On May 22, 2020, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez spoke the words we’ve been waiting months to hear: LaLiga will be free to resume play on June 8. The first fixture will be the Derbi Sevillano between Sevilla and Real Betis on June 12. Atlético Madrid likely will play Athletic Club in an empty San Mamés soon thereafter.
This news comes on the heels of Atlético’s return to training. The club’s social media pages have been pumping out content, giving us glimpses of a return to normalcy. Some Atleti players have clearly been bored in the house. They have reckoned with their ennui by changing their hairstyles. Josema looks like a White Walker. Saúl has gone for the buzz.
Everyone is clearly excited to be back in training. And Simeone is being responsible, presiding over everything with a mask and gloves.
As such, Second Life Atleti has served its purpose. We no longer need a second life because we’ve been given our first one back. Soon, actual match recaps and analysis will return to the site. Jeremy’s Colchonero Chat podcasts will have actual soccer to discuss.
This is the final “Second Life” installment. Before we go, we’ll make a few big splashes in the transfer market, finish the preseason, play our first LaLiga match, and compare Second Life Atleti to real life Atleti.
Last month, Second Life Atleti were considering a move for another winger. Although the club had opted for a narrow 4-3-2-1 option, they needed a player who could provide width and an attacking spark off the bench.
Unfortunately, the club was cash strapped after a big move for German striker Timo Werner. Atlético needed to raise some funds. Fortunately — and inexplicably — Stefan Savić was at the very top of The Special One’s wishlist.
Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy approached Enrique Cerezo and Diego Simeone with a €26 million offer for Savić. According to Transfermarkt, that offer was in line with Savić’s $28 million market value.
Cerezo and Simeone wouldn’t budge. The pair played hardball and were able to wring an additional €7 million out of Tottenham before agreeing to the sale. Atlético felt as if €33 million was a great return for Savić, especially with Mario Hermoso angling for a bigger role within the club.
Atleti were far from done in the transfer market. Several Chinese clubs were reportedly interested in signing Diego Costa. Atleti had a chance to make a profit on La Pantera, for whom they had paid Chelsea an initial €56 million in 2018. In recent months, Costa’s transfer value had dipped all the way to $16 million, according to Transfermarkt.
Together, Cerezo and Simeone hatched a plan. They would turn Costa into a younger asset. They approached Valencia about 20-year-old starlet Ferran Torres, who had carved up Atleti’s backline in their February 2020 match. They offered Costa and €1 million for Torres, valued at $50 million by Transfermarkt.
Valencia were in a pinch. They’d become dissatisfied with Kévin Gameiro. They needed goals. Almost unthinkably, Los Che accepted the offer.
All of a sudden, Atleti had secured another F. Torres. He received a five-year contract and the number 26 shirt. Hopefully, he’ll work out as well as the first one did.
After securing Ferran Torres’s signature, Los Colchoneros took to the field in the International Champions Cup semifinals to face off against Brazilian side Atlético Mineiro. During a cagey first half, João Félix mishit a few half-chances, as he is sometimes wont to do. Early in the second half, the commentators confirmed César Azpilicueta’s transfer to Real Madrid.
“That is an exaggerated transfer fee for a player of that caliber,” the color commentator scoffed.
In the second half, Simeone introduced Torres for Álvaro Morata, drawing scattered applause from the 20-30 American Atlético supporters watching from the upper decks.
The match was so dull that the stadium’s PA announcer prematurely announced Josema Giménez — pronouncing his first name as “JOE-SAY” — as man of the match.
In stoppage time, Torres quickly made his first impact as an Atlético de Madrid player. Receiving the ball with his back to goal in the midfield, Torres sprayed a diagonal ball out to the wing for Renan Lodi. The left back scampered into the box and squared for Timo Werner, who tapped in.
Atlético would hold on for the remaining minute of stoppage time, advancing to play Liverpool in the ICC finals.
Atlético took to the field in the ICC finals wearing their ‘90s inspired ice blue third kits. After Los Rojiblancos drubbed them 5-0 earlier in the competition, Liverpool came out hungry for revenge. Jordan Henderson hit the post in the eighth minute after a great setup from Sadio Mané.
Henderson’s near-miss seemed to wake up Atleti. They grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck. Félix nearly hit the target with an ambitious volley.
“Great opportunity, terrible shot,” the color commentator said.
Unlike the semifinals, this match was a swashbuckling affair, with end-to-end action that seemed to favor Liverpool. However, it was Atleti who controlled much of the first half. They finally hit pay dirt in the 39th minute, when Kieran Trippier swung in a near post corner for Morata to nod home.
Uncharacteristically, Atleti could not defend a 1-0 lead. Mohamed Salah finished an Andy Robertson cross in the 69th minute, scoring with Liverpool’s first shot on target in the match. From then on, the Reds seized momentum. Salah had the ball in the net once more three minutes later, but was correctly flagged offside. Koke and Trippier both picked up yellow cards as the mattress makers tried to stem the red tide.
Even in Atleti’s virtual, the club has to suffer from questionable calls in a final. If you play FIFA 20, you know that the game can be prone to some terrible penalty calls. In the 93rd minute, the referee inexplicably pointed to the spot after Felipe cleanly robbed Bobby Chompers of the ball.
Fabinho (??!!) stepped up and coolly converted the penalty. Once more, Simeone’s men would settle for second place.
Simeone, of course, took the loss personally. He couldn’t fathom how his club had managed to lose another final after so soundly defeating Liverpool just a week earlier. The squad clearly needed more tinkering.
Cholo and Cerezo stayed busy leading up to LaLiga’s return against Getafe in August. They went scorched earth on the squad. Betis put in a €17 million offer for Vitolo, and the duo jumped at the chance. Ajax wanted Šime Vrsaljko after losing Sergiño Dest to Barcelona. Atlético were able to squeeze €20 million out of Ajax for the malcontent Croatian.
In July, Bayern Munich approached Cerezo with an interesting offer: €26 million for Thomas Lemar. This offer showed just how far the Frenchman had fallen since his summer move from Monaco in 2018. Atleti had paid $77 million for Lemar. Simeone and Cerezo weren’t quite ready to part with him unless they got something significant in return. He invited Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić to Madrid. Simeone, Cerezo, and Salihamidžić quickly adjourned to a tapas spot in the gritty Lavapiés district, hiding in plain sight.
Simeone laid his cards on the table: €26 million for Lemar wasn’t going to cut it. He needed an exciting young winger as a replacement.
Second Life: Atleti Simeone had been a longtime admirer of Serge Gnabry. The German international had a more adventurous spirit than most German footballers. He had come up at Arsenal and enjoyed London’s cosmopolitan nature. There were whispers that he wanted to challenge himself in LaLiga, where the emphasis on technical ability would suit his skill set.
The media had linked him with Barça. But Simeone was ready to swoop. Atlético offered Thomas Lemar plus €5 million to Bayern for Gnabry. The Bavarians accepted.
The next morning, Gnabry flew to Madrid for his presentation. He was awarded the number 25 shirt and inked a four-year deal with a €105 million release clause.
Football finally returned to Spain on Aug. 18. The country’s medical officials had miraculously beat back Covid-19. They had developed a vaccine, and fans were allowed to attend Atlético season opener against Getafe. Getafe were excited for the debut of Andrea Belotti, whom they’d (somehow) purchased from Torino over the summer.
The match was a joyous affair right from the start. In the early going, Marc Cucurella’s pace down the wing gave the Colchoneros a bit of trouble. Getafe’s entire strategy seemed to be seeking him out with diagonal balls, this making Trippier defend.
In the 17th minute, Saúl played a clever ball over the top for Félix. Thomas stormed into the box to finish off the Portuguese’s cutback.
Thomas continued has man of the match performance in the 22nd minute. Winning back the ball just outside of his own penalty area, Thomas rampaged down the wing, carrying the ball at least 100 yards. By the end of his run, he was so tired that he could only trickle a cross to the near post for Timo Werner.
In a clever — and weird — bit of finishing, Werner opted for a chip shot, catching David Soria off guard and making the score two-nil.
Simeone introduced Gnabry and Torres at halftime. His side would add a third in the 54th minute. Torres continued his hot start, setting up a goal for Werner, who smashed home with glee.
After the match, Sid Lowe reported that Paul Pogba had completed a transfer to Barcelona, teaming up with his buddy Antoine Griezmann. Though Atlético strengthened over the summer, Barça and Real Madrid also improved. This LaLiga season is shaping up to be extremely competitive. But in the end, Second Life: Atleti are just happy to be back on the field.
In real life, the wait is almost over. Mid-June. Atlético versus Athletic Club. Mark your calendars!
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