LYON – Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed the Europa League as the competition that helped revive his team when he took over a club in decline in 2012 and turned them into one of the most consistent teams in continental football.
Atletico will be bidding to win Europe's secondary competition for a third time when they face Olympique de Marseille in Wednesday's final in Lyon, France, having been knocked out of the Champions League in December by finishing third in their group.
Simeone's side endured agonising defeats to city rivals Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League showpieces but have fond memories of thrashing Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the 2012 Europa League final in Bucharest.
That victory capped a dramatic turnaround under the Argentine coach after a dismal start to the season under predecessor Gregorio Manzano. A King's Cup victory followed in 2013 before Atletico managed to overhaul Liga aristocrats Barcelona and Real Madrid to lift the league title in 2014.
“When we won the Europe League it gave us security and helped us grow,” Simeone told a news conference.
“It made us realise what the team was capable of, and five months ago a lot of the players were being seriously questioned. That first trophy was the key to everything that came later.”
Simeone will be serving the second of a four-match touchline ban on Wednesday after being sent off for losing his temper in the semi-final first leg at Arsenal. However, he said his team would be in safe hands with his loyal assistant coach German 'Mono' Burgos.
“I feel sad that I won't be as close as I'd like to the players but we had this situation before, when German took charge against Arsenal,” he said.
“We've known each other for nearly all our lives, we have the same vision of football so whatever I'm thinking, he is thinking the same.”
Atletico, who also won the 2010 Europa League, beating Fulham 2-1 in the final, have a full squad available after Spain winger Vitolo recovered from a hamstring strain.
Marseille have not been in a European final since losing the 2004 UEFA Cup to Valencia, and Simeone said his side's superior experience in finals would help his side but would not be decisive.
“Experience is an important factor but it doesn't completely influence the play. To win you need to play well, experience helps you know what you need to do on the pitch but in the end it's still a game,” he said.
“It will be a tense game with a lot of friction. The two teams are similar in terms of play, we are both very direct, and in terms of hope and enthusiasm so it will be a great final.”