Simeone quietly assembling Atletico squad to compete with elite

Andy West 23/06/2015
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Simeone has already been very active.

Real Madrid and Barcelona; Barcelona and Real Madrid: As ever, Spanish football’s news agenda is being set by two clubs and two clubs only.

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– #360transfers: Martinez plums for Atletico over AC Milan

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But while the chase for David De Gea, Sergio Ramos’s contractual wrangling, Neymar and Lionel Messi’s international exploits and Joan Laporta’s probable return to the Nou Camp presidency dominate headlines, under the radar Atletico Madrid are quietly enjoying a very promising summer.

With the double purchase of strikers Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto set to be confirmed, Atletico are adding a pair of players who combined for a total of 52 goals last season.

When you throw into the mix the existing talents of Antoine Griezmann – one of La Liga’s outstanding players last season – and the dogged Fernando Torres, it’s clear that Diego Simeone, who has proven himself to know a thing or two about winning a game of football, will have a dazzling array of firepower at his service when the new campaign starts in August.

The capture of Martinez and Vietto for a combined €55 million (Dh229.4m) is a clear statement of intent, made possible by Atleti’s recent link-up with inordinately wealthy Chinese property company Dalian Wanda Group, who now own 20 per cent of the club.

This duel swoop is by no means the summer’s only cause for optimism at the Vicente Calderon, where Simeone is hoping to bring back one of his title-winning players from just over a year ago, left-back Filipe Luis from Chelsea.

The deal would make sense for all parties, the Brazilian struggling to establish a regular place at Stamford Bridge and neither of his replacements at Atleti – Guilherme Siqueira nor Cristian Ansaldi – offered a convincing case for becoming permanent fixtures in the side. 

Another major decision taken by Simeone has been allowing defensive stalwart Miranda to join Internazionale, reflecting the Argentine coach’s understandable confidence in the rapidly emerging Jose Gimenez, who is currently underlining his enormous quality – despite still only being 20 years old – alongside club team-mate Diego Godin in the heart of Uruguay’s back four at Copa America.

Gimenez isn’t the only highly promising youngster on the books, with versatile 20 year-old Saul Niguez, scorer of the second goal in last season’s 4-0 thrashing of Real, and classy playmaker Oliver Torres, also 20 and fresh from an impressive campaign on loan at Porto, both ready to become regular members of Simeone’s starting XI.

Last but no means least, Atleti appear set to keep their fabulous trio of attacking stars Griezmann, Koke and Arda Turan, all of whom look likely to stay after firmly establishing themselves among the finest players in Europe.

Despite all this, Los Rojiblancos remain an afterthought in their home country, which is continuing its blind obsession with 'The Big Two' to the extent that Atletico’s impending capture of Martinez was shoved into the background by a bland interview with Real’s soon-to-be-third choice goalkeeper Keylor Navas on leading Spanish sports websites on Monday.

Bookmakers are following the same script, generally rating Atletico as only ninth favourites to lift the Champions League trophy in Milan next year.

With such outstanding quality, Simeone will relish the opportunity of proving them all wrong – again.

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Barcelona president plots new Enrique contract and Pogba move

Andy West 9/06/2015
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Enrique (c) lifts the Champions League trophy.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has announced he will attempt to extend manager Luis Enrique’s contract if he is re-elected this summer, and hinted that he would like to bring Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba to the Nou Camp.

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Bartomeu will today formally resign and hold his last board meeting under the current presidency, clearing the path for elections – in which he will stand, probably opposed by former president Joan Laporta – which are likely to take place towards the end of July.

And although a victory for the current incumbent is by no means guaranteed, Bartomeu has attempted to capitalise on the feel-good factor generated by the team’s magnificent treble to secure Enrique’s uncertain future.

The Barca coach has routinely refused to discuss whether he will stay with the club in recent months and, even after Saturday’s Champions League victory over Juventus, Enrique admitted he does not know whether he will still be in charge next season.

Enrique was angered by Bartomeu’s sacking of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta during troubled times earlier in the season and it is believed that he has regularly failed to attend planning meetings for next season with the board.

But Bartomeu now has offered an olive branch by insisting that he is delighted with Enrique’s work and would like to negotiate a new deal to replace his current contract, which expires in the summer of 2016.

“I don’t have any doubt over the continuity of Luis Enrique,” said the Barca president.

“His season has been 10 out of 10. He has a contract, has done a magnificent job and I see nothing to stop him continuing because this team has started another winning cycle.

“I am not currently able to give him a new contract, although I would love to. That is something the future president will have to decide.

“If that is me, I would certainly propose a contract extension. It might not be the first thing I would do, but it would be one of them.”

Vice president Jordi Mestre also echoed the words of his boss when he spoke about Barca’s coach at the unveiling of Aleix Vidal.

Mestre said: “It should be a question directly aimed at Luis Enrique, he has another year remaining on his contract and from our side, there is no problem whatsoever.

“I don’t understand why the matter is being debated. There should be no problem in him continuing as coach.”

Another individual even closer to the exit door is Dani Alves, and Bartomeu is firm that he does not intend to improve the contract offer recently made to the Brazilian international, who will leave the club on a free transfer at the end of the month if a new deal is not agreed.

Alves recently criticised Bartomeu for failing to show enough respect for his achievements with the Blaugrana, but the president made it clear he is not budging as he insisted: “Alves already has a renewal offer.

“The proposal is what it is, and it is a good one to stay with the best team in the world.”

He was far more enthusiastic, however, about long-time target Pogba, who is also being tracked by Real Madrid amid reports that Los Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane is pursuing his French connection with compatriot Pogba in an attempt to secure the deal for the Bernabeu outfit.

The midfielder delivered a fine performance for the Bianconeri in Berlin, in particular in the second half.

It is understood Pogba favours a move to the Nou Camp over Madrid but, as Bartomeu himself admits, Barca’s current transfer ban hinders their position.

Barca sporting director Ariedo Braida was seen talking to Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola at the Olympiastadion on Saturday but Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta insists he’s not for sale.

Bartomeu said: “Pogba is an emblematic player for Juventus. He has a contract with Juve and we have not tried to sign him, but we are watching him.”

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Dani Alves heading for Barça exit as Aleix Vidal joins

Andy West 8/06/2015
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Arriving: Aleix Vidal.

Barcelona full-back Dani Alves appears to be heading out of the Nou Camp exit door, with Sevilla’s Aleix Vidal signed on Sunday night as his replacement on the right flank.

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With his contract set to expire at the end of the month, Alves’ future has been in doubt for several months following his failure to agree a new deal.

Last week he angrily blasted the club’s board of directors for supposedly not showing sufficient respect for his achievements with the team, admitting that he expects to leave at the end of the season.

With the campaign now completed following Barca’s Champions League final victory over Juventus – the third European crown and 19th title in total won by Alves since he signed from Sevilla seven years ago – his decision over next season’s destination should be made soon.

And although Manchester United have long been linked with the 32-year-old Brazil international, Alves has admitted that a move to AC Milan is a distinct possibility.

Acknowledging that he has been in contact with the Italian club, Alves said: “It would be a pleasure to join Milan. There is a proposal from Italy and I will evaluate all the alternatives before deciding.”

Barca have acted swiftly to replace Alves by agreeing a deal with Sevilla for versatile Aleix Vidal on a five-year contract in a transfer believed to be worth €18 million (Dh73.5m) and the player will undergo a medical later on Monday.

A Catalan native from nearby Tarragona, 25-year-old Vidal is already well known to the Nou Camp coaching staff after spending time in the club’s youth system during his teenage years.

He later developed his reputation during a three-season spell with Almeria, and earned even greater admiration after joining Sevilla last summer and impressing during his one season with Unai Emery’s Europa League winners, playing either on the right wing or at rightback.

Due to Barca’s current transfer ban from FIFA, Vidal will only be able to train with his new teammates during his first few months at Barca, before being available to make his debut in January.

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