Midfielder Diego Simeone is on the point of becoming the first Argentinian to play 100 full internationals, having equalled Oscar Ruggeri’s record of 98 appearances in the friendly against Mexico in December. But the Lazio battler is already looking beyond that, to competing in his third World Cup finals, in 2002, for which his team are already looking shoe-ins.
“I will be 32 then,” says Simeone, “‘Bati’ (Gabriel Batistuta) 33 and most of the rest between 27 and 28 – just the right age for the World Cup. And althoughmost of the players will be those who played in 1998, they will have more experienceand there’s nothing to beat experience.”
Simeone, now 30, made his full international debut in July 1988 at the age of 18 and has played under four national coaches – Carlos Bilardo (1988-90), Alfio Basile (1991-94), Daniel Passarella (1995-98) and Marcelo Bielsa (from 1999).
“Bilardo put me in the squad when I was 16 and gave me my first chance in the senior team,” the midfielder recalls. “Basile gave me continuity in the team at 21, and I admired his personality. Passarella I remember most fondly because he made me captain. But he lacked a bit of international experience. Bielsa has a lot of internationally experienced players in his squad and a fine crop of youngstershis team is the most attack-minded I have played in.
“I learnt something from all these coachesand I would like to become a coach myself. But I would prefer the more defensive 3-4-1-2 formation to the one we are attempting to play now (3-3-1-3).”
It is no mean feat to have maintained his place at the heart of the midfield through all those changes of coach, but Simeone remains down-to-earth about his abilities. “I don’t see myself as a player of enormous class, just as one who is important to his team,” he says. “There are different types of players. There are the starsand there are those who have to work hard to help the stars to shine. I consider myself to be one of the latter.”
It is now more than a decade since Simeone left Velez Sarsfield to pursue his career in Europe, but he has ruled out a return to Argentinian club football.
“What for? I felt like shit when I played there. They swear at you for one bad play, you don’t get paid on time, and then there’s the violence inside and outside the stadium.”
But, for the time being, there is no stopping Simeone at international level, though he says he would gladly exchange the caps record for winning the next World Cup.
Club Lazio (Ita)
Born April 28, 1970, in Buenos Aires
Previous clubs Velez Sarsfield, Pisa (Ita), Sevilla (Spa), Atletico Madrid (Spa), Internazionale (Ita)
International debut July 1988, v Australia
International caps 98 (11 goals)
Honours Olympic silver 1996; Copa America 1991, 1993; UEFA Cup 1998 (Inter); Spanish League 1996 (Atletico); Spanish Cup 1996; Italian League 2000 (Lazio); Italian Cup 2000