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Vitolo may not be worth the madness for Atlético

Atlético got Vitolo in the end, but made a mess of his transfer. Now it’s time to make that mess worthwhile.

Sevilla FC v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

So, it finally happened. Diego Simeone got his man at last on Monday, as Atlético Madrid confirmed the long-mooted signing of Sevilla winger Víctor Machín Pérez. Vitolo has signed until 2022 with a reported €150 million buyout clause and will spend his first six months donning the familiar yellow and blue of Las Palmas, the club he played for between 2010 and 2013. Atlético’s FIFA-imposed registration ban will expire on Jan. 1, 2018, at which point the Spain international will join up with Simeone.

It will conclude a years-long process to get the 27-year-old in Atlético’s red and white. Simeone first went after Vitolo in 2013, but he had already reached an agreement with Sevilla. Cholo tried again last summer, but the player decided to stay in Andalusia and renewed his contract. This summer, even while under a registration ban, the Argentine directed Atleti to try a third time - and Atleti actually agreed a deal before its inaction on paying the player’s clause allowed Sevilla to agree another renewal with him. However, Vitolo never signed the renewal, which allowed los colchoneros to offer improved terms and close the deal.

In essence, the Vitolo saga was football’s answer to this:

Trying to conclude a transfer of this magnitude while under a ban was always going to be tough (the €37.5 million deposited with the league offices represents the second-largest transfer in club history), and it’s good that every precaution was taken with the LFP, UEFA and FIFA to ensure the deal’s legality. But the fact that Atlético’s brain trust still managed to screw this up only to have the manager bail everyone out pretty well sums up the Simeone Era.

There are institutional problems at Atlético that pre-date Simeone’s arrival and will likely remain when he leaves. The difficulties in acquiring Vitolo were exacerbated by a boardroom that has experience in failing to acquire Cholo’s top targets. There is but a hint of an established competence baseline at Atlético, and so often it is the coach making his bosses look like geniuses, not the other way around.

Sporting director and chief deal-maker Andrea Berta usually operates in the shadows, but was pushed to the forefront here as he scrambled to revive a deal which had blown up in Atlético’s faces. Bombastic president Enrique Cerezo and reclusive CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marin are already unpopular for engineering Atleti’s move away from Estadio Vicente Calderón and won’t receive carte blanche even as this transfer went through. Just in the past month - in part due to the ban, in part due to Atlético being Atlético - the club failed to complete deals for Dani Ceballos (set to sign for Real Madrid), Alexandre Lacazette (now at Arsenal), Roque Mesa (Swansea City), Sandro Ramírez (Everton) and center back phenom Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan). And it was only through Simeone’s insistence that Vitolo arrived.

Vitolo will help Atlético. He is an extremely versatile player whose dribbling, pace and work ethic will prove valuable upon his arrival in six months. He will allow Atleti to switch seamlessly between formations by playing anywhere in midfield and along the forward line in ways Ángel Correa and Nico Gaitán can’t. But he was not the team’s biggest need - or even second-biggest need - this summer, and one may wonder whether swiping him from Sevilla was the right move when Atleti need to find a Gabi/Augusto replacement and sign a mobile, powerful forward.

Tiago has retired, and Gabi and Augusto are a combined 65 years old. Barring breakout seasons from Matías Kranevitter and/or Thomas Partey, a young central midfielder like Monaco’s Fabinho or Anderlecht’s Leander Dendoncker perhaps should have been priority. As far as a new forward goes, it’s still expected Diego Costa , another Simeone request, completes a move from Chelsea, but no one knows when.

(Oh, and Filipe Luís is the still the only natural left back in the team.)

Another component to this madness is that Atlético’s relationship with Sevilla is now all but destroyed. Years of frost between the two sides began to thaw last year when Atleti sent Kranevitter and Luciano Vietto there on loan and bought Kévin Gameiro. With Sevilla now threatening legal action against the newest colchonero, you can’t help but wonder that if Atleti had simply paid the clause earlier, all this could have been avoided and a useful relationship would have been salvaged. (You may also want to hope that the game at Sevilla this season takes place before January.)

Víctor Machín is a really good player whose presence really could make Atlético more dangerous. But whether the arduous process that brought him to Madrid was worth what he will provide - particularly when there are bigger needs around the squad - is very much up in the air.