Carlos Soler is inching closer to departing Valencia, and reports continue to say he is most likely to move to Atlético Madrid. Soler, Valencia’s top goalscorer last season, is a 25-year-old Spanish international who ordinarily would cost the rojiblancos a song and a dance. But reports in Spain say that €15 million plus potential bonuses is enough to get a deal done.
These reports have hushed in recent days, with Atlético happy to wait this one out.
Valencia owner Peter Lim was not satisfied having donated Ferran Torres to Manchester City for €33 million two years ago (before City then flipped him to Barcelona for a €20 million profit). He didn’t even stop at selling Geoffrey Kondogbia to Atlético for €15 million in November 2020. He’s also given Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin to Villarreal, and for his latest act of charity, he looks ready to part ways with Soler — who is worth considerably more than the prices mentioned above.
To be fair, Lim’s hand is being forced given Soler’s contract situation. It expires next summer and the player is not inclined to renew. The two options are clear: keep him and lose him for nothing, or sell him and get something back. Based on Lim’s history with Valencia, it’s safe to assume which logic will prevail.
Soler is young enough to be optimistic about his development and had a good Nations League with Spain earlier this month. But if he signs for Atlético, what can he offer that they don’t currently have in their squad? And why are they targeting him, aside from the promising price tag?
For a start, Atlético need midfield options. Héctor Herrera has already left, and Saúl Ñíguez or Thomas Lemar might go as well. The French midfielder has become one of Atlético’s most creative and consistent players, but his injuries have been an issue and his contract is up in a year.
This leaves the group of central midfielders from below: Koke, Kondogbia, Rodrigo de Paul, and Marcos Llorente. Axel Witsel looks like he could be close to a deal to join the aforementioned quartet, replacing Herrera.
Diego Simeone will try to keep evolving moving away from his deep block 4-4-2 and toward a more progressive, ball-dominant team. Of course, this will be relative to opposition and game state. That’s why he needs players who can ideally perform well in both systems.
Soler’s 2.87 shot-creating actions put him into the 88th percentile amongst midfielders. Many of his “production” stats like goals and assists are in that range. When you consider the José Bordálas factor (i.e. Valencia didn’t play a very fluid style during the 2021/22 season), that is even more impressive.
Jamie Kemp covered Soler’s versatility on his fútbolblog and pondered what Spain coach Luis Enrique sees in a player who had just come off a season where he played under Bordálas and therefore couldn’t have impressed in a role Luis envisions him playing for Spain. The fact that he can do both is a bonus, but Soler sees himself in exactly the role Atlético are missing.
“I feel more like a long-ball passer,” he said in an El País interview. “A connector between the defense and attack and a player who can go forward when the other midfielder has the ball.”
One of the concerns over Soler is that he solves a problem for Atlético, but not the main problem they have in how much of a trade-off there will have to be between the attacking Soler and the defensive one. Lemar and de Paul, two creative and dynamic central midfielders, have both struggled at different points to find that balance under Simeone.
Compare Soler’s right half-space passes to those from de Paul and Llorente last season. They are deeper into the box and appear more ambitious.
Even though Soler can play in a variety of positions, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is equally good in all of them. Signing him isn’t necessarily a bet against de Paul, but that pair doesn’t fit into Atlético’s midfield. And we have to assume Llorente starts when fit (he should), while Kondogbia was arguably the team’s best midfielder last season and is currently its only pivot.
Simeone is trying again to build a new style for his Atlético side. His 3-5-2 experiment didn’t work last season, but he is aware of Atlético’s faults and is trying to fix them. He added Gustavo López, the former Celta and Zaragoza winger, to his backroom staff last week in a further effort to shake things up.
If Atlético do sign Soler, adding another talented and multifaceted midfielder to the mix, it should be with a clear plan in mind to accentuate his best qualities, and how he can contribute to a winning team.