Who Is The Guy Behind Diego Simeone’s Success ?
Behind every elite sporting success is a snarling trainer with a whip. In this case of Atletico Madrid, they have Oscar Ortega, known as “El Profe” the professor. He is the reason for Atletico Madrid’s third lung. He is a short, 60-year-old Uruguayan and he has been vital to all the club’s successes since Diego Simeone took over as head coach.
In the words of Mickey Goldmill, the fictional trainer of Rocky Balboa, to crap thunder you need to eat lightening. Ortega would be a big believer in this. As Atletico’s fitness coach, Ortega is the man responsible for making sure that Diego Simeone’s team are able to last a whole demanding season.
Given that the club’s financial resources pale in comparison to some other clubs, Atletico must compensate by being able to run an extra few hundred meters per game. Additionally, their style of football sometimes sees them predominantly without the ball. A position in which elite fitness is neccessary to maintain team structure and to still have the energy to counter attack when opportunities arise.
When Diego Simeone arrived in 2011, he brought Ortega with him. The pair had first met when Ortega was the Atletico fitness coach under Gregorio Manzano during the season 2003/2004, when Diego Simeone was a player at the club.
So impressed was the Argentine with his fellow South American. When he launched his own coaching career at Racing Club de Avellaneda in 2006, he called Ortega and asked him to work as his fitness coach. They’ve been together ever since, working throughout Argentina, in Italy and at Atletico.
Ortega’s background is extensive, having worked in far-flung places such as Mexico, Colombia and Japan, before starting to train LaLiga sides at the turn off the century, starting at FC Sevilla. While he has a football background, his main source of income during his early coaching career was Rugby.
Which he taught the British College in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. As he began to focus more and more on football, he continued to turn to ruby for tips and tricks on how to keep footballers just as fit and tough as the rugby players he’d previously coached.
There are things from rugby that are transferrable, like knowing where it’s good to pressure, how to tackle and how to work as a team – Oscar Ortega.
Putting his fitness regime under the microscope, there are some orthodox elements to what Ortega does, as well as some unconventional ones. Perhaps foremost amongst them is his summer camps, which players have described as a living hell. In pre-season, Atletico always spend some time on retreat, usually in Segovia just outside of Madrid.
There, the Uruguayan puts the players through 14-hour days of running, running and more running, with just a few breaks for meals in between. The players are made to run up and down the hills of the local golf course, past the bushes which the veterans point to as a secret spot for a quick exhaustion-induced vomit, and all of this under the grueling summer sun.
Ortega doesn’t allow for any slackers and the newcomers are often shocked, having never been put through anything quite like this before. Like most fitness coaches, he leads by example and joins in significant chunks of these runs. Even at 60, he is as fit as a fiddle.
Ortega’s tactical input is also valued, with Diego Simeone allowing the Uruguayan to design custom fitness sessions based on the tendencies of the upcoming opponent. He even make sure training sessions are as game-like as possible, with few stoppages between each drill.
When it comes to making substitutions, Ortega’s input is valued too, as he knows better than anyone else which players have, as the cliche goes fresh legs. He’ll be on the sideline with the players from the 46th minute onwards to put them through their stretches and to make sure that whoever is selected to enter the fray is truly to do so.
This is partly why Atletico players suffer so few muscle injuries. Nobody crosses that white line feeling stiff. Ortega’s most important contribution, though, is in the general cardiovascular fitness of the squad. The hard miles put in on the golf courses of Segovia help, but their ability to keep this rhythm up all season is unparalleled when compared to other elite European sides with a high number of games.
He is the reason they had the energy to sustain a Barcelona siege on the final day of the triumphant 2013/2014 season. He is the reason they were able to compete on all fronts in the 57 matches of the 2015/2016 season. And he is the reason they were able to thwart Arsenal in the first leg of the 2017/2018 Europa League semi-finals, even though they played 80 minutes with 10 men.
Oscar Ortega is the reason for Atletico Madrid’s third lung!