Diego Simeone is the face of Atlético Madrid
and has been since taking over as head coach in December of 2011.
But behind him is a man whose presence is as vital as it is understated. That man is
Germán Adrián Ramón Burgos, often known by his nickname of Mono Burgos, with ‘Mono’
meaning ‘Monkey’ in Spanish. He is Simeone’s number two and much more
important than you might think. His story has everything. They say goalkeepers
are eccentric and in Burgos’s case that’s certainly true. Born in Mar de Plata in the
province of Buenos Aires on April 16th 1969, Burgos came through at Ferro Carril Oeste
and also played for River Plate before moving to Spain. He was already 30 years of age when
he first arrived in LaLiga at Real Mallorca in 1999, but he never looked back.
His first significant appearance in the headlines of Spanish newspapers was for negative reasons,
as he was suspended for 11 matches for punching Espanyol player Manolo Serrano during a match.
Little by little, though, he became known in Spain for more amicable reasons, such as
his great goalkeeping performances, his vibrant personality and his famous red baseball cap
. His transfer to Atlético Madrid in 2001 pushed
him further into the spotlight, even though Atlético were in the second division at the
time. He helped them win promotion back to LaLiga and celebrated it by starring in one
of the most iconic adverts in the history of Spanish television . The scene is a deserted
Gran Vía in the centre of Madrid, with Burgos emerging from a manhole.
“We’re already back” read the text. Burgos didn’t play much for Atlético once
they were back in the first division due to renal cancer, but he swatted that away just
as he would a striker’s shot. He later revealed: “When the doctors told me I had cancer and
needed an operation, I asked them to perform it on the Monday because I had a game on the
Sunday.” Of course, the doctors insisted otherwise,
but Burgos worked hard to be back for the final game of that 2002/03 season. He’d
retire one year later, but 2003/04 was important because that was when he really got to know
Diego Simeone, who returned to the capital city club in the summer of 2003. They’d
already played together for the Argentina national team, but now they were spending
every day together and Simeone fell in love with the goalkeeper’s way of seeing football.
When Burgos retired, his main focus was unorthodox. It was to focus on his rock band. As a huge
Rolling Stones fan, Burgos had always loved rock music and had put together his own band
in which he sang lead vocals and played the guitar. The name of that group was The GARB
– G, A, R and B being his initials. When Simeone himself retired and moved into
coaching in 2006, he knew he wanted Burgos as part of his staff. His former teammate
politely declined at first, but eventually moved away from the world of rock and back
towards football, holding roles with lower league Spanish sides Alcorcón and Carabanchel.
Then, in January of 2011 when Simeone moved to Catania in Italy, Burgos finally decided
to team up with his compatriot. That was when the magic started. They kept
the Sicilian team in Serie A in the six months they were there . They then left and went
to Racing Club in Argentina for six months, where they had modest success. Then came the
phone call from Atlético in December of 2011. On December 23rd of that month, Simeone was
unveiled as the new coach of the Spanish club and we know how that story goes, with the
Argentine winning seven titles in eight years .
What not everyone knows, however, is the importance of Burgos’ role. He is the number two, but
he does a lot more than most assistant coaches. There is a perception of Burgos as being an
aggressive and thuggish character, but that is largely exaggerated. While it’s true
that he did have a few incidents during his playing career and while it’s true that
he once shouted at Jose Mourinho “I’m not Tito Vilanova, I’ll rip your head off”
– a reference to the Portuguese’s infamous eye gouge – Burgos is more often than not
the calming presence which offsets Simeone’s ferocity.
He’s kind and funny too. One illustration of his kindness comes from his playing days,
when the Argentine used to arrive at the Atlético training complex a couple of hours before
he was supposed to be there, so that he could share breakfast with the builders who were
working on the grounds. As for his humour, there are many examples of that. Asked in
one interview what he’d have wanted to be if he’d never been a footballer, “a footballer’s
wife” was his response. His sharp tongue even got him thrown out of the Vatican on
one occasion when Atletico visited during a trip to take on Lazio in Rome, but he wasn’t
too bothered as that meant he could enjoy a cigarette outside.
When it’s time to work, though, Burgos is as professional as they come. He is a tactical
mind and plays an important role in the development of set piece strategies and in video analysis
before games. Burgos has multiple TV screens in his office, on which he claims he can analyse
several football matches at the same time. The fact that he is a keen disciple of video
analysis makes sense given that he spent four years at Ferro Carril Oeste playing for Carlos
Timoteo Griguol, an Argentine coach and video analysis pioneer.
In April of 2014 in a match against Getafe, Burgos even became a bit of a pioneer himself
as he became the first coach to use Google Glass during a match by combining it with
the LaLiga-provided Mediacoach app to display up-to-the-minute statistics on the 22 players
on the pitch . The combination of Burgos’ analytical brain
and Simeone’s motivational skills is a winning one and Burgos compares this Argentine coaching
double act to Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Fortunately, Simeone understands and appreciates
the importance of Burgos and all his coaching staff. When Atlético won LaLiga in 2013/14
at the Camp Nou, he invited all members of his coaching staff to join him at his post-match
press conference and said: “I want to share this moment with my guys. They don’t appear
on TV every day, but they work every bit as hard as those who are on TV, or even a little
more. They have made me a better coach.” It’s true, they did and continue to do so.
Burgos especially. He is an understated factor in the success of Atlético in the past decade,
so much so that there is increasing speculation that Burgos could one day go it alone.