Atlético Madrid on Friday confirmed the arrival of Royal Antwerp midfielder Arthur Vermeeren on a six-and-a-half-year contract to June 2030.
Vermeeren has joined in Atlético in a transfer that will net cash-strapped Antwerp a fixed fee of €18 million, with up to €5 million more in add-ons. The reigning Belgian champions will also retain a 10 percent sell-on clause if and when Atlético sell the player.
Atlético this week accelerated its pursuit of Vermeeren, who debuted for Antwerp in August 2022 and racked up 65 first-team appearances in short order. Sporting director Andrea Berta made this deal a priority in order to give Diego Simeone the controlling/holding midfielder he has been craving since last season — and instead of settling for an older, cheaper profile, the club has bet big on Vermeeren’s sky-high potential, adding him to a stable of exciting young players (Pablo Barrios, Samuel Lino, Rodrigo Riquelme, Santiago Mouriño, Samu Omorodion) that could form the core of Atleti’s next generation.
Vermeeren: Atlético is like a family, I really wanted to be here
Vermeeren has not met the media yet — that’s expected next week — but he did sit down with the club Friday for his first official interview as a Colchonero.
“I’m really happy to be here and I can’t wait to get started,” Vermeeren said. “I’ve come here to play many games, (to try to) win every game that we play, and to win as many trophies as possible.”
As a 17-year-old last season, Vermeeren made 26 appearances in the Jupiler Pro League and scored his first goal for Antwerp in a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Club Brugge in May’s playoffs — helping his team, captained by former Atlético defender Toby Alderweireld, win the Belgian league for the first time in 66 years.
Vermeeren joins Alderweireld, Yannick Carrasco, Thibaut Courtois, and Axel Witsel as the Belgian players acquired during the Simeone era.
“I talked with him a little bit and it was a good conversation, it was great,” Vermeeren said when asked about Witsel.
Vermeeren was also impressed by the atmosphere at Thursday night’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Sevilla, which Atlético won 1-0 with Vermeeren and his entourage looking on.
“I’ve never seen something like that,” he said about Thursday’s show of support. “The moment I walked into the stadium, it was crazy. The feeling was amazing. ... It was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Vermeeren and Atlético alike hope there are many nights like Thursday to come. The player said he imagined playing a side in the European elite many times — and “especially” the one for which he signed on Friday.
“It’s a great club, the passion, it’s like a family. I really wanted to be here.”
What Atlético are getting in Vermeeren
Vermeeren appears to be a tremendous coup for Atlético. He has been labeled a “can’t-miss prospect,” and Atleti beat the likes of FC Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur to his signing. He captained Antwerp in the Champions League as an 18-year-old and debuted for the Belgium national team in October, winning his first cap in a Euro 2024 qualifier against Austria.
Our pals at the Belgian Football Podcast watched Vermeeren intently as he rose through the ranks in Antwerp. They describe Vermeeren as a ball-winning midfielder who, under the tutelage of (former) head coach Mark Van Bommel, began to grow as a passer and as a contributor to the attack. Antwerp are only sixth in the Belgian Pro League this season, but Vermeeren himself improved — he started all 21 league games and all six group stage games in the Champions League, which included a goal and a man-of-the-match display against Barcelona in December.
✨Arthur Vermeeren vs FC Barcelona en Champions League.pic.twitter.com/nwgLQBwTbW— Atlético Stats (@atletico_stats_) January 24, 2024
Among players with at least 1,500 minutes played, Vermeeren ranked eighth in the Belgian league this season in progressive passes per 90 minutes (7.26), part of his general improvement as a passer and ball-carrier. He averaged 62 touches per 90 minutes, the majority of those (83 percent) coming in the middle and attacking thirds. Last season — again, as a 17-year-old — he won 2.5 tackles while averaging better than 1.5 interceptions and 1.8 clearances per 90, showing potential to stand out with the ball as well as without it.
Vermeeren’s pathway to playing time at Atlético is not immediately clear, and he will at first have to earn his minutes. Simeone’s first-choice midfield trio (of late) has Koke sitting deep with Saúl Ñíguez to his left and Rodrigo de Paul to his right. Saúl remains strong defensively, but his lack of offensive contribution makes him the most likely of the three to drop out, with de Paul moving left and Marcos Llorente the best-placed option for the right side. Barrios has only recently returned from surgery on a torn meniscus, while Thomas Lemar could return next month from an Achilles tendon rupture that has cost him 26 games so far this season.
Long-term, the club ideally hopes academy product Barrios will assume Koke’s mantle as the midfield marshal, with Vermeeren showing the capability and flexibility to play as a pivot (the 5) as well as an interior player (an 8).
— Atlético Stats (@atletico_stats_) January 26, 2024
El Atleti por fin cerró su inversión en el medio. Arthur Vermeeren es el elegido.
️¿Es un 5? ¿Un De Jong? El Pedri 'alemán' dicen algunos. Mil comparaciones le rodean.
Analizamos a este talentoso box to box. Un centrocampista moderno
Conoce más del pic.twitter.com/5fSx6c4enE