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Marca: Atlético believe Lemar will wind down his contract, leave as a free agent

The midfielder’s pact with Atleti ends in 2023, and no market has materialized for him this summer.

FBL-ESP-ATLETICO-LEMAR Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

Marca’s David Medina reported Wednesday night that Atlético Madrid want to sell midfielder Thomas Lemar this summer — but the Frenchman wants to stay, and he could run down his contract in order to leave the club as a free agent next summer.

Atlético have offered Lemar a new contract, reportedly on reduced wages. The club’s one-time record signing has not signaled that he will accept the new terms, and there have been no official bids lodged for the 26-year-old as the end of the fiscal year looms. Medina says Atleti’s board now suspects that Lemar is ready to “join the trend” of peak-age players winding down their contracts to depart on Bosman transfers.

Real Madrid have recruited defenders David Alaba and Antonio Rüdiger using this formula. The 22-year-old central midfielder Boubacar Kamara, a former Atlético transfer target, spurned renewal offers from Marseille to join Aston Villa on a free earlier this month.

If Lemar takes this route, he will be free to negotiate with any club beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

Atlético spent €72 million to acquire 70 percent of Lemar’s rights from Monaco and an investment fund four years ago, proceeding to sign him to the expensive contract that has one year left. The France international and World Cup winner’s career in red and white started bumpily — speculation about his future intensified throughout 2020 as his form tumbled.

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

But Lemar made the most of Diego Simeone’s decision to employ a 3-5-2 formation in 2020/21, and his improvement was a huge factor behind Atlético’s league-winning campaign. He enjoyed another solid season in 2021/22 — notching 4 goals, 5 assists, and 62 shot-creating actions in 24 league games — but a succession of minor injuries blunted how much he could offer the team.

Lemar is betting on himself if he does decide to reject all offers and simply play out his Atlético contract. If he stays productive — and, most importantly, healthy — Atleti can offer him another renewal at a higher salary next year. Simeone has spoken many times about Lemar’s importance to the team as its link between midfield and attack, and Cholo continued to give him opportunities until he came good.

On the other hand, letting Lemar walk next summer means Atlético will be hit with a €70 million-plus loss on its investment. If he stays, Atleti’s board will have to decide how seriously it wants to improve the competition for places in Simeone’s midfield for the 2022/23 campaign. Axel Witsel is expected to join the Rojiblancos as a free agent next month, but the club is still working to acquire Valencia’s Carlos Soler or Tottenham’s Giovani Lo Celso.

That becomes more difficult to do if Lemar, the bargaining chip, says “I’m not moving.”

If Soler and Rodrigo de Paul cannot coexist in the same spaces, will Atlético sell the Argentine to Serie A’s highest bidder? Will Newcastle or Spurs swoop for Yannick Carrasco? Those options could be on the table again if Lemar’s market doesn’t come into focus.