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Analyzing the Koke to Manchester City rumor

Could Atletico actually sell the versatile midfielder, or is an opportunistic media taking advantage of a slump?

FC Bayern Muenchen v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Right now at Atletico Madrid, what’s old is new again. The solidity and remarkable structure of the Diego Simeone Era has been replaced with defending reminiscent of Gregorio Manzano’s time at the club. The defensive double pivot of days past has been brought back and repurposed for usage in 2016 - with poor results. And on Thursday, an old transfer rumor made its way back into the papers.

(They say these things come in threes.)

Marca have a report out saying Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are on the prowl for a new central midfielder - on Wednesday, the uber-talented but ever-frail Ilkay Gundogan ripped up his knee, possibly ending his season. Marca’s Jose Felix Diaz claims that the targeted replacement is none other than Koke and his 150 million euro buyout clause. Koke has been linked to Barcelona and Manchester United in the past, but those links disappeared when the canterano renewed his contract in 2014. The need is so intense apparently that while City are not willing to match that buyout clause, Guardiola could still push for a deal in January, and if not then, next summer.

Now, there is some unpacking to do with this rumor and its interestingly-timed return to the interwebs. Let’s start with where it came from and why it came out at this time. Not to discredit Diaz or his reporting skills, but he is primarily a Real Madrid writer and analyst, and the story was filed from Yokohama, Japan, where league-leading Madrid are participating in the Club World Cup. Atletico are in a tailspin in La Liga, are under transfer ban (funny, so are Madrid) and are dealing with “crisis!” klaxons blaring all around. Such stark contrasts can lend themselves to stories intended to destabilize a rival and paint a picture of a deepening, paradigm-altering crisis. These stories then appear elsewhere and are expounded upon in other outlets, like this one, where it is intimated that a fire sale perhaps would take place in the event Atletico do not qualify for next season’s Champions League - which is quite the stretch and a more complex situation that does not boil down to Koke. Thus, you can see how this manifestation in different outlets leads to the spread of disinformation, which slows us all down as a species.

Dermot Corrigan of ESPNFC raised some actually good and legitimate points with regard to Koke’s role in the team and perception around the club that have nothing to do with Manchester City. Corrigan agrees that the notion of the 24-year-old moving in January is absurd, but points out that the canterano’s long-term status is not so cut-and-dried. For one, he was expected to have made the permanent switch to central midfield by now; he still hasn’t. Simeone is not fully comfortable playing him there despite the fact he is more influential there. Koke is signed through 2019, but renewal talks haven’t really gone anywhere. It would be interesting if there is a feeling around the Vicente Calderon that he has regressed or, perhaps more accurately, not progressed; Koke recorded a career-best 14 assists last season and has notched at least 10 assists in league play each of the past three despite his worsening corner kicks and continued lack of a fixed position. He has as many yellow cards as he has assists (three) in La Liga this season, but he is hardly the only colchonero having a rough year in the league.

Koke has been at Atletico since he was eight years old. He’s still just 24 (25 next month), is quite talented and is probably Atleti’s future captain. He has a massive buyout clause - and remember, Atleti do not sell without a buyer matching that clause - and his club is under transfer ban for a year. There is perhaps some disappointment around the club offices surrounding Koke and other players who have put in lackluster performances in La Liga. But it would be a big surprise if that disappointment evolved into serious consideration of selling the midfielder. It would be downright unconscionable if it happened in the middle of a transfer embargo. I find it hard to believe Manchester City would be remotely comfortable approaching Koke’s buyout (even if it makes for good clickbait), and I find it hard to believe Atleti would lower its demands and cut bait with such an integral part of sides that won the Copa del Rey and La Liga and made two Champions League finals - all before this integral part turned 25 years old.