By Brendy Boyle l @BrendyBoyle
Most Atlético Madrid fans I have spoken to this week are excited by the arrival of Luis Suárez. They see a past-his-peak Uruguayan as an upgrade to the eternally restless, lost soul of Álvaro Morata. Perhaps, as was the case with the return of Diego Costa three seasons ago, they are yearning for the days which are now well in the past.
Over in Barcelona, the cold send-off given to the club´s third-highest record goal scorer (198 goals) is both puzzling and rather depressing in equal measures. Add that to the way another great servant at the club, Ivan Rakitic, was treated and you begin to wonder what exactly some Barca fans really want.
Diego Simeone’s admiration for Suárez is well known; his men have been on the receiving end of several Suárez daggers in the past and Atleti fans have had to sit back and watch as his goals and guile helped Barca enjoy an overwhelming period of domestic domination.
Of course, those against the signing will immediately point to the Uruguayan´s fitness and physical condition and it´s only natural to be pessimistic when looking at the two out-and-out strikers at Los Rojiblancos. Can they consistently meet the intensity levels Simeone demands across an entire campaign, which also includes juggling Champions League and cup commitments?
Before the season began, there was not a lot to be excited about surrounding Atleti. Bar hopes of a João Felix breakout season, there is a solid defence, a midfield roster of honest professionals and decent footballers, and a relatively uninspiring attack. This is a side who were too nice to go the distance with the big two, despite their own glaring limitations. There is only one way for Atletico Madrid to win under Diego Simeone and that is by becoming a “Simeone team” again.
Evolution, revolution, transformation – whatever you call it, when it comes to the Argentine there is only one way to be successful: by building a ferocious core of 14/15 players who are willing to run further, chase more aggressively and be more bastardy than their opponents, week after week.
This side does not have the mental toughness or guile to be greater than the sum of their parts. But Suárez should help. He is a winner and this Atleti side lacks winners; from the get-go, he will demand his new teammates to be better players.
Despite what he brings in terms of attitude, Suárez’s success will inevitably be down to the success of the team. If Simeone cannot get the system right in terms of midfield and support runners then Suárez will be isolated and left chasing shadows and it will all be a waste of time.
But with players like João Felix, Marcos Llorente and Ángel Correa, Simeone has the pieces that can be pushed up to play in and around Suárez, players that can cover the ground and reduce that physical burden on the new Atlético number nine.
Will Suárez yield more goals than Morata could have? The difference would not be great enough to justify handing over €50m to Chelsea only to send Morata to Juventus on loan. However, with Suárez comes the intangibles, the things that give the two fingers to xG, xA, xWhatever. That is why football can be great: sometimes the numbers are unable to paint the picture of what we see before our very eyes. That is why the free bet is particularly tempting as this season gets underway.
Being close friends with Atletico legend and compatriot Diego Godin as well as new teammate José María Giménez, Suárez already understands how the club ticks and what the fans demand. He has been on the receiving end of their warm welcomes for years.
Besides a killer instinct in the penalty area, Simeone will be hoping that Suárez’s famous grit and ferocious barrio (street-footballer) style rubs off and cajoles those around him. Is it possible than Diego Costa looks at his new partner trundling and rumbling around the Wanda Metropolitano like a mad man and see reflections of his former self?
Can the Uruguayan reignite that spark? Picture the “I´m afraid” scene in Rocky 3 with Rocky (Costa) and Adrian (Suárez) on the beach. A Suárez-Costa tag-team could be just the tonic this La Liga needs to spark the campaign into life. We live in hope.
Beyond goals and a David Villa-esque season, could Suarez’s legacy at Atlético be that of the guy who helped ignite a new generation of Cholismo? Or will it prove to be a futile, idealistic and romantic punt as Simeone tries to recapture something that is never coming back?
Image via Marca