Diego Simeone’s comments in the aftermath of Atletico Madrid’s Champions League final loss to Real Madrid suggested that his project in the Spanish capital could be over. The 46-year-old was coy when asked about his future and said that he would have to take time to think about it, a statement which appeared to be genuine.
After four and a half years in the role, Simeone had taken Atletico to two Champions League finals, but had lost both of them to Real Madrid by the finest of margins. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe it was time to pack up and move on to a new challenge.
That option may have crossed his mind, but in the end the Argentine got back to work and, working with those in the offices of the Vicente Calderon Stadium, has done an incredible job already to assemble a competitive squad. It will be difficult to return to the Champions League final or to challenge for the La Liga title yet again, but Atletico are a better team today than they were in Milan in May.
Nico Gaitan, the impressive Argentinian winger, has joined the club and Los Rojiblancos will hope he reproduces some of the form he showed last campaign, when he scored 11 goals and provided 20 assists for Benfica. Also passing through an introductory Press conference has been Croatia international right-back Sime Vrsaljko, whose arrival will allow more rest time for the aging Juanfran in the 2016-17 season.
It is similarly reassuring that Atletico kept hold of club legend Fernando Torres, securing the man who scored 10 goals in the second half of last season on a free transfer from Milan. The exciting 19-year-old Diogo Jota has also checked in, although he is one for the future.
All of these players make Atletico stronger, while tying Euro 2016 Golden Boot-winner Antoine Griezmann to a new deal with a prohibitively high release clause has been as important as a new signing. In the past, a player who had performed as well as Griezmann did last season would have been sold to help pay off the club’s debt, but with Atletico’s finances looking healthier and healthier, they can afford to keep him.
Quite simply, Atletico are no longer a ‘selling club’. Any player that has been sold by Los Rojiblancos this summer was no longer wanted, such as Leo Baptistao or Josuha Guilavogui. They are now a club with both the ambition and the finances to sign star players and their summer of spending appears far from over.
It looks likely that a striker will be signed before the end of the transfer window, although the identity of said striker remains unknown. Gonzalo Higuain, Kevin Gameiro, Edinson Cavani and Diego Costa have all been linked with the club and the arrival of any one of those names would further cement the team’s position as title challengers. It’s certainly an exciting time to be an Atleti fan.