How does Atletico Madrid improve?
Background photo: Fernando Pascullo, CC BY-SA 4.0
Atletico Madrid are at a crossroads. Diego Costa is fading. Diego Godin is walking away. Two Champions League Finals, two Europa League cups, a Liga and Copa Del Rey title matter little now. Los Colchoneros can no longer live in the moment under the third Diego, Simeone. They must consider the future.
Some astute choices in the upcoming transfer window may calm nerves but, at this moment, Atletico appear uncertain. Simeone's success was no fluke. Nor was it easily bought. Keeping up with Barcelona and staying one step ahead of Real Madrid seems unsustainable no matter how much money the club throws at players.
In fact, the more expensive investments haven't come good for them of late. In all, the Rojiblancos signed ten players for more than £20 million pounds. Only Antoine Griezmann [£27 million] has given good value and remained with the club. As noted, the £59.4 million spent on Costa appears to be a write-off. The same can be said for the £32.4 million spent on left winger Vitolo in 2017. Radamel Falcao [£36 million], Jackson Martinez [£33.4 million] and Kevin Gameiro [£27 million] all moved on to other European clubs. Nico Gaitan [£22.5 million] and Yannick Carrasco [£22.3 million] emigrated to Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League respectively. Stefan Savic [£22.5 million] and Thomas le Mar [£63 million] continue to develop, although you would expect the Frenchman to be a fixture in the starting XI at that price.
It's the more discreet investments, such as Rodri [£18 million] and Jan Oblak [£14.4 million] who paid the biggest dividends.
Questions are asked about Simeone's future as well following the second-leg reversal to Juventus in Turin. Despite all he's achieved, some wonder whether the Argentine can take Los Indios to the next level. Cristiano Ronaldo or no Cristiano Ronaldo, Simeone's club's don't fritter away two-goal advantages. Thinking is that a change might be refreshing for all concerned.
The debate surrounding the manager extends into the club's playing style. Positive football is sweeping through Europe. Do Atleti want to be the last dinosaurs still emphasising defensive tactics? Conservatism is what continues to alienate Ernesto Valverde to a healthy section of Barcelona fans, all the worse since his fortifications don't seem to hold serious attacks at bay.
If Atletico wishes to remain resolute without Simeone at the back, there are few tacticians they can turn to who might build on the Argentine's foundation. Jose Mourinho, perhaps. Beyond the Portuguese, however, the field dwindles.
On the other hand, their status in Europe means they can attract any top manager if they are willing to embrace change. Of course, any new gaffer must be willing to work on a budget. Sorry, Jose.
However the club proceeds, this summer marks a watershed moment. Change must come at the club. Even if Simeone remains, the era of the Diegos is closing at the Wanda Metropolitano. New names and faces will pull on the shirt. Expecting them to rival Barcelona and Real and compete in European finals on a regular basis might not be realistic. When fans and boards can't keep it real, everything tends to crumble around them. Ask Real Madrid or Manchester United supporters. Roma, as well.
Atleti is at a crossroads and any path they choose will be a hard one.