At the very heart of buying and selling players is risk management. Can the player produce on the field or will they accept a role on the bench if not? Is there sell-on value in case they don’t fit in? Will they add to the dressing room or take away from it?
More often than not at Atlético Madrid, however, it’s how they adapt to the demands of Diego Simeone, his gruelling fitness sessions and his even more taxing expectations on the field. Players who looked like they could be exceptional and bought based on potential crumble under these expectations and only the mentally and physically resilient remain.
Atlético’s recent links with Chelsea’s Álvaro Morata have been disregarded because he doesn’t seem like a Cholo-type player. One of the main reasons he is said to be keen on a move away from Stamford Bridge is because of Gianfranco Zola’s needling of him in a press conference prior to their FA Cup game against Nottingham Forest — about the confidence he needs as a world class striker.
“They expect a lot of goals and many great performances. This is normal and Alvaro has to get used to it,” the Italian said. “He plays at Chelsea, not at Southampton or Brighton.”
Atlético are a big club but not a huge one. They know they need to spend to compete but are aware that when it comes to the trading of players, they need to be careful. They have been helped, of course, with massive bids from China that saw them not lose money on Yannick Carrasco, Augusto Fernández and Jackson Martínez, but that does not erase the fact that these players failed at the club.
Too often, Simeone is given players who don’t fit the bill. Players who arrive having excelled in more attacking sides tend to feel stifled. Others arrive thinking they are signing with a big club where shackles don’t exist and defending is seen as the work of those below them. The reality and the paradox at Atlético under Cholo, however, is that he demands more defending, more intensity and an even deeper brand of concentration regardless of their success.
This has worked for the most part but it feels as though Atlético, after years of consistent top four finishes, are yearning for more. Those title bids that fell to the wayside before May and the Champions League disappointments mean Atlético need to think outside the low block in an effort to wake up their dormant attack — and the links with players such as Morata prove they know something has to change.
Atlético’s style can be bland, their attack featureless as a desert. A player like Morata can make the difference for them in the Champions League. Players brought in at the Wanda Metropolitano are the kind of players that will suffice Simeone’s demands, but with Atletico struggling late in the Champions League, Nikola Kalinić isn’t going to cut it and neither is putting on another midfielder. Atlético need firepower and they should take it in whatever form it comes in — even if it means sacrificing the grit that Simeone requires.
Morata scored three goals in the semifinal first and second legs against Real Madrid in 2015 and in the doomed final against Barcelona during Juve’s run in that competition. He is 26 and has played for huge clubs, which means his value has staying power. He is an elite striker and for better or worse, those players’ values rarely decline to the point of massive losses when selling them on.
One of the things you notice in Sid Lowe’s interview in the Guardian with the kid from Getafe is how abnormally normal he is for a professional footballer. He speaks softly, appears vulnerable and based on what we have seen at Chelsea, suffers with the ebbs and flows of the elusive confidence a striker needs always. If Simeone can get him home and restore that confidence, he knows that he might not be a long-term star in the capital but could provide a moment of magic that would lead to a lasting memory or two in Europe.
Atlético have their hearts set on a Champions League final at their home stadium in June and they know that a player of Morata’s ilk can help them get there.