It is well-known that the pipeline from Atlético Madrid‘s academy to its first team has been underutilized in recent years. Current Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey and current Bayern Munich defender Lucas Hernández are the most recent graduates to make their way into Diego Simeone’s plans — and both players have been gone for a couple seasons now.
But faced with a financial crunch, Atlético finally might be looking toward the future, with one report claiming the club hopes to tie down two members of a talented generation to new, long-term contracts this summer.
Sergio Camello and Rodrigo “Roro” Riquelme, who both spent last season on loan at Mirandés in LaLiga Smartbank, are on contracts to 2024 with Atlético. They are wanted around LaLiga ahead of next season. But Marca’s Isaac Suárez explains that Atlético do not intend to lose either on a permanent transfer:
The club is aware that it has two jewels on its hands and their futures need to be secured right now. Otherwise, they would enter the last year of their contracts tempted by a change of scenery, with an increasingly-full list of suitors.
According to Suárez, sporting director Andrea Berta will offer three- or four-year extensions to Camello and Riquelme, while Simeone will determine their immediate futures after working with the pair during preseason — which begins July 10 at the team’s traditional Los Ángeles de San Rafael summer retreat.
Camello, a former Spain under-21 international, is a forward of slight build (he’s 5’9’’ and around 150 pounds) and great potential. He scored 15 goals and added four assists in 36 Segunda appearances a season ago, in his first loan spell away from Atlético. Getafe, Mallorca, Valladolid, Celta Vigo, and Rayo Vallecano are among the teams that want the 21-year-old Madrid native for next season.
Riquelme, 22, joined his Spain U-21 teammate in Burgos and finished 2021/22 with 19 goal contributions (7 scored/12 assisted) in less than 2,200 minutes played — bouncing back tremendously after a difficult loan spell at Bournemouth two seasons ago. Roro — who has long been regarded as one of the most skilled players within Atlético’s system — is primarily a right-winger, but he has lined up all across the midfield line and even as a supporting forward in his young career.
Atlético failed to defend its league title last season in part because Simeone’s older squad could not keep up with faster, quicker, more-athletic opponents. Cholo’s final starting 11 in the season finale at Real Sociedad featured only one player under 25 years old (Matheus Cunha). This is consistent with the board’s larger transfer strategy, which has become increasingly-focused on getting results in the short-term — at the expense of implementing a longer-term but more-sustainable process of nurturing and developing talent from the youth teams.
Inherent to this strategy is a cold and impatient approach toward the academy, with several young Rojiblancos choosing to join other clubs or go abroad in search of opportunities the club has not given them. Juvenil A playmaker Javier Currás is the most recent to do so — earlier this week, he left Atleti after seven years to join Académico de Viseu in Portugal’s second division.
They probably are not ready for the first team yet, but it’s welcome news if the club views talented prospects Camello and Riquelme as future pillars at the Metropolitano (alongside teenage central midfielder Javi Serrano). It would signal that Simeone, Berta, and the much-maligned board are indeed looking beyond just the next game.