After a sensational U-21 European Championship, Saúl Ñíguez has renewed his contract with Atlético Madrid until 2026, becoming the third Atlético player this summer to do so. Last season, Saúl confirmed his place in the long-term future of Atlético’s midfield as he performed fantastically well, with great consistency throughout the second half of the campaign. The 22-year-old also continued his knack of scoring in big games, netting in each of the Champions League knockout rounds he participated in.
The Spanish press cannot fathom a quality player not wanting to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, so of course Saúl was immediately linked with a move to Camp Nou following his hat trick against Italy in the previously mentioned European Championship. However, like his midfield partner Koke - who also renewed this summer - Saúl is a devoted Atlético academy contract and immediately renewed his contract after the Euros. The deal is not a straight up nine-year deal, but instead a five year extension to his previously existing four year-deal. The contract also includes a €150 million buyout clause, nearly doubling the clause in his old contract. Seemingly, Saúl has no plans of leaving the Wanda Metropolitano any time soon, and no Atlético fan in their right mind would complain about that.
Next season will be an interesting one for the Spanish international, who has played his last ever tournament for the youth wing of the national team. Gabi again had a fantastic campaign, but the clock is ticking for him in terms of how much longer his body can keep up. What is encouraging is how much Saúl began to resemble a younger version of Gabi last season, as well as in the Under-21 Championship. The aggressive tracking back and gut busting run forwards are trademark Diego Simeone instructions, and his growth over the last couple seasons has been fantastic. What remains to be seen is whether he and Koke will be able to form a working partnership in midfield.
The best possible outcome for Atlético’s midfield given current personnel would likely require a shift in the midfield numbers, playing a three instead of Simeone’s preferred two. Saúl and Koke together in a two leaves Atleti far too open, though their attacking potential is high. Success could be had if Atleti add in a more defensive option to cover them so they can be free to venture forward and create. The “number 6” defensive midfielder could be Gabi for as long as he can maintain his high level of play, or even someone like Thomas Partey could succeed in that role.
Either way, Saúl extending his contract and boosting his buyout clause is nothing but splendid news for Atlético, as they aim to keep their best players and are in a position financially to do so. The loyalty shown by many squad members, especially under a registration ban, is extremely encouraging and hopefully bodes well for 2017-18. Saúl is already a beloved member of Atleti, and the Elche native will only become a bigger and more important squad member as time goes on.