Don Gabriel Fernández Arenas has taken his leave.
Atlético Madrid’s captain confirmed his departure for Qatar’s Al Sadd in a press conference at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday evening, ending a decorated playing career which saw him pull on the famous red-and-white stripes on 417 occasions.
Se despide del @Atleti nuestro capitán. Gracias Gabi por todo lo que has aportado a estos colores, siempre te elegiría en mi equipo. Mucha suerte en tu nueva etapa y vuelve pronto ⚪ #GraciasCapitán pic.twitter.com/k3KL8Gejof— Fernando Torres (@Torres) July 3, 2018
Gabi was flanked at the ceremony by former Atlético defender Antonio López (who he replaced as captain in 2011/12) in addition to Juanfran, Koke and Saúl Ñíguez. Juanfran said his former captain was “irreplaceable” and wished him the best, while Koke told the 34-year-old to prepare already for his Atleti return, as he would be “the next coach of Atlético Madrid.”
Juanfran, Koke y Saúl han entregado una camiseta conmemorativa a Gabi en nombre de todos los compañeros. pic.twitter.com/NHKOWqtNqk— La Colchonería (@la_colchoneria) July 3, 2018
Gabi explained that he turns 35 next week and won’t get another chance to be an automatic starter like he will at Al Sadd. He also admitted that he had turned down offers to win titles at other clubs before.
That said, Gabi plans to return to the capital as soon as possible in an as-yet undefined role. In addition, the club will offer him a second farewell before the season kicks off in August.
“I’ve always felt that the badge was not embroidered on the shirt, but on the inside of the skin,” Gabi said. “That’s going to stay the same.
“Being part of Atleti is a way of life...I’m always going to express how I feel about the club wherever I am. I’m going to change teams and teammates, but [the sentiment] won’t change.”
As for where Atlético go now, look for Diego Godín to be named the next club captain, with Koke and Saúl as vice-captains. Godín has popped up in exit rumors himself lately, but the 32-year-old is expected to sign a new contract after Uruguay’s World Cup campaign ends —he’ll most likely take the captain’s band at that time.