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Atlético Madrid’s reckoning arrives

Diego Simeone’s side seems to be at a long-awaited crossroads.

Athletic Club v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Nobody thinks a revolution is going to happen until three days after it’s over.

Atlético Madrid can’t seem to go a day without a report of a moving player, someone unhappy with Antoine Griezmann’s wages or Stefan Savić calling the physical trainer a “snake.” We could be in the middle of a revolution at the club not seen, indeed, since Diego Simeone took over in 2011.

As good as Simeone were back then as they carved out their identity, warts and all, the absence of a feature is still a feature and if Atlético are not that hard-nosed, blue collar side, then what exactly are they now?

That win over Juventus at the Wanda Metropolitano with two goals from set-pieces by central defenders reminded many of the halcyon days — it really hasn’t been anything close to that for a long time.

Part of the problem moving forward is how Atlético see themselves. Cholo Simeone was interviewed last year on Spanish radio and he spoke about how he saw Atlético as being a counter-attacking, physically strong side. This echoes statements he has made in the past. That’s how he sees them and that’s not going to change.

Every big game under Simeone has become a referendum and the failures are stacking up. A lot of the criticism levelled at Simeone and Real Betis’ Quique Setién alike is that while it could get a whole lot worse, playing out their own version of Groundhog Day in football boots is worse than adapting and failing.

But Miguel Ángel Gil Marín said Atleti signed Simeone to a new contract and they are sure he will complete that contract.

“I offered Diego the renewal after the Dortmund loss and it was not to go against the grain or to thank him for the last seven years,” he said. “It was because I am convinced that we will enjoy the last three years like we have been doing until now. I am sure that Diego will complete a decade at Madrid and will change our history.”

Inner turmoil and transfer rumours

Taking a closer look, Atlético, a club usually capable of containing rumours and killing speculation at the source with a tight-knit dressing room, seem to be a club at a crossroads.

Diego Godín has a foot and a half out the door with Inter Milan’s CEO saying “we could make it official soon.” Simeone might be the patriarch of the family but Godín is the sergeant and one of just three players to remain from the Argentine’s first ever game in charge at the club, a 0-0 draw against Málaga in Jan. 2012. Filipe Luís and Juanfran are the others.

Bayern Munich are pursuing Lucas Hernández and the lack of news in recent months hinted that Bayern were confident. Reports recently suggest they are very close to a deal and the only stumbling block is the price tag, with Atlético unwilling to negotiate his €80 million release clause.

Griezmann remains constantly on the brink and despite his decision to renew last summer, he is reportedly having doubts. The new deal he signed after he shunned Barcelona has caused rifts. A source close to Saúl has said in an ESPN report that “he can’t stay at Atlético any longer.” Diego Costa is supposedly miffed at the wage increase too and Thomas Partey has been linked to the Premier League — he could be a cheap option for any club in the world in the summer. He has seen his minutes increase steadily and his influence grow but both he and Lucas remain underpaid under the current wage structure.

Meanwhile, Profe Ortega can’t keep himself out of the news. He was sent off against Athletic Bilbao after the Champions League debacle and reportedly had a row with Savić after the Juve game, with the Monegerin saying “say it to my face, you snake” when he heard the trainer commenting on a recent injury despite not even kicking a ball. That’s without even commenting on Atlético’s injury history and the fact that Simeone had to come out and defend his trainer after reports of the row.

Meanwhile, Thomas Lemar and all the ghosts of failed purchases continue to haunt Atlético. From Gelson to Gaitán and from Kranevitter to Vietto, it can’t be long before it’s seen not as a step up but a major risk to move to the club where talent goes maybe not to die, but definitely stutter.

Atlético have won seven trophies under Diego Simeone including a league title, a Copa del Rey, two Europa Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and one Spanish Super Cup. They have been knocked out of “the big one” before the quarter-final in the last two seasons and have barely landed a blow in the LaLiga title race since they won it either.

“I am sure that Diego will complete a decade at Madrid,” said Gil Marín in that statement but it sounds like a milestone they might struggle to rather than reaching naturally.