The last decade of Atletico Madrid has been defined by their boss Diego Simeone.
Nicknamed ‘Cholo’, the Argentine’s ideas and philosophy behind the game have been defined as ‘Cholismo’. A prioritisation of tactical discipline and defensive solidity laying the foundations for a team rapid in transitions, who defend and attack as a unit. Cholismo is based on meticulous tactical preparation, pragmatism, aggression, and a quality that is not tangible – a relentless desire to win by committing yourself to the team’s principles.
Simeone has gone through a painstaking process to refine and rejuvenate his squad since his 2011 appointment, with a player’s work ethic and commitment valued above his pure ability to compete at the top level. The simple message from the boss has come to define the club: “Effort is non-negotiable.”
Both Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey embody the Cholismo spirit – players who were developed through the club’s youth system and, except for loan moves, have spent the entirety of their professional careers at Los Rojiblancos.
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The two’s commitment to the cause and willingness to sacrifice their most natural talents ‘for the greater good’ of the team can be seen through their versatility. As outlined by Whoscored, Saul’s 33 starts for the club this campaign have come in five different positions. Primarily a central midfielder (17 starts), Saul has also been utilised on the left flank (nine games), right flank (four games) and even as a left-back (three starts), while also being deployed in an attacking midfield role. Most remarkably, Whoscored’s performance ratings show there is no significant discrepancy in Saul’s level between positions – varying between 7.13 and 7.42.
Partey, who was signed by Atleti aged 18 from the youth ranks of Ghanaian club Odometah FC, has also shown a willingness to adapt from his primary role as a central midfielder, his impressive showings seeing him heavily linked with Arsenal.
The 26-year-old has finally found regularity in the centre of the pitch this season following the exits of Gabi Fernandez and Rodri in recent years. Both Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera were signed by Atleti this summer to fill those positions but the Ghanaian’s performances have been so impressive that he has made the position his own. Prior to this campaign, Partey was deployed in a number of positions including at full-back but has now found his calling.
Their versatility and attitude are at the core of their success at Atleti and why Simeone values both players so highly. Saul is an all-rounder with no genuine weaknesses in his game – offering an attacking threat and defensive contribution, providing an aerial presence in both penalty areas, positionally aware, a superb tackler and a regular interceptor of the…