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Vrsaljko refuses Atlético extension, departs club as free agent

The veteran full-back played five seasons in Madrid.

FC Porto v Atletico Madrid: Group B - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

UPDATE, JUNE 30: Atlético have confirmed Vrsaljko’s departure via social media post and a club statement.

The original story from June 21 is below.

Atlético Madrid do not expect defender Šime Vrsaljko to accept an offer to renew his contract, with the player said to be nearing a deal to join Olympiacos on a free transfer next month.

Marca on Monday reported that Atlético’s renewal offer to Vrsaljko featured a substantial salary reduction as the club looks to cut costs, ostensibly in response to financial losses that have piled up during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 30-year-old has not officially notified Atleti of his decision, so a turnaround is technically still possible.

But Relevo’s Sergio Santos on Tuesday poured cold water on that idea, saying Vrsaljko is much closer to joining the Greek Super League champions. The Olympiacos board have offered the player an appealing signing bonus in addition to improved terms, while Atlético are probably happy to cull his wages from the overall bill. The club is aware it needs to raise €45 million from sales to become active in the market, with one starting-quality right-back (not two, apparently) expected to arrive once the appropriate funds are raised.

Manchester City v Atlético Madrid Quarter Final Leg One - UEFA Champions League Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

Vrsaljko’s long, strange Atlético career began when the club acquired him from Sassuolo in July 2016. He competed with club legend Juanfran Torres for starting right-back duties during his first two seasons in Spain, and he appeared to have the position locked-down when he extended his contract in 2018. Instead, Atleti sent him on loan to Inter Milan, and he missed much of the following two seasons after undergoing knee surgery.

Unexpectedly, Vrsaljko stuck around to back up Kieran Trippier and provide competition for Marcos Llorente. He also occasionally featured as a center-back when Atlético lined up in a back three — in this position, he dropped one of his best performances in a do-or-die Champions League group stage contest with Porto, during which he broke his jaw but soldiered on to play the entirety of the 3-1 win.

Vrsaljko’s Atleti career will end with 100 appearances, just enough to receive a plaque outside the Metropolitano. He scored three goals (one in LaLiga) and assisted 10 during his rollercoaster Rojiblanco career, helping the team win the Europa League in 2018 and LaLiga in 2021.