Gianluca Pagliuca at his far post. The trick was repeated just before the break, as United grabbed a hold of the tie we would never relinquish, with the way paved for further success over Juventus and Bayern Munich and an unprecedented Treble.
Beckham, who swapped shirts with Simeone after the Old Trafford clash, was arguably United’s most important player in that historic season and would go on to claim second place behind Rivaldo in the 1999 Ballon d’Or voting – quite the turnaround following France '98 and its turbulent aftermath.
Simeone soon moved on to Lazio, where he would win Serie A and the European Super Cup, as the Rome club beat United 1-0 in August 1999.
The pair’s paths wouldn’t cross in that game though, as Beckham was substituted before the introduction of his old nemesis.
As the Argentinian’s career wound down, there would be one further meeting – once again in national colours as Beckham buried his penalty at the 2002 World Cup to beat the South Americans and help consign them to an early group-stage exit.
Simeone retired in 2006, instantly embarking on the coaching career which has now provided another chance for him to do that thing he enjoys so much: defeating English sides.