Atletico Madrid’s transfer business this summer has an authoritative edge to it. After wrapping up a deal for the promising Spanish midfield Rodri by the end of May, Atletico followed it up with the purchase of Thomas Lemar from Monaco in mid-June.
Similarly, they fixed a gaping hole by signing a reserve goalkeeper in the experienced Antonio Adan from Real Betis, whilst letting Axel Werner leave on loan to Huesca. The latest is the astute signing of Gelson Martins, continuing their shrewd work that has established them as one of the best-run clubs in Europe.
Reducing the squad’s average age appears to have the plan for a few seasons. They let go of Miguel Angel Moya, Guilherme Siqueira and Augusto Fernandez last season – all above 30 – while Alessio Cerci and Nicolas Gaitan were sold on while aged 29.
Rodri and Lemar are 22, while Gelson is 23, pointing to a new era on the horizon. The Portuguese winger appears to be the perfect fit for Atletico and Simeone.
A match made in heaven
According to Portuguese football expert Tiago Estevao, it is the ideal club for him. He has become defensively proactive – a prerequisite in a Simeone side – and his main abilities lie in driving beyond the opposition and getting into space and good positions, from where he can put in crosses.
His electric pace and dribbling abilities makes him an ideal winger to bring on as a substitute, but Simeone could well see him as a starter.
Gelson, however, is by no means the finished product, for inconsistencies remain in his final ball and composure in key attacking positions, as well as his crossing at times. He is not world-class, but he is a signing made in the mould of Simeone.
“We are happy with his arrival,” says Simeone
And he is one whose arrival Simeone was happy to hear. After Sporting faced Atletico in the Europa League quarter-finals last season, Gelson has already had a taste of the Wanda Metropolitano, where Simeone and his staff had a closer look too.
In that way, he feels he knows him sufficiently well to snag him on a cheap deal.
“Gelson will have a continuous role in the team. We have seen him in the Europa League and his signing is very good for the morale of the team. He will show his strengths on the right, or as one of the front three. We are happy with his arrival and the games will decide how he will position himself in the team.”
It is that tactical hint that is most intriguing. Atletico have generally stuck to a 4-4-2 that is more balanced with the Cholismo ideals in mind, but a 4-3-3 could add that extra attacking spark, elevating them to another level.
A local midfield three of Rodri, Koke and Saul will have fans salivating, with a potential front three of Lemar, Griezmann and Gelson.
It is no surprise then that the Portuguese was coveted by Simeone. His versatility as a right midfielder and a right winger provides more options to the manager. It also impacts his new teammates in a positive light.
There is an additional sub-plot with the transfer fee. The Sporting contract situation has seen Gelson now move to Atletico on a free transfer, as has few of his former teammates, though it is unlikely that Sporting let him go easily.
Most clubs have been settling deals with former clubs to avoid a long-drawn legal situation, and with Gelson it may be that a fee of around £30-35 million is eventually paid, with or without a FIFA complaint.
It means that for now Gelson remains a free transfer, but the likelihood is that a fee is eventually paid in line (or just below) his market value.
TIme for a challenge
Atletico’s transfer business and squad depth – even when it doesn’t seem like they have it – is impressive. With a few more tweaks, they may quietly be one of the contenders for the title this season. It feels like it is their time to challenge properly after they tapered off last winter.
Simeone has his men in place, slowly and steadily. Gelson is but the latest to join the armada: a potentially decisive rough diamond waiting to be polished by El Cholo.