On Thursday evening, Atlético Madrid confirmed 32-year-old Denmark international Daniel Wass’s arrival from Valencia. The signing has underwhelmed many, as Wass is replacing the popular Kieran Trippier follow his move to Newcastle United earlier on in the transfer window.
The signing, worth €2.7 million plus variable add-ons, means Atlético can pocket a tidy profit from the Trippier sale at a time in which Atleti’s finances are already tight.
The transfer also makes perfect sense from a playing perspective.
Given his age, and given Wass has signed only an 18-month contract, his is clearly not a long-term solution. But it’s sensible.
Atlético now have an alternative for the rest of this season. Šime Vrsaljko often struggles for fitness and his contract is set to expire this season. Marcos Llorente could be used on the right, but to do so is to waste his talents in more-advanced positions, and there are also doubts about his efficiency in a back four.
Wass’s arrival means Simeone has a reliable soldier. The Dane has missed only 10 matches in his entire career, with three of those coming in the past fortnight after contracting COVID-19.
The short-term deal also means Atleti can allow Vrsaljko to depart in the summer and retain experienced cover for another year. Wass comes to Madrid knowing he will not be a regular starter in the seasons to come, but he provides a squad option in both defence and midfield, without impeding the club’s ability to pursue a first-choice candidate this summer.
Critics say Wass is a significant downgrade from Trippier. But it seems there was little Atlético could have done to avoid losing Trippier, and they lack the funds to adequately replace him currently.
“I had lots of conversations with the manager and behind the scenes with the Atlético president,” Trippier told the Athletic this week. “They made it clear they didn’t want me to go, but I had a couple of family reasons for why I needed to come back.”
It’s evident that no matter what Atleti wanted, Trippier was not hanging around. They had little choice but to sell. And that may not be such a big deal.
Trippier’s performances had dropped off significantly since the summer. After registering an assist in LaLiga every 495 minutes in 2019/20 and every 412 minutes in 2020/21, he ran up 979 minutes without a single one this season. While his work rate and attitude shouldn’t be questioned, his mind was obviously elsewhere.
Wass’s motivation cannot be questioned, as he’s just joined the club. While he may lack the pure quality, he will seek steadiness and consistency.
There are also questions as to whether Wass really is a right-back. He has only played there once for Valencia this season under José Bordalás, but he has played there regularly on an international level for Denmark. At Valencia, he lined up at the position 55 times over the past three seasons.
Significantly, Wass has primarily played as a right-back, rather than an offensive-minded wing-back. That suggests Simeone will continue to pursue a return to a 4-4-2 shape.
Some stats suggest he performs better in that role than in midfield, with WhoScored’s (sometimes-questionable) match rating figure last year putting him at a 6.96 average at right-back, compared to 6.60 in midfield. Valencia fans echo that sentiment, feeling his game has dropped since returning to midfield under Bordalás.
Yet, that potential weakness could again be considered a strength. His flexibility is what Simeone values from his players (see Saúl Ñíguez), and it also provides strength in depth. In midfield, Wass can carry the ball in a way which few current options are able to.
Crucially, Wass is also experienced in LaLiga.
“We still need new players to adapt to our system more quickly,” Simeone famously said after the 7-3 win over Real Madrid in the 2019 preseason. Additions like Antoine Griezmann this summer only fuel that idea, that Simeone prefers players who require as little adaptation time as possible.
Wass has 224 LaLiga appearances under his belt already, in addition to 32 Europa League outings and 11 Champions League games. He is a player who has been there and done that for both club and country.
Exactly the kind of signing that may have been frowned upon before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wass is sound business for Atlético given the pandemic-induced financial restraints, as well the urgent need for a replacement following Trippier’s inconvenient departure. Atleti are unlikely to make money on Wass, but it does buy them time to upgrade. If €2.7 million is all it takes to unleash Llorente’s potential in attack and cover for Vrsaljko, it’s a price entirely worth paying.