Real Betis have stepped up its efforts to acquire Riquleme, as the Verdiblancos view the Atlético Madrid midfielder as an ideal replacement for the outgoing Sergio Canales — who has joined Liga MX side CF Monterrey in a €10 million deal.
Betis will attempt to acquire Riquelme on a permanent deal, and this is Atlético’s preferred formula as well. Atleti rejected an offer from Manchester City for Riquelme, but the club left the impression it is willing to negotiate for the 23-year-old in order to bring in some funds — especially as the João Félix market remains ice-cold, and Miguel Ángel Gil is working to add an expensive, high-quality pivot to Diego Simeone’s squad this summer.
Betis also seem open to signing Riquelme on loan with a purchase option, which would allow Atlético to retain some measure of control over the player’s future as he continues growing into a quality midfielder. Riquelme, who scored five goals and assisted four more in 35 appearances for Girona last season, has cut his vacation short to join the team on its upcoming preseason tour, which begins next week in South Korea.
The Verdiblancos’ flexibility in negotiations could be tested if Atlético push for the inclusion of a Betis player in the deal. Atlético were unwilling to swap Riquelme for Girona’s promising defender Arnau Martínez and balked at including the Spain under-21 star in a potential deal for Mallorca midfielder Lee Kang-In. But Atleti might be more amenable to a Riquelme sale if it can sign forward Borja Iglesias (in whom there has been previous interest) in exchange. The same goes for defensive midfielder and Simeone compatriot Guido Rodríguez, a “low-cost” option whose contract expires in 2024.
Betis would be a big step — and a good step — for Riquelme. He would come in as Canales’ replacement and likely learn a lot under head coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose Betis sides have been top-four challengers the past two seasons. Riquelme would further get to compete in the UEFA Europa League this season, as the Verdiblancos finished last season sixth in LaLiga.
I would argue that Simeone and the club have played this situation pretty well. The head coach wants to make sure Riquelme (if he stays) is ready to take on the role of a squad player on a high-level side, while Atlético should be acting this carefully and deliberately with one of its most-prized assets.
But Riquelme’s playing future has been uncertain for months — and unless a buyer comes forward with an irresistible offer in the coming days, the topic figures to drag on through Atlético’s preseason tour, perhaps into the start of the 2023/24 league season. Make no mistake, decision time is coming soon. Let's hope it’s one that benefits all parties.