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Contracts in the Time of Coronavirus: Midfielders

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The first in a three-part series, looking at each first-teamer’s deal with Atlético.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

For reference, here is Robbie Dunne’s player salary graphic.

The anchors

Koke

Age 28

Contract length (date signed) To 2024 (signed May 23, 2017)

Need a renewal? Not right now. Koke is the team’s third-highest earner at around €8 million a year, a smidge behind Diego Costa (whose contract has just one year to run).

What the future holds Koke will be a one-club man and Atlético Madrid’s captain until he retires. Health permitting, he will pass Adelardo Rodríguez to become Atlético’s all-time appearances leader — the record is 551, and he’s 102 games away from breaking it.

Koke will be 32 when his contractual link to his boyhood club expires. Atlético’s policy is to offer one-year renewals to players over 30 — it’s the biggest reason Diego Godín left for Inter Milan last year. Certainly, Koke will sign another deal before 2024, but I think it’s more likely he will take two or three one-year extensions rather than another long-term deal next year at age 29.

Saúl Ñíguez

Age 25

Contract length (date signed) To 2026 (July 1, 2017)

Need a renewal? Yes. Saúl takes home €6 million per year as stipulated in his contract. But that contract took effect before he became one of the team’s captains, before he helped Atlético win two trophies in 2018 — scoring the winning goal to clinch the second. This deal took effect before he began to deputize at left back and before he helped Atleti knock out Liverpool in the Champions League with a patented big-game moment. One could argue he should be the club’s second-highest paid player.

What the future holds Most recently, some media outlets trumpeted Manchester United as Saúlito’s next destination. Fortunately, the academy graduate has a €150 million release clause and Atlético are under no pressure to negotiate. The club has been in talks with Saúl’s representatives for the better part of a year — and though no agreement has been reached, he himself has never indicated a desire to leave the capital. Not once. Even though he’s played left back far too much.

But these are uncertain times. Football’s economy will take time to recover — plus, if the season does not resume and Atlético are sent to the Europa League, someone might have to go. And Saúl would bring back the highest fee. That said, he loves the club as much as anyone and Diego Simeone values him extremely highly. For these reasons, he gets a pay raise eventually.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Thomas Partey

Age 26

Contract length (date signed) To 2023 (March 1, 2018)

Need a renewal? YES YES YES. Thomas’ contract is the biggest non-COVID discussion topic in Atletiland. Robbie summarized his situation earlier this week.

What the future holds Arsenal’s interest is real and has been for years. In response, Atlético wish to double Thomas’ salary and his €50 million release clause. The Ghana star is worth more than that, and his representation knows as much.

Moving to London would be a step down professionally for Thomas at this time, so it makes sense to use the Gunners’ interest as leverage in negotiations. Atleti need to make sure he’s satisfied — he is financially more attainable than Saúl, and he could leave if consistent talks don’t culminate with a fresh contract.

Secondary options

Héctor Herrera

Age 30

Contract length (date signed) To 2022 (July 3, 2019)

Need a renewal? No. Herrera makes more money than Thomas.

What the future holds The Mexico midfielder does several things well in both phases of the game and thus is a good guy to have around. Simeone might continue to experiment with playing him wide, which will boost his value.

Marcos Llorente

Age 25

Contract length (date signed) To 2024 (June 20, 2019)

Need a renewal? No, but maybe a place in the Senate after his Anfield heroics.

What the future holds Llorente took advantage of Herrera’s groin injury to pull ahead of him on the depth chart. His spike in form culminated with those two goals on Merseyside, but he had adapted well previously to playing on the right, where he didn’t have to conduct a game with his passing and could better utilize his freak athleticism.

Marcos’ improvement could give Simeone a selection headache whenever he’s able to select teams again. Will the Argentine play four central midfielders more regularly in the absence of a reliable winger? Will he feel comfortable giving Saúl the occasional breather? How about — gasp — Koke?

The “who should stay or who should go?” department

Vitolo

Age 30

Contract length To 2022 (July 12, 2017)

Need a renewal? Oh, no.

What the future holds Vitolo has often been better in theory than practice. Ideally a dream fit in Simeone’s system, the ex-Sevilla star has missed 21 games due to injuries — including a Europa League final — since joining Atlético in 2018. This season is the first time he’s topped 1,000 league minutes and scored more than once in red and white.

Vitolo is a quick, intelligent, hard-working winger who misses a lot of time and happens to make roughly €6 million net. It’s not unreasonable to think he could be looking for a new home if Atleti get an acceptable offer.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Granada CF - La Liga Photo by Rubén de la Fuente Pérez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Yannick Carrasco

Age 26

Contract length To 2022 with Dalian Professional (Feb. 26, 2018)

Need a renewal? Not Atlético’s choice as yet — he’s still a Dalian player, technically.

What the future holds Maybe away from Atlético. Again.

The club brought back Carrasco to give Simeone something to aid his attack. Carrasco has played just 155 minutes across five league games, only one of which ended in a win. He was on the bench for both legs against Liverpool.

Unless Cholo has a revelation about his explosive winger, Carrasco either won’t play much or will be playing elsewhere when football resumes. Either way, the Belgian’s Chinese adventure has ended, so assuming Atlético make his move permanent, the club could loan him out — Arsenal held a long-standing interest — and insert an option/obligation to buy into the agreement.

Thomas Lemar

Age 24

Contract length To 2023 (July 27, 2018)

Needs a renewal? Wouldn’t get one even if he did.

What the future holds Simeone hates Lemar, and the player is tired of being in Madrid. Ergo, a transfer.