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Atlético Madrid won’t give up Thomas Partey without a fight

The academy graduate’s emergence as one of Simeone’s pillars means the club has to reward him accordingly.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Arsenal are keen to sign Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid, and they aren’t alone in their interest. The Guardian say Diego Simeone’s side has made renewing the Ghanaian’s contract a priority, but Thomas’ father said he is already in talks with Mikel Arteta’s side — right before the player’s agent denied it.

The point is that the central midfielder is in demand, and it’s obvious as to why. Thomas is fun to watch. If he’s not being adventurous with his passing in the middle of the field, he’s launching shots from outside the box or dribbling by opponents, limbs flying everywhere as you are welcomed into his awe.

Simeone knew last season that teams were circling for some of his younger players. He knew he would lose someone, but put a red circle around Thomas’ name. He had to stay. Thomas, for his part, absolutely wants to continue at the club:

“It’s the club that has given me everything, it’s my home. It is where I always want to be, they have faith in me and have given me everything since I arrived. They are family.”

What will Thomas’ contract look like?

COVID-19 will turn what were once manageable fees into insurmountable fees. Thomas’ contract has a €50 million release clause — and while that might have seemed small before the global pandemic, several clubs won’t be able to come up with that money along with the pay rise it will entail. Damien Comolli said he was told only three Premier League teams will be able to buy players in the next transfer window.

Atlético’s plan is to double Thomas’ release clause and his wages. The club will be affected by the crisis but the market as a whole will retract. Players might choose the safety of what they know rather than venturing into a new league and a new country during such an unpredictable time.

Thomas’ wages are not commensurate with his input. He is the fourth-most used player in the league with 1,840 minutes this season, but he is one of the lowest earners in the entire squad. A new contract will change that.

What does Thomas really offer?

Aside from the occasional worldie, the 26-year-old offers plenty of energy in the middle but aside from generic phrases like that, it’s hard to explain exactly what he offers to Atlético or does exceptionally well. As you can see from the figure below, he doesn’t pressure particularly high and his defensive actions overall are down this season. Thomas is not a typical defensive midfielder in Casemiro’s mould, he doesn’t have Xabi Alonso’s passing range or Sergio Busquets’ metronomic quality. He does, however, possess above average ability to do all of the above with supreme athleticism and physical presence. As he sharpens those tools, he will become even more valuable.

Thomas Partey is now Simeone’s base in midfield. His attacking third touches have dropped from 16.8 last season to 10.6 this year per 90 minutes. He has played a more creative role in the past and does so for his country — but Simeone is crafting Thomas into a deep-lying midfielder.

As you can see below, he carries the ball further than any other Atlético player. He is also a passing target utilized more than almost every other player — only Koke ranks ahead of him. Simeone has been critical of Thomas in the past for his decision-making — and if Simeone is criticising a player in public, it’s to reinforce the importance of the issue and to elicit a response. Cholo knew Thomas was the answer to his problems in midfield, but he needed him to be more careful in possession before handing him the keys to the team.

However, there is a beauty to Thomas’ unpredictability and to erase it entirely from his game would be to erase his essence. He’s as likely to slalom his way around a mid-block as he is to rake a pass 30 yards onto the foot of an advancing full-back. What Simeone needed was for him to know when to deploy each of these skills.

Thomas’ carries per 90 minutes are down, his total distance travelled with the ball at his feet is down, but his influence has never been more obvious. His efficiency is up across the board even as some of his metrics have dropped. For example, he has 0.98 intercepted passes per 90 this season opposed to 1.4 last season. He is not forcing action as much as he once did, with his place in the team secure and the need to impress every single time he touches the ball diminishing.

Whatever happens, Thomas Partey is in a nice position. He’s comfortable in the capital, committed to life there. During the coronavirus pandemic, he has guaranteed that the workers of Alcobendas Sport — the club in which he holds an ownership stake — will be paid fully and will not be put on temporary leave. He is adapting rapidly to a deep-lying playmaker role under Diego Simeone, and his play demands a pay rise from a club he loves. If Atlético can convince him to sign a deal, he’ll be committed to them beyond 2023 too.