Negotiations were bitter. Diego Simeone reportedly stormed out of the boardroom multiple times, muttering something indistinguishable about “the modern footballer” and “corporate energy drink sellouts.” But in the end, the deal got done.
“Timo Werner has agreed to join Atlético de Madrid, effective immediately,” the RB Leipzig press release read. “The two clubs have agreed upon a fee of €69.5 million.”
After salary negotiations with Enrique Cerezo, Werner signed a five-year contract that actually paid him less per week than he was earning in Leipzig. The contract provides a hefty bonus if Werner hits 25 goals each season. The lad is clearly confident in his skills.
Werner immediately linked up with his teammates in Miami, where Atlético were competing in the International Champions Cup. Simeone presented him with the number 25 shirt as his teammates looked on. He and the squad prepared to face Bayern Munich the next morning.
Cholo ran out a 4-3-1-2 against Bayern. Renan Lodi, Felipe, José Giménez and Kieran Trippier formed the back four, with Saúl, Thomas, and Koke in midfield. João Félix played in a free, Antoine Griezmann-esque role behind Werner and Álvaro Morata.
Despite the excitement of a new marquee signing, Atlético got off to a sluggish start against the Bavarians. Félix, who had bagged a hat trick last time out against Liverpool, was nowhere to be found in the early going. Robert Lewandowski had the ball in the net on a ninth minute header. Atleti had yet to really possess the ball.
(I’ve also only been playing Volta mode for the past month, so I’m a little rusty — my bad. But I’m pretty good at Volta now!)
New signing Werner showed up some intuitive holdup/linkup play, spraying several good-looking balls out to the wing for Lodi. Unfortunately, Lodi was inexplicably shackled by Álvaro Odriozola, unable to put in a decent cross.
In the 23rd minute, Werner dunked on former Atleti canterano Lucas Hernandez, robbing him of the ball and racing in on Manuel Neuer. Unfortunately, when presented with the chance to score on his debut, Werner responded by shooting straight at the keeper.
Atlético were thoroughly outplayed for the remainder of the half, seemingly unable to string together two passes. “¡Andan regalando, los Colchoneros!” the play-by-play man complained. They’re going around giving out gifts, the Mattress Makers!
At halftime, Simeone opted for more width, shifting back into his familiar 4-4-2 by introducing Yannick Carrasco and Ángel Correa for Thomas and Morata. He also brought on Stefan Savić for Felipe, who had picked up a yellow in the first half.
Unfortunately, it was just one of those days for the club. Anyone who has ever watched Atlético is familiar with these outings. Atleti huffed and puffed, but never looked close to blowing the house down, falling one-nil to the Bundesliga champions.
Werner had another chance to level the score in the 82nd minute. Once again, he shot straight at Neuer.
The supporters chalked up his two misses to bad luck or perhaps a mental block about playing against Bayern, whom he frequently faced as a Red Bull. They applauded him at the final whistle.
Fortunately, Atlético had an opportunity to right the ship three days later against Inter Milan. Cholo chose the same 11 that he’d picked against Bayern.
Atleti started brightly. Koke created a great chance for Félix, who dragged his shot attempt wide. Fortunately, João had built up some goodwill with the supporters thanks to his hat trick against Liverpool a few days prior.
“What a shame for Koke and for the boy!” lamented the announcer.
In the fourth minute, Werner once again fluffed his lines, shooting straight at a grateful Samir Handanović when put clean through. Werner tore at his coiffed hair in frustration.
In the 24th minute, Werner hit the post with a slow-bouncing header after a post-corner scramble.
Supporters stirred restlessly in the upper decks. Werner was supposed to be a godsend for a club starved for goals, the player Atleti have needed ever since the Lautaro Martínez debacle. But so far, Werner looked closer to Jackson Martínez than Lautaro Martínez.
Even the bits of clever holdup play Werner displayed against Bayern were nowhere to be found. Inter center back and Atleti legend Diego Godín seemed to be dominating his matchup with the German striker.
Near the end of the first half, Werner stumbled upon an oasis in the desert. A clumsy challenge in the box from Inter’s 20 year-old starlet Alessandro Bastoni sent Werner sprawling to the turf. The German stopped, dropped and rolled as the entire stadium inhaled.
The ref pointed to the spot.
Here was Werner’s opportunity to prove he was worth the big money. Here was his chance to show something to the supporters who had — briefly — begun to doubt him. Werner took a deep breath, picked his spot, and cooly slotted home into the side netting. Handanović never even moved. Werner celebrated with a backflip.
Now behind, Inter threw everything they had at the Rojiblancos before halftime. Romelu Lukaku won a free kick in a dangerous spot. Christian Eriksen fired a curling shot on net, but Jan Oblak was there to palm it away. Atleti survived until halftime, still up one-nil.
Early in the second half, Oblak saved the day when Lukaku ran through on goal after Inter sliced Cholo’s defense to ribbons.
Unfortunately, Oblaktopus was only able to hold back the onslaught for so long. Nicolò Barella finished off an excellent team move to level the scores. Oblak got a hand to Barella’s shot, but the ball just trickled over the goal line.
In the end, it was Saúl who saved the day. He tapped into a past version of himself, when he basically dribbled through Bayern Munich’s entire team in the 2016 Champions League semis. Saúl cruised through the Inter defense, which frankly displayed quite a bit of apathy. He slid a pass to Werner, who fired home with glee. Atleti finished the ICC with a 2-1 victory.
Immediately after the match, Simeone received a call on his Motorola Razr. Virtual Cholo isn’t much for the ostentation of modern smartphones. Cerezo was on the other line.
“We need to talk,” he said.
Minutes earlier, Manchester City had officially submitted a €54 million bid for Koke, Atlético Madrid’s captain. Though Man City cannot offer Champions League football, the prospect of working under Pep Guardiola and teaming up with Rodri in midfield could prove enticing.
And here, dear reader, is where we arrive at our first crossroads:
Should we sell our captain?
It would certainly be a ruthless move. Koke is a canterano. He bleeds red and white. He was a key part of the 2014 league-winning side. He’s been a great servant of the club, and surely he would prefer to stay. He is 27 years old, and he should have several years of good football left in his legs.
But Bill Belichick always severs ties with a player a year too early rather than a year too late. Should we adopt a similar policy? Leverkusen are apparently willing to part with Kai Havertz for a reasonable price.
Second Life: Atleti have already made Vitolo, Diego Costa, Thomas Lemar and Šime Vrsaljko available for transfer. Tottenham Hotspur have submitted a €23 million bid for Savić. But the club still needs to make up the money they shelled out for Werner, and €54 million is nothing to sneeze at.
Can we really someone as important and loyal as Koke, our captain? You decide!
Should we sell Koke to Man City?
This poll is closed
Yes, and we should use the money to buy Kai Havertz as his replacement.
Yes, and we should replace him in house with Héctor Herrera and Marcos Llorente.
Yes, but only if we get full market value (€73 million).
Another bit of housekeeping: now that we have Timo Werner, we need to find the best way to deploy him. Which of these is the best formation?
What formation should Atleti play?
This poll is closed
Something else (let us know in the comments!)
Thanks for your participation! Second Life: Atleti are ready to enter the La Liga season on a high note.
There’s also been a rumor around the club. Apparently, Cholo was frustrated with the offensive output in the final two matches of the International Champions Cup. By the next Second Life installment, he just might have signed a new winger.
Join us next time to find out if we’ve sold Koke and if we have a new winger!