The tactical discrepancies between Diego Pablo Simeone and Saúl Ñíguez could end the player’s departure at the close of the market next Tuesday. The Atlético coach now only sees the youth squad as a left winger and the footballer thinks that in that demarcation his figure as an arriving midfielder is devalued. If Saúl is clear about it, the more his technician has it. “We will decide if we play with Llorente in a lane and Carrasco or Saúl,” Simeone said this Saturday in the preview of Villarreal’s visit to the Metropolitano (22.00, Movistar LaLiga). Saul’s coded message was twofold. If Carrasco plays, he will be a substitute. And if not, it will occupy the left lane.
Faced with the schism, the club, coach and player agree that the best thing is a way out if it convinces everyone. For the moment, the market has turned its back on the move. Given the lack of offers to finalize a transfer, the transfer for one year has been the only way that both the club and the player’s representatives have found to try to cut a entrenched problem that threatens the coexistence of the group. With a clause of 150 million euros, nor the willingness of the Atlético leadership to accept a payment for much less than half has managed to get a club to make a formal purchase proposal. According to Atlético sources, Chelsea is the one that has been most interested in recruiting Saúl on loan of all the Premier League teams to which it has been offered by its representative agency.
Due to his condition as a youth squad, the possible departure of Saúl has a traumatic point for everyone. Simeone wanted to see in him the footballer that he was. An arriving midfielder, with a powerful aerial game, combative and versatile when necessary. Under these parameters, the 26-year-old midfielder from Elche became one of the untouchables for the coach until a year ago. A bit of a Chilean in a league thrashing against Real Madrid (4-0) in 2015, his goal against Bayern in the first leg of the 2016 Champions League semi-finals, after a slalom and an outside hit, or playing with a burst kidney in Leverkusen are some of the episodes that have most marked Saúl’s career as a rojiblanco.
Always highly valued in the Premier in his best years, where a good future as a midfielder was predicted box to box, their renovations always occurred under the threat of flight before the supposed interest of the great English clubs. The chain of several contract extensions led him to position himself as one of the highest paid players on the squad.
The differences between the Argentine coach and the footballer have reached a point of difficult return. Saúl greatly dislikes playing as a left-back, a position in which he played a large part of last season and in which he has played the first two games of this season as a starter. The footballer and his representation agency, Stellar, the same as that of Gareth Bale, attribute the decline in his performance, his depreciation in the market and his absence from the calls of Luis Enrique in the last two seasons to the condition of wild card that the technician has imposed him. The coach, for his part, is very convinced that Saúl became one of the most sought-after players on the squad due to his adaptation to the different positions in which he has used him.
Saúl has always defined himself as “an eight with a finish”, but Cholo has increasingly edged him out of those interior positions. Last year the denouement that has occurred at the beginning of this began to be engendered. A muscle injury in the first days, with a recovery that Simeone wanted faster, the change of system undertaken, the explosion of Carrasco and Marcos Llorente, the establishment of Koke as a midfielder, the improvement of Lemar and the arrival of Kondogbia relegated Saúl to the substitution, to the side or to perform only as a midfielder when there were absences. In the midst of this new situation, the player confessed that he was not going through a good psychological moment.
In this campaign, the hiring of De Paul has ended up closing the gaps in the center of the field. Already at the press conference prior to Atlético’s premiere in Vigo, Simeone listed the squad members who compete to play in the midfield and did not mention the youth squad. This was the definitive push for the club and the player to look for a way out.
From untouchable to performance slump
The differences between Diego Pablo Simeone and Saúl due to the demarcation that he must occupy are a classic since the youth squad became part of Atlético’s first team in the 2014-15 season. At that time, Simeone did not see him to play as a midfielder in the presence of Gabi and Tiago and made him play on the right. Saúl stated on several occasions that this was not his position, which earned him several reprimands from the Cholo. “Now I like Saúl because he no longer says that he does not like to play on the right,” confessed the coach in an interview with this newspaper when Saúl folded and stopped making those statements. Whether on the right or left, even as a midfielder, Saúl established himself as indisputable. Until three seasons ago, Simeone began to use him more frequently as a winger. From there, he started a downhill slope in his performance and a deterioration in his relationship with the coach that could lead to a loan. Saúl seeks to prove himself out of Simeone’s lane.
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