Enrique Cerezo proclaimed Tuesday to be a great day for Atletico Madrid and its supporters. At a press conference inside the Vicente Calderon, Atletico’s president and minority shareholder introduced Nicolas Gaitan, the Benfica winger whom Atleti had tracked for several years but finally acquired in May for a reported fee of 25 million euros. The 28-year-old stated how flattered he was by Diego Simeone’s interest in him and that he actually wanted to come to the Calderon last summer. He held up the shirt, kicked some balls into the crowd and took a selfie. A great day for everyone involved.
Gaitan is an important signing for Atletico. He may instantly become Simeone’s most creative player, certainly from a wide position. The Argentine possesses a combination of quickness and that sick diagonal ball into the box that Atleti needed desperately in 2015-16; often, the team had one or the other. If he adjusts quickly, he undoubtedly will improve the team and become a crucial player.
However, while Atletico and its supporters are right to revel in the arrival of a really, really good player, the work is not finished. The most important signing has not been made yet: the new #9.
You’re probably tired of hearing about it and we’re getting tired of talking about it. Atleti have not found that first-or second-tier forward that can take the load off Antoine Griezmann next season and serve as that potential “missing piece” in La Liga and the Champions League. On Monday, Cerezo ruled out several players; Carlos Bacca, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi. He reinforced the club’s desire to free Diego Costa from his perceived London misery, which finally convinced Chelsea manager Antonio Conte to speak about the player.
There is still time, and Cerezo has narrowed the field. The 2016-17 La Liga season begins Aug. 21. It’s important that a new signing arrives before then to acclimate to Cholo’s demanding training sessions - lest we have another Alessio Cerci fiasco. With a month to go until the new season Atletico are yet to hit the ever-exciting “advanced talks” stage, even as Sevilla essentially confirmed three-time Europa League winner Kevin Gameiro can be had at the right price.
This was never going to be easy. Top clubs don’t tend to give up top forwards very often, even when outrageous money is on the table. Even as Atleti have played in two Champions League finals in the past three years, its hierarchy has struggled thus far to convince the elite forward class to lower their shields and soak up the Madrid sun. And this fervent desire for a Costa reunion, a reunion that seemed distinctly possible at several points over the past 12 months, is in danger of being extinguished at long last. It’s up to Atleti to regard that as the best scenario possible (abandoning for this summer a Quixotic cause) or the worst (keeping Luciano Vietto and watching him lose the ball and shoot wide for another season). Making a decision on this front also will allow the club to move on to other increasingly pressing matters, like organizing loans or sales for several young/fringe players, such as Borja Baston, Diogo Jota, Javi Manquillo, Bernard Mensah and Oliver Torres.
Gaitan will have Griezmann to cross to. As July winds down, the clock to find “the other forward” ticks away with impunity.