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After the fantastic achievement of last season, when Atletico Madrid were taken to the final of the Champions League and to their first league title in 18 years, it has been a summer where reality has returned to bite the club that is still crippled by debts despite their remarkable turnaround in fortunes under Diego Simeone.
Since 2011 Atletico have been paying back the outstanding £424.3 million they owed to creditors, including around £141 million to the tax authorities. The club have slowly worked the tax bill down to under £100 million but they are not forecasted to clear their debt to the Spanish public purse until the end of 2018.
Fernando Torres, David De Gea, Sergio Aguero and Rademel Falcao have all recently been sold for huge sums while, despite the £40 million lavished on Falcao in 2011, Atletico have remained stringent in a transfer market that continues to be inflated at a drastic rate.
Astoundingly, Simeone forged a successful squad for around £30 million and a relatively modest wage bill of £45 million, managing to triumph over the more affluent opposition of Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The chasm in spending power has been in evidence again this summer as their city neighbours have added to the Champions League winning squad by signing Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez to take their expenditure for the last year up to £250 million. Barcelona have also strengthened, signing Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu, Marc Andre Ter-Stegen and Claudio Bravo for around £130 million in total.
Atletico meanwhile have been weakened by the sales of last season’s top-scorer Diego Costa and left-back Felipe Luis to Chelsea. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, so excellent in his 3 seasons on loan at the Calderon, will also spend next season at Stamford Bridge as he returns with Atletico unable to raise the finances required to land the Belgian on a permanent deal.
A further £9 million has been recouped on the sale of Adrian Lopez to Porto while 2 goalkeepers, Sergio Asenjo and Roberto, leave for Villarreal and Olympiakos respectively for a combined total of £10 million. At the moment the sales count stands at just over £70 million.
Despite the disbanding of their championship-winning squad, Atletico have at the moment spent more than they have raised in transfer funds, outlaying £77 million on the likes of Jan Oblak, Guilherme Siqueira, Angel Correa and Miguel Angel Moya as Simeone starts to rebuild with the long-term clearly in mind. Utility defender Cristian Asnaldi is also due to join from Zenit St Petersburg.
Mario Mandzukic has joined from Bayern Munich as he saw his role with the Bavarians threatened by the arrival of Robert Lewandowski, the Croatian comes to Madrid with a price tag of £19 million and the power and the ruthless striking ability to make him a prime replacement for Costa.
For £24 million Antoine Griezmann is the latest to join the Simeone regime in Madrid, Atletico beating off interest from Spurs to prise the French winger away from Real Sociedad, for whom he scored 19 goals last term. Liverpool, Arsenal and Monaco have been amongst the other clubs chasing the 23 year old who scored 53 goals in 202 games for Sociedad after coming through the youth ranks with the San Sebastian club. A new contract was on the table at the Anoeta but Atletico managed to meet the €30 million buy-out clause in his contract, the Basque’s bargaining position weakened by a lack of Champions League football.
Griezmann’s versatility will be a huge asset to Simeone who now possesses an attacking trio to rival that of most clubs. Able to play in any position in a front 4, the Frenchman is likely to be used on the right flank and encouraged to cut inside onto his stronger left-foot while Arda Turan does the same on the left.
Mandzukic will benefit prolifically from the support coming from wide areas as Griezmann will surely add more assists to his game with the Croatian awaiting his supply in the centre. At Sociedad Carlos Vela was more comfortable moving deeper between the lines so Griezmann was forced to cut inside to create his own chances with electrifying pace, or to lead the line on his own.
Behind Atletico’s new front-three, the excellent midfield trio of Gabi, Koke and Tiago Mendes will provide a combative and tenacious platform for the attack to thrive, whilst all three possess a boundless stamina to both offer a firm shield to the defence as well as a support to the blistering counter-attacking moves that were executed so well last year. From the 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 that was deployed last season, Simeone will probably now move to a 4-3-3, blooded by the high-octane pressing and combative energy that personify the presence of their fiery coach standing on the touchline.
“A few of our pacier, quick-thinking players like Diego Costa, Adrián and Villa have left and we need to replace them with players in a similar mould” said Simeone. “Up front we’ve lost Costa and Mandzukic has arrived. Griezmann will give us the velocity we’ve lacked and needed”.
“He can give us solutions and he has characteristics which, until now, the team didn’t have” added the Atletico manager but there was one quote that gave the most intriguing insight into this thinking. “You don’t confect a team from just 11 players, but 18 or 20” he said, putting the emphasis once again on squad unity.
Griezmann will bring pace, quick-feet and trickery to replace the talent Atletico have lost amidst a summer of upheaval, but one thing that will not change is the togetherness and desire of Simeone’s teams.
To the Argentine, ability and talent is only a base to the more important traits of work-rate and determination, Griezmann’s vast potential will only benefit further from that.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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