Atlético were humiliated in this season’s Champions League group stage, failing to win any of the final five games and finishing bottom of Group B. For the first time since 2011, the Colchoneros will not be playing an international competition during the second half of the season.
Moretto’s story indicates that Atlético (at least publicly) will continue offering “total support” to the embattled Simeone. The report says El Cholo will not be sacked, as he is one of the highest-paid coaches in Europe and has “earned the right” to walk away when he feels it’s time, considering the team’s achievements over the past decade.
Simeone, whose contract runs through next season, is expected to surpass Luis Aragonés this year as the Atlético manager with the most games coached across all competitions. Moretto does not rule out that the Argentine could leave before his contract is up, saying the 52-year-old will analyze at the end of the season “whether his message continues to be received.”
According to the report, Atleti plan to kickstart a much-needed rebuild beginning with the January transfer window. The upcoming FIFA World Cup is being viewed as an opportunity to showcase players like Yannick Carrasco, who has scored just twice between LaLiga and the Champions League this season.
Carrasco’s contract is up in 2024, and Moretto indicates he might not be the only player on the exit ramp “who has recently renewed or is about to.” This means Thomas Lemar and Jan Oblak could be made available. Both players signed new long-term contracts over the summer, but the club still has not officially announced either deal.
Record signing João Félix has three years remaining on a contract that appears increasingly cumbersome. Moretto admits he too could leave if super-agent Jorge Mendes brings an “ofertón” (a massive offer) — which would likely come from the Premier League.
The springtime months are also expected to be Felipe Monteiro’s last at Atlético, as the aging center-back will be a free agent in July. Moretto further reports that extension talks have not yet started with club captain and appearances record holder Koke, whose seven-year contract ends after his 32nd birthday in 2024.
Add the uncertainty around the club’s ownership to the expected €20 million loss from failing to make the Champions League knockout stage, and we might see — for the first time in several years — an Atlético side that will soon be actively counting on young players. Moretto name-drops Roro Riquelme (22 years old), Samuel Lino (22), and Pablo Barrios (19) as players “the club wants to bet on” from next season.
Midfielder Barrios made his LaLiga and Champions League debuts in the past two weeks after a string of impressive performances for Fernando Torres’s Atlético B. Fellow academy product Riquelme has three goals for Girona this season (including one at the Metropolitano against Atlético), despite averaging around 36 touches per 90 minutes. Lino has started every game for Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia — and though he has just one goal to his name, the Brazilian has piled up a team-high 41 shot-creating actions in just over 1,000 minutes of action.
These players are raw and have a ways to go in their development, but as I’ve written here before, it is essential that Atlético begin to embrace the future and embark on a new project. If the performances from the past two seasons after winning the league did not make this obvious to the club’s board, the embarrassing nature of this year’s Champions League elimination should make crystal-clear the urgent need for a revolution in the playing squad.