MADRID – There isn’t much around the Wanda Metropolitano. Skeletons of buildings that are under construction loom near the stadium, but there are no workers to be seen. The Wanda’s lavish west exterior overlooks a wide plot of dusty soil. The huge, modern metro station that services the area is deserted at 2:30 p.m. Few taxis venture to this part of town.
Atletico Madrid’s actual home, though, is supposed to be a statement; a declaration that their spot at Europe’s top table is assured following an unbroken run of six Champions League campaigns – two of which ended in finals. “On the outside it’s pretty, on the inside it’s the business,” club president Enrique Cerezo Torres insisted when the 68,000-capacity stadium opened.
Cerezo may be more correct than he anticipated: the inside may be just business. This summer, the gradual improvement of Atleti’s facilities may be undermined by an excavation of the squad’s core.
Diego Godin – Diego Simeone’s scheme, personified – is a gushy club statement away from leaving, and will likely be followed by Filipe Luis, who is also out of contract when the season ends. Lucas Hernandez’s €80-million transfer to Bayern Munich is already confirmed.
Antoine Griezmann, Los Colchoneros’ high-profile yet underrated frontman, and Hernandez both signed new contracts last summer, but the former’s extortionate wages could weaken Atleti’s resolve if Barcelona come calling again. He may also want to leave: last summer’s decision to stay won’t be rewarded with silverware.
The futures of Saul Niguez, Rodrigo, and Thomas Partey could lie elsewhere too, if reports are to be believed. Diego Costa should be ushered out of the door after two goals in 16 La Liga appearances and his wholly unsurprising disciplinary issues.
Obviously, not all of those players will leave, and Atletico Madrid have recovered from worse.
Football finance expert Jose Maria Gay from the University of Barcelona published figures for the 2011-12 season which revealed debts of €500 million. 90 percent of the club’s annual earnings went on wages for players and staff. The club was in trouble.
So, Atleti sold. Fernando Torres went in 2007, and Sergio Aguero, David De Gea, and Diego Forlan were offloaded four years later. Chief executive Miguel Angel Gil Marin kept hold of other players by selling portions of their transfer rights to firms like Creative Arts Agency. Those deals would bring immediate capital into the club, with third-party companies receiving a percentage of the player’s future transfer fee.
That tactic is no longer possible since FIFA outlawed third-party ownership in 2015. This term’s early exit from the Champions League didn’t help Atleti’s monetary issues, and the stadium is still being paid off. It appears the only way to raise funds is to sell several significant members of Simeone’s squad.
And, so far, there has been a limited response to an anticipated fire sale.
Nehuen Perez, 18, was signed last summer and then immediately loaned back to Argentinos Juniors, where he was yet to make a first-team appearance. He’s an intelligent technician in defense, and has trained alongside Aguero and Javier Mascherano with Argentina, but is extremely raw. The comparisons with Jose Gimenez, the Uruguayan who was plucked from Danubio at the age of 18, have some grounding but are extremely premature.
Of the players who have not been repeatedly linked with moves away, only Angel Correa and Gimenez have played 10 or more league matches and are aged 25 or under. If Atleti are picked off by rivals as expected, they need to rapidly recruit more players of the ilk of Perez and 23-year-old Gelson Martins, and promote from the academy.
Atletico Madrid weren’t always considered among the continent’s elite. Before the 2013-14 season, the capital club reached the knockout rounds of continent’s elite competition twice in 35 years. They were in the second tier for two seasons at the start of the millennium.
Then, with a risky financial approach and inspirational management from Simeone, Atleti defied the odds in recent years by habitually reaching the late rounds of continental competitions. The club’s snazzy new home appeared to be an act of defiance, that it wasn’t content living in the shadow of Real Madrid.
In the next few seasons, we will get a good impression whether Atletico Madrid’s future is built on sound foundations. If there is no discernible contingency plan at the Wanda, the squad will be reduced to rubble reminiscent of the land that encircles their opulent abode.