Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann have all made names for themselves at Atletico Madrid this century and if rumours are to be believed, Los Rojiblancos might have unearthed another top class forward with the signing of Racing Club frontman Lautaro Martinez.

The 20 year-old joined Racing in 2014, and went on to score 53 goals in 64 appearances for their reserve side which alerted Atletico’s city rivals Real Madrid to agree a deal for the striker in 2015. Unfortunately for Los Blancos, Martinez felt he was not yet ready for such a big move and chose to remain in Argentina.

The young forward broke into Racing’s first team in November 2015, and has gone on to score 13 goals in 33 appearances, earning a reputation as the best striker in Argentina. Martinez is now ready for his big move to Europe, and with Griezmann’s future looking increasingly likely to be away from the Wanda Metropolitano, the stage could be set for Martinez to form a new strikeforce alongside the returning Diego Costa.

Martinez is quick, strong, a good finisher and strong in the air and under the guidance of fellow Argentine Diego Simeone, the stage could be set for him to be the next great Atletico Madrid striker.

Share this article:


Football is rich with tales of prodigious young players who burst onto the scene and announce themselves as the next big thing, only to slide rapidly into obscurity and mediocrity; burning brightly before quickly fading away.

Whether it’s down to an inability to handle pressure, the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ or early burnout, young players need to be handled with care if they are to fulfil their potential.

Here are five immensely talented players whose careers have stalled this season.

José Giménez – Atlético Madrid

Atlérico Madrid centre-back José Giménez came to prominence as a 19-year-old during the 2014-15 season, making 19 starts for Los Colchoneros.

Displaying a level of maturity and physicality beyond his years, the Uruguayan youngster looked like being the long-term partner and eventual heir to compatriot Diego Godín at the heart of the Atléti backline.

With 5.6 clearances and 2.1 tackles per game, Giménez was an impenetrable wall. Last season, his statistics remained stable, with 5.4 clearances, 2.5 interceptions and 2.1 tackles per outing, though he soon found himself out of favour.

Despite racking up 27 starts in La Liga and seven more in the Champions League, towards the business end of the 2015-16 campaign, Giménez lost his place to Stefan Savić, with the Montenegrin selected to partner Godín in the final of Europe’s Premier Club competition.

And the 21-year-old is yet to regain his place at the Vicente Calderón, having made one start in the Champions League and only a single substitute’s appearance in the league.

Now in his early twenties, Giménez has reached a crucial phase of his development. A lack of game-time now could see him fail to truly fulfil his potential.

A move away from Atléti would have seemed unthinkable a year ago, especially as he had just penned a new long-term contract. But out of the side and with no immediate route back to the starting line-up, Giménez has been linked with a January move to Manchester United.

Anthony Martial – Manchester United

In what was a frustrating season for Manchester United fans, French youngster Anthony Martial offered a shining ray of hope that things would soon look up.

Louis van Gaal’s side consistently produced a dour and uninspiring brand of slow, possession-heavy football. But with Martial, a £36 million signing from AS Monaco, either leading the line of dribbling in from the left-wing, the Red Devils had a dynamic and exciting ace in the hold.

A stunning solo goal against bitter rivals Liverpool marked a spectacular introduction to English football for the former Lyon academy player; a star was born.

Martial finished his first campaign in Manchester with 17 goals and an FA Cup winners’ medal. With goalkeeper David de Gea being voted the club’s player of the year for the third season in a row, Martial was easily the 20-time champions’ best outfield player.

This season, under José Mourinho, Martial has made just four starts in the Premier League, and looks bereft of confidence. Having netted just a single goal, Martial appears a shadow of the near-unplayable forward of last term.

Amid rumours of personal troubles and following a string of lacklustre displays on the pitch, the 20-year-old Frenchman has fallen down the pecking order at Old Trafford.

But Martial’s potential and pedigree is unquestionable; it would be foolish to bet against him returning to form in the near future.

Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Monchengladbach

Syria-born Germany under-21 international Mahmoud Dahoud has found playing time hard to come by at Borussia Monchengladbach this season.

After making 42 appearances in all competitions during the last campaign, Dahoud has started only four of Gladbach’s 10 Bundesliga games this term.

With five goals and eight assists to show for his efforts in 2015-16, the 20-year-old appeared set to develop into one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in Germany.

But manager Andre Schubert has pumped the breaks on expectations of Dahoud, often selecting the more experienced Christoph Kramer and Tobias Strobl as the central midfielders in his 3-4-1-2 system, with Lars Stindl and Thorgan Hazard tending to take up the more advanced midfield roles.

Despite being strongly linked with moves to Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund this summer, Gladbach resolved to hang onto Dahoud, which would suggest that, despite having fallen somewhat out of favour, he is still valued highly at the club.

Daniele Rugani – Juventus

Daniele Rugani has been one of the hottest defensive prospects in Italy for several years now.

The one-cap Azzurri international signed for Juventus from Empoli in 2013, but was immediately loaned back to the club of his youth for two seasons.

During this time, he impressed greatly with his calmness, maturity and ability to play the ball forward out of defence. Regarded as the future of the Italy defence alongside AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli, Rugani appeared to have the world at his feet.

But since joining up with his parent club at the start of last season, the 22-year-old has made only 13 Serie A starts.

The task of having to unseat one of the famous Juventus ‘BBC’ back three of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini was made all the more difficult for Rugani when the Old Lady brought in Mehdi Benatia from Bayern Munich this summer.

During the last transfer window, Napoli were thought to be keen on signing the young centre-back, with Partenopei boss Maurizio Sarri having worked with Rugani at Empoli, but Juve were stern in their rejection, insisting that the player was not for sale.

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri will understandably be reluctant to break up his experienced and outstanding defensive trio but, sooner or later, the former Milan coach may have to do just that in order to ensure Rugani blossoms into the player many believe he can become.

Gabriel Barbosa – Internazionale

Internazionale fought off interest from Barcelona, Juventus and Leicester City to sign Brazilian youngster Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa this summer.

The striker, who has also spent a large part of his fledgling career playing on the right wing, earned his nickname due to his coolness in front of goal while playing for Santos.

Inter snapped up the 20-year-old for around €30 million late in August, with the four-cap Brazil international fresh off the back of helping the Selecão win gold at the Rio Olympics.

There were high hopes that the 20-year-old would be able to ease the goal-scoring burden on captain Mauro Icardi, while adding another dimension to the Nerazzurri’s attacking play with his pace and deadly finishing ability.

But, to date, Gabriel has made just one appearance for his new club, coming off the bench for the final 16 minutes of the 1-1 draw with Bologna back in September, and is already being linked with a January loan move away from the San Siro.

About the author- Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:



Footballing brothers usually get a lot of attention and Lucas and Theo Hernández are no different. The brothers are regarded highly across Europe, both are defenders and are on the books of Atlético Madrid. Their father, Jean-François, was also a defender and he too played for Atlético Madrid.

During the summer both Manchester City and Barcelona showed interest in the brothers and asked about their buyout clauses. No concrete offers materialised and even if they did, Atlético would have turned them down.

Atlético recently tied younger brother Theo to a new contract until 2021. They then sent him out on loan to newly promoted Alavés, “…in order to maintain his excellent progression and seek the playing minutes necessary for his growth in football.”

The loan move made perfect sense because he was guaranteed playing time at the top level. This is something that he couldn’t be guaranteed by Simeone despite being key to the Rojiblancos’ academy Juvenil team that won both the league and Copa del Rey titles last season.

Theo made his professional debut against Sporting Gijón last month starting at left-back. He then featured in their next game at centre-back as Alavés claimed a historic win at the Camp Nou. In his last game for Alavés against Deportivo, he started once again at centre-back. He has looked comfortable in both positions which highlights the Frenchman’s versatility.

In addition to his versatility, he likes to get involved going forward, as he is a very attack-minded player who can aid his team not only defensively but offensively. The defender has endless energy and this coupled with his physical strength and powerful running make him an incredibly useful asset.

Despite being only 18-years-old, he is a very confident player, and this is shown when he plays. He is also very good at reading the game and has excellent anticipation. He is tenacious, fearless and good at timing tackles. If you were to compare him to another player, it would be to Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso.

Atlético currently has a transfer embargo and can’t sign any players until the January transfer window in 2018. Theo is only on loan at Alavés for one season. This looks like a shrewd move by the club as when he returns to the capital next summer; he will be a more experienced player and like a new signing for Simeone.


Share this article:


There may not have been a new Galáctico superstar signing at Real Madrid this summer, and Barcelona have focussed more on bringing in young, versatile players to add balance and competition for places within their squad, rather than splash €80 million in another Neymar or Luis Suárez. But there has still been plenty of interesting acquisitions made by La Liga clubs this summer.

Some have come relatively cheap, in adherence to the model of bringing in young, undiscovered players with the potential for huge re-sale value that clubs like Sevilla and Villarreal have become known for.

While others have stretched the budget of the buying club a little more: André Gomes moving from Valencia to Barça for €55 million, for example, or Álvaro Morata’s return to Real Madrid from Juventus for €30 million.

But, regardless of price, here are the five signings – who are all newcomers to La Liga – that could have the biggest impact in Spain’s top division this season.

Samuel Umtiti

Barcelona have signed Samuel Umtiti from French side Lyon for €25 million. The 22-year-old central defender was superb last season, as he helped l’OL finish runners-up to Paris Saint Germain in Ligue 1.

So impressive were Umtiti’s performances that when Jeremy Mathieu and Raphaël Varane were ruled out of Euro 2016 with injuries, France boss Didier Deschamps drafted the Cameroon-born defender in to take their place. And when Adil Rami’s tournament was also ended by injury, Umtiti made his senior international debut in the quarter-finals of the tournament against Iceland.

Umtiti’s coolness under pressure and sublime passing skills made him a natural fit at the highest level, and he went on to star for Les Bleus in the semi-final against Germany and the disappointing final defeat to Portugal.

Umtiti will become an asset for Barcelona due to his physicality, speed and, above all, passing ability.

The Frenchman will be able to slot into the Barça backline to partner either Gerard Piqué of Javier Mascherano, who are comfortable in possession and accomplished passers in their own right. But it is Umtiti’s vertical passing that sets him apart. When the Blaugrana build from the back, midfield pivot Sergio Busquets is the man who collects possession in deep areas and looks to break through the opposition’s first line of defence with penetrative passes; Umtiti is also able to do this, offering Barça a new dimension.

Umtiti will become a mainstay of the Barça defence for years to come and, in the current market, his price represents a genuine bargain.

Nicolas Gaitan

In 2010, Benfica drafted in Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan to replace his Real Madrid-bound compatriot Ángel di Maria. In his six seasons with the Lisbon giants, Gaitan was consistently one of the Águias’s most potent attacking weapons. Whether playing on the wing or more centrally as a number 10, Gaitan’s blend of pace, dribbling skills, eye for a killer pass and goal-scoring ability marked him out as arguably the best player in Portugal during his stay in the Primeira Liga.

After several years of speculation connecting him with a move away from the Estádio da Luz – most notably yearly links with a Manchester United switch – Gaitan has finally left Benfica to join Atlético Madrid in a €25 million deal.

The 28-year-old will be working under compatriot Diego Simeone at the Vicente Calderón, and how the fiery coach will fit Gaitan into his system is one of the most intriguing tactical question marks of the new season.

Atléti’s recent success has been built on their solid 4-4-2 formation, with Simeone also utilising a 4-5-1 shape for added protection in away games against higher calibre opposition. Gaitan does not have a natural position in either of these systems. The Argentina international is better suited to playing in one of the attacking midfield berths in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 set up.

The one area Gaitan could operate in within the current Atléti system would be as a withdrawn centre-forward, but that is where star man Antoine Griezmann does his best work.

So there’s a puzzle for Simeone to solve, but if he gets it right, Gaitan will become a star for Los Colchoneros.

Paulo Henrique Ganso

Sevilla’s €10 million capture of Paulo Henrique Ganso from São Paulo is one of the most intriguing transfers of the summer.

The 26-year-old playmaker was regarded as one of the hottest properties in Brazil in his late teens and early twenties. Having made his first-team breakthrough at Santos back in 2008, Ganso became a key figure in the Alvinegro Praiano’s three consecutive Campeonato Paulista titles from 2010 to 2012, as well as their 2011 Copa Libertadores triumph, and made his senior Brazil debut in 2010.

But Ganso’s relationship with the Santos fans was an uneasy one: he became labelled as a mercenary by the club’s supporters, relating to a 2010 deal for a third party company to acquire his image rights.

The youngster’s form began to tail off around this time, and the man once thought of as the future of Brazil’s midfield, did not feature for the Seleção from 2012 up until his recent selection in the 23-man Copa América Centenario squad.

Ganso left Santos to join rivals São Paulo four years ago. Being awarded the Tricolor’s number 10 shirt in 2014 coincided with a return to form for the now 26-year-old.

If Ganso can take his recent form with him to Sevilla, Los Rojiblancos could have a player of real quality on their hands.

Pione Sisto

In a transfer that has gone somewhat under the radar, Celta de Vigo have snapped up exciting Uganda-born Denmark winger Pione Sisto from FC Midtjylland.

Sisto will be a name familiar to those who saw his displays against Manchester United in the Europa League last season. Midtjylland produced one of the shock results of the season when they beat United 2-1 in the first leg of their round of 32 tie, with Sisto’s pace, power and dribbling skills wreaking havoc among the Red Devils’ defence.

And although the 20-time English champions went on to hammer the Danes 5-1 in the return fixture at Old Trafford, Sisto still managed to score an early goal to give United a fright.

The 21-year-old seems destined for a bright future, and the fact that Celta have picked him up for just €5 million, means that the Galicians could stand to make a hefty profit on Sisto in the not too distant future.

José Angulo

Another €5 million signing who could quadruple in value if all goes to plan this season, is 21-year-old Ecuadorian striker José Angulo, who has signed for Granada from Independiente del Valle.

The young forward has earned himself the reputation of being the hottest young prospect in Ecuador over the last two seasons, scoring 24 goals and registering five assists in 45 games since his first-team debut in 2015.

It was his performances in last season’s Copa Libertadores that brought Angulo to the wider attention of the South American football audience, as his six goals powered Independiente to the tournament final, only to lose out to Atlético Nacional, with the Colombian side winning 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.

With his pace and remarkably mature finishing ability, Angulo will be one to watch this season.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


Whenever a superstar footballer is involved in a transfer, the deal is usually a costly one. As football has developed, the market has too, meaning the more money in the game, the higher the value of a player.

Every summer, it seems to keep increasing, and ‘value’ is relative. Perspective is the most important factor when judging a big money move, because while it can appear a club has paid over the odds, with the pace in which the game moves, there is a fear of being left behind if they don’t act.

It is easy to fall into the trap of taking a player’s ability for granted and assuming they will succeed wherever they go, but they are human beings and nobody is perfect. Factors can take effect and sometimes the hype just isn’t matched on the pitch. Here are ten examples of players failing to justify their high-end fees.

1. Gianluigi Lentini – Torino to AC Milan for £13million, 1992.

At the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 90s, Milan could do no wrong under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Cappello. At the forefront of Italian football, the Rossoneri were defensively strong with frightening talent up front, and Lentini was fully expected to compliment the likes of Marco van Basten, while adding a wide option, aided by his phenomenal dribbling skills.

While he remained at the San Siro for four years and winning three Serie A titles and the Champions League under, Lentini never quite reached the heights promised by what at the time was a world record transfer fee. A car crash in 1993 overshadowed his career, and he couldn’t fully recover having fractured his skull and damaged his eye socket aged just 24.

2. Mario Gotze – Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for £32million, 2013.

There are a lot of achievements in his career that Mario Gotze can rightfully be proud of. In 2014, at the age of 22, he scored the winner for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina. It was a moment that, had it come a few years later, would probably have defined his career.

But people always expect more, and it is easy to forget Gotze’s age. Having shot to fame at Borussia Dortmund, he appeared to sever all ties with them when he joined Bayern, but three tough years, in which he struggled for regular action under Pep Guardiola, stifled his development.

Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in place of Manchester City-bound Guardiola didn’t stop the prodigal son returning to the Signal Iduna Park with his tail firmly between his legs earlier this summer.

3. Andriy Shevchenko – AC Milan to Chelsea for £30million, 2006.

Still in it’s infancy, Roman Abramovich’s power and success driven reign at Chelsea reached new heights when the Blues lured perhaps the world’s best striker to Stamford Bridge in 2006, reportedly against the wishes of then boss Jose Mourinho.

Just three years earlier, the Ukrainian hitman had scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Milan against Juventus, before missing a similarly huge one at the same stage against Liverpool two years after that.

Overall, he netted 127 goals in 208 Serie A games during seven years at the San Siro, but could score just nine in 48 in two Premier League seasons before returning to the Rossoneri for a failed loan spell.

4. Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea for £50million, 2011.

In a similar story to Shevchenko, Chelsea swooped for Fernando Torres on deadline day in January 2011, after the Spaniard had lit up Anfield in three and a half years at Liverpool.

His record of 20 league goals in 110 games is not deserving of a £50million player, and he never really hit the form of his days as a Red, but Torres did have some great moments with Chelsea.

En route to winning the Champions League in his first full season, he scored the clinching goal in the semi final against Barcelona.

He’ll be fondly remembered in West London despite his struggles, but fans will be disappointed they never saw the best of him.

5. Radamel Falcao – Atletico Madrid to Monaco for £50million, 2013.

Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ and probably the man who took Torres’ mantle as the hottest striker on the planet while with Atletico Madrid, Radamel Falcao had his pick of the world’s elite when he departed, having won back to back Europa League titles, first with FC Porto and then Los Rojiblancos, in 2011 and 2012.

But that summer, he surprised the world by choosing to sign for newly-rich Monaco. While his early goal record in the Principality was as prolific as ever, following a record of 52 goals in 68 La Liga games for Atleti, but a serious knee injury a few months later has haunted him since.

Loan moves to Manchester United and Chelsea promised much, but he was never the same player. Now 30, he is back at Monaco looking for anything close to his best form.

6. Denilson – Sao Paulo to Real Betis for £21.5million, 1998.

To break the world transfer record at the age of 18, talent must be unquestionable, and that was the case with former Brazil midfielder Denilson when he joined Real Betis in 1998.

What did raise doubts, however, were his temperament and desire to fulfil his otherworldly potential. Although he earned 60 caps for his country and stayed at Betis for seven years, a move to one of Europe’s truly elite clubs never came, and he ended his career in 2010 having jumped aimlessly from continent to continent.

7. Gaizka Mendieta – Valencia to Lazio for £30million, 2001.

Two successive Champions League final defeats at the beginning of the century had not taken anything away from Gaizka Mendieta, who was the most sought after player around in the summer of 2001.

At the time, Lazio were a huge draw, having won Serie A a year earlier, and they struck a deal to bring Mendieta to Rome. But after making 230 league appearances at the Mestalla, he only racked up 20 in three years at the Stadio Olympico, while also taking loan spells at Barcelona and Middlesbrough at that time.

8. Robinho – Real Madrid to Manchester City for £32.5million, 2008.

Throughout the summer of 2008, Robinho was a target for Chelsea and so desperately wanted to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and Real Madrid.

As is becoming more and more typical, the saga rolled on all summer but the Blues couldn’t clinch a deal. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Manchester City were taken over by Sheikh Mansour, and with money to burn stole in to sign the 24-year-old.

But Robinho himself didn’t know who he had signed for when asked for his thoughts on international duty, claiming he thought he’d joined Chelsea after all.

That really set the tone. Brilliant in places but only netting twice away from home in his debut season, he was shipped on loan to Santos after 18 months before being sold to AC Milan.

9. Juan Sebastian Veron – Lazio to Manchester United for £28million, 2001.

While the Red Devils have entered the market for established superstars more since Sir Alex Ferguson, the capture of Veron was arguably the last true showing of their financial muscle in comparison to others.

Another of the most wanted in the world, Veron arrived with a huge reputation as an Argentina international. Technique and composure on the ball were no problem but the pace and physicality of the English game was too much for him. He was sold to Chelsea in the early Abramovich days for £15million.

10. Kaka – AC Milan to Real Madrid for £58million, 2009.

Some players earn the right to break the world transfer record, and Kaka was certainly one of them. Still riding the wave from his Ballon d’Or win in 2007, having inspired Milan to the Champions League that year, he became a new Galactico in Madrid president Florentino Perez’s second spell at the helm.

He promised much, obviously, but injuries and a lack of the big personality desired to succeed in the Spanish capital, and he eventually returned to Milan before joining Orlando City in MLS via a loan spell at Sao Paulo.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and the Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


Share this article:


Sevilla won the Europa League for the third time in as many years after beating Liverpool 3-1 in Basel. This was the fifth time they have lifted the trophy in the past eleven seasons.

The Andalusians title means that with Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid clashing in the Champions League final in Milan, Spanish clubs will have won both European competitions for the last three seasons.

This dominance extends further as eight of the last thirteen teams to win the Europa League have come from Spain, whilst the Champions League will go to a La Liga side for the fifth time in eight seasons.

What makes Spanish teams so successful in Europe and why have they started to dominate? After all, isn’t La Liga dominated by two behemoths and the rest of the league is just weak and would struggle to finish in the top half of the Premier League?

The success of  Barcelona and Real Madrid is the easiest to understand. Their colossal spending power is only matched by a handful of clubs in Europe. In their quest for constant silverware they buy the world’s best players. This means that numerous canteranos are forced to move on to develop their careers and get playing time at other Spanish clubs.

Whilst Spain’s big two spend tens of millions each year, the same cannot be said for the rest of their clubs. Unlike clubs from England’s cash rich Premier League, the majority of Spanish clubs cannot simply go out and spend £10M on a new defender. Instead they rely on successful scouting and recruitment.

Before the Europa League final, Jürgen Klopp praised Spanish clubs for having better scouting, coaches and player development than those in the other major European leagues.

This is certainly true of Sevilla who have bought the likes of Dani Alves, Luís Fabiano, Adriano, Federico Fazio, Martin Cáceres, Ivan Rakitic, Júlio Baptista, Seydou Keita, Christian Poulsen, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Carlos Bacca for a combined fee of approximately £30M. Then there’s canteranos  such as Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, Alberto Moreno, Luis Alberto and José Antonio Reyes that they have developed.

You can argue that Sevilla are the exception. That their success if down to the director of football, Monchi. However, numerous clubs in Spain now have long standing sporting directors who oversee their club’s scouting and recruitment and they have remained in place as coaches have come and gone.

Atlético Madrid have reached their second Champions League final in three years. This has come on the back of them winning the Europa League twice in the space of three years. It is no coincidence that during this period, they have been stable in terms of management and recruitment. This has allowed them to thrive.

Atlético’s first team is made up of canteranos such as Koke and Saúl Ñíguez, supplemented by clever signings such as Diego Godín (signed for €6.6M), Juanfran (€4M) and Gabi (€3M). This prudence allows the club to splash out on the odd marquee signing such as Jan Oblak and Antoine Griezmann who have pushed Atlético to the highest level of European football.

At this moment in time Spain and La Liga are miles ahead of the rest of Europe and it appears that they will continue to dominate for years to come.


Share this article:


Jackson Martínez – Atlético Madrid

Signed for €30 million in the summer, Atlético’s lust for the Colombian was hinged on the fact that they felt they had a ‘guaranteed’ striker; one who could come in from day one and add the striking firepower necessary for them to challenge for the title again.

After Mario Mandzukic failed to adequately replace Diego Costa in the previous season, the 29-year-old was seen as a safer option in that regard. “Simeone doesn’t want any surprises with his [number] nine this time, and so Jackson has arrived,” wrote Marca’s Alberto Polo, ahead of the season’s initiation.

Except, the ex-Porto man hasn’t been such a safe bet so far. He has scored just three times in 15 appearances for Atlético, and displayed few remnants of the dominance that typified his time in Portugal. But perhaps more pertinently, Jackson has struggled to adapt to the individual demands of Diego Simeone.

The situation isn’t so critical yet, given the recent history of stars taking their time to embrace such ways – namely Antoine Griezmann. But Jackson will have to make a more profound mark before the turn of the New Year, if he’s to stave off the encroaching pressure of Atlético’s other forward options.

Steven N’Zonzi – Sevilla

In a summer where Sevilla spent more money than ever before, Steven N’Zonzi represented one of the key members of their record outlay. Arriving from Stoke City for seven million euros, the 26-year-old appeared an ideal replacement for the departed Stéphane Mbia, and an effective foil to the combative Grzegorz Krychowiak.

But like most of Sevilla’s summer recruits not named Yehven Konoplyanka, the Frenchman is yet to make a defined mark in Andalucia. And what’s more, N’Zonzi has been the team’s most used summer signing in La Liga; starting seven of their 11 games to date, and receiving opportunities that a host of others are vying for.

In the all-encompassing rotation that Unai Emery and Sevilla rely on, particularly in midfield, those flattering to deceive won’t be persisted with for too long. Though the potential for N’Zonzi in the current team still seems exciting, Emery won’t be afraid to go a different route if the former Stoke man doesn’t up the stakes between now and the second half of the campaign.

Gareth Bale – Real Madrid

In a season where Real Madrid’s record signing has barely featured, the Welshman has still unintentionally found himself in the capital’s headlines. Though the reason for Bale’s stop-start campaign is due to injury, some high-profile figures in Madrid have put the blame on the player himself for his lack of fitness; while unfairly questioning his commitment to the club.

“You cost 100m euros Gareth, but you preferred to play 90 minutes against Andorra than play for Madrid,” wrote AS’ Tomas Roncero, after Bale’s participation for Wales prevented him from playing in los Blancos’ forthcoming game. 

In essence, it only serves to underline the fact that Bale still has plenty of work to do to win over the Madridismo. And now he’s healthy again, it’s time for the 26-year-old to become a key contributor in Real Madrid’s quest for honours.

With Cristiano Ronaldo’s form floundering on a rare occasion, the calls for Bale to step up – which seemingly will never go away as long as the Welshman is at the club – would be best served as soon as possible, for his own sake.

Rafael Van Der Vaart – Real Betis

Despite being made one of the highest earners at the time of his summer signing, Rafael Van Der Vaart’s assistance to a Real Betis team fighting to avoid relegation has been almost negligible so far. Through eleven games of the campaign, the Dutchman has appeared in just two of those, without completing ninety minutes in either.

Ahead of his move to Spain, the reports from the Bundesliga indicated the Van Der Vaart was struggling for form and ostensibly on the wane. But even still, followers of the Andalucian outfit are within their rights to expect a little more from a man with 100 international caps to his name, and one who is still only in his early 30’s.

“Betis is the perfect club for me to recover my level of playing,” Van Der Vaart told Marca earlier this month. Now he needs to show it, while letting his performances take pride over the bravado of the high-profile move. Otherwise, the Betis faithful won’t hesitate to retract their hospitality.

 Jonathas – Real Sociedad 

Much like Atlético and Jackson Martínez, the pitting together of Real Sociedad and Jonathas was supposed to give the Basque club a much-needed guarantee in the forward line. He had been prolific in a doomed Elche team last season, while the perceived upgrade in talent around him seemed to point towards a healthy link-up between player and club.

However, the Brazilian quickly fell out of favour under David Moyes, after only a handful of opportunities as the starting striker. In his place, the form of Imanol Aggiretxe has sentenced him to the bench. Or at least, it did.

With Moyes now relieved of his duties, there is a new sheriff in town. Eusebio Sacristán, most recently of Barcelona B, is the new coach at Anoeta, and for Jonathas in particular, it means a new opportunity to revive his campaign before it’s too late.

He might not be able to displace Agirretxe in the starting spot completely, should Eusebio continue the lone forward system, but he can certainly put pressure on the manager in regards to extending his participation.

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp


Share this article:


“It was a little difficult to adapt. But now I’m good physically and in all other departments as well,” explained an overjoyed Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco, after his starring role in Atletico Madrid’s impressive 2-1 win over Valencia.

His wonderful performance was the perfect way to cap off a brilliant week for the Belgian wizard. It all began in San Sebastian, where he came on as a late substitute to score with a tidy finish past Real Sociedad’s highly gifted keeper, Geronimo Rulli.

Then came Astana in the Champions League. And it was against the Kazakh giants where, while despite not scoring in the 4-0 demolition, he displayed what a weapon he can be for Diego Simeone’s men. This was a performance of real substance by Ferreira-Carrasco, as he defended intently and attacked with the unpredictability and dynamism we’d become accustomed to seeing during his time with Monaco. It was undoubtedly his best showing in an Atleti shirt, with Astana having no answers to his wicked dribbling ability and underrated passing ability, as he notched up a spectacular eight successful dribbles and an equally outstanding four key passes.

With Valencia at the Vicente Calderon to finish the week for the Mattress Makers, certainly the highest profile game of the three, Ferreira-Carrasco would’ve been hoping he’d done enough to earn a start in those previous two fixtures.

When Simeone released his teamsheet and named the former Monaco prodigy out on the right wing, it would’ve been great for him to see his tough manager reward him for all his industrious work. There could be no doubting he’d earned it.

Ferreira-Carrasco didn’t let El Cholo down either, emphatically repaying his faith by putting in a magnificent, man of the match, shift (his second in a row).

On both sides of the ball, Carrasco oozed commitment, purpose and intensity.

Defensively, he pressed and harried his man like a lion hunting its prey and flew into tackles ferociously, while he also tracked back vigorously to support his fullback. There could be no questioning his work rate and desire to get stuck in, something his manager would’ve absolutely loved.

In the early stages of the contest, there were encouraging signs that he just might have a key role to play in this fixture. On a few occasions he gave glimpses of his creative passing game, electric pace and trickery. But midway through the first half, Simeone’s crafty tinkering, which saw him move to the left, served as the perfect catalyst for the heavily right-footed attacker to unmistakably stamp his mark on the match.

Now out on the left, he could receive the ball in wide areas and then subsequently cut inside onto his stronger foot and drive at his marker, Joao Cancelo. Cancelo had a torrid time dealing with the mercurial Belgian, with his capacity to beat his adversary in a multiplicity of ways proving a real handful for Cancelo to deal with. He used stepovers, subtle changes of directions and pace, plus his strength to emphatically see off the challenges of his Portuguese opponent.

For his goal on 40 minutes, it came as no coincidence, then, that Ferreira-Carrasco combined so much of the aforementioned to score one of the goals of the La Liga season so far.

Here, after picking up possession out on the left, he bulldozed past Cancelo, knocking him down to the floor in the process, and continued on his forward surge. Valencia midfielder, Silva, then attempted to intervene with a sliding tackle, but Ferreira-Carrasco’s nifty jink inside comfortably saw off his challenge. Now the Atleti ace was in a perfect position to unleash a shot on net, and he did just that – slamming a thunderous drive home from the edge of the 18-yard box.

This superlative solo effort was Ferreira-Carrasco at his explosive, powerful best. There couldn’t have been any better way to score his first goal at home, and the die-hard fans duly went wild in celebration.

“Simeone has given me the confidence and told me I had to [shoot] to score goals like I did today,” he explained.

“People sing my name and I’m happy. [It] was a nice goal.”

Upon exiting the pitch on 69 minutes, the standing ovation from the Atleti supporters and warm embrace he received from Simeone beautifully illustrated an appreciation of what a marvellous shift he’d put in.

After a tough initial period of adjustment learning to comply to Simeone’s methods, it’s been great to finally see Ferreira-Carrasco beginning to shine in the capital.

One statistic, in particular, from Marca demonstrates how well integrated he now is at Atletico. It reads: “the Belgian has currently regained possession more times than any other Atlético Madrid player on a per-minute-played basis.”

A staggering number really, but one that clearly shows how well he’s made the shift to embody the Atletico style.

He’s a smart man for adhering to and learning from his manic Argentine manager too. If he needed any examples of how well Simeone’s expert tutelage can benefit a player, he need only look how far current teammate Antoine Griezmann and the recently departed Arda Turan have come under his leadership.

Simeone’s evidently impressed with the young Belgian international too, explaining: “Carrasco is growing based on the effort he made to suit the characteristics of the team.”

“He’s a guy who is used to scoring important goals. He is a player that has certain attributes, that why he is at Atletico.”

Despite Atletico’s disappointing 1-1 draw vs. Deportivo at the weekend, Ferreira-Carrasco, who justifyably earned himself another start, had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the contest, in yet another indication of how swimmingly he’s now adapting to life at his new club.

While it certainly hasn’t been all plain sailing for the talented 22-year-old at Atletico, the sizeable €20 million shelled out by los Rojiblancos to acquire his services is unquestionably now beginning to look like money well spent.

Having obviously done their due diligence prior to signing the player, which would’ve alerted to them to the fact he supplied an eye-catching nine assists in Ligue 1 last term, scored a further six and had the fourth most dribbles in France, they knew were buying a wildly gifted attacker.

After all, wingers who can create, finish, effortlessly beat their opponents and who are electrifyingly quick are undeniably a much vaunted commodity in the modern game. In Ferreira-Carrasco, Atletico have undoubtedly got their hands on one, and they’ll be hoping their magnificently multifaceted starlet will help propel them to great things this season.

Although working with Simeone is well and truly a far cry from his early beginnings at Monaco under Claudio Ranieri, despite his earlier struggles at Atleti, the steely, determined Ferreira-Carrasco appears set to make it all the way to the top at Atletico.

You never know, he might even surpass fellow Monaco departee Anthony Martial, who’s now starring for Manchester United, one day. His enormously diverse and dynamic set of attributes, in combination with working under the exceptional Simeone, should give him every chance of doing precisely that.

About the author – Edward Stratmann

Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game, with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his brother in 2013.

twitter: @licencetoroam


Share this article:


Atletico Madrid’s La Liga title triumph in 2013/14 was one of the greatest achievements in modern football history.

Diego Simeone’s outfit, the third team in Spain, came out on top in what was widely considered to be a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. While there are plenty of examples of upsets of a similar nature in knockout competitions, Atletico’s title win was undoubtedly more impressive given that it came over the course of a regular 38-game domestic campaign.

Although he had less gifted players to call upon than Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid and Tata Martino at Barcelona, Simeone created a side of fierce competitors who were extremely difficult to play against. There was plenty of quality in the squad too, with Koke, Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Arda Turan all truly excellent players, but Simeone’s greatest success was producing a side whose whole was significantly stronger than the sum of its individual parts.

Rather remarkably, Atletico won the league with an average possession of just 49 percent (the figures recorded by other champions that year were 55 by Manchester City, 57 by Bayern Munich, 60 by Paris Saint-Germain and 54 by Juventus). Their approach was based on being extremely well-organised, solid and compact – both from back to front and side to side – in the defensive phase of play before springing forward quickly on the counter-attack when the ball was turned over. There were also plenty of set-piece goals, with Atletico finding the back of the net on an astonishing 24 occasions from dead-ball situations.

Countless players enjoyed terrific seasons, including the aforementioned quartet, but it was no-nonsense centre-back Diego Godin and central midfielder Gabi who best epitomised Atleti’s style: there are far more gifted technicians around than the duo, but their strength, commitment, attitude and endeavour symbolised what Simeone’s charges were all about.

Fast forward two years and, in a sense, little has changed. Atletico are still intense and aggressive, regularly smothering opponents into submission. They have retained that knack of seeming to winning every second ball and 50-50 challenge, and continue to be a horrible team to face.

There are, however, some notable differences between the 2013/14 Atletico and the one currently sitting fourth in the La Liga table, just four points behind Madrid and Barcelona at the summit.

There is greater invention and individual flair in the current group, with Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Ferreria Carrasco, Oliver Torres, Angel Correa all capable of assuming the creative mantle.

While such players are not absolved from their defensive duties and off-the-ball obligations, they have brought more skill and pace to the ranks at the Vicente Calderon; Atletico’s core identity is unchanged, but a dash of extra guile has been added to the solid foundations that were already in place.

Carrasco’s fine goal in the recent 2-1 victory over Valencia perfectly showcased the mix between the old and the new: the Belgian winger won possession back after some aggressive pressing, before dribbling past two players and firing a low drive into the bottom corner.

Barcelona and Madrid remain heavy favourites to finish top of the pile at the end of the campaign. After their astonishing achievements of two seasons ago, though, it would be foolish in the extreme to write Atletico off just yet.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


Share this article:


Dispossessing the ever dependent Enzo Perez in the right-back position before skipping past Andre Gomes with an impressive change of pace and firing a stinging shot into the bottom left hand corner, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco announced himself to Atlético de Madrid fans. More importantly he announced the new look Atlético to the world. Since their dramatic championship back in 2014, Diego Simeone has been trying to create a new look side, one whose efficiencies can be matched with flair and explosiveness. 18 months on, it looks as though the Argentinian has finally achieved his goal of a team that mixes flair with the traditional solidity of a Simeone team.

Their stunning victory over Valencia this weekend epitomised how the new-look Atlético will play – although they retained their solidity in the centre with experienced pair Gabi and Tiago, they added super quick transitions and increased intensity in wide positions. Traditionally, Atléti struggled for quality in wide areas preferring to use central midfielders as makeshift wingers, before using super sub Cristian Rodriguez primarily as an out-ball when under pressure. Now with their younger, technically gifted wide men Atléti have shape-shifted into a counter-attacking high-intesity unit full of tricks and flicks. The new breed of wide players are faster, sharper and more threatening.

The introduction of Ferreira-Carrasco-Atletico-Madrid-twitter has put new emphasis on wide positions. Simeone wants his players to express themselves, to become highlight players, full of tricks flicks, flair and intensity. He needs them to create for him after a year where Atlético hadn’t reached anywhere near the heights of their title winning season. Last years Rojiblancos lacked intensity, flexibility and at times looked incredibly short of ideas – this year, they look more comfortable with themselves, more ready to try the unthinkable.

Carrasco encapsulates everything Simeone desires, the intensity and desire to perform but as demonstrated with his goal the ability to add an additional dimension. His surging runs down the left hand side constantly caused problems for Valencia, and both of the goals came from that side of the pitch. One thing Carrasco caught the eye with during his time at Monaco was his expression with the ball – unlike many modern wingers, he is not afraid to ask questions of a full-back. His goal embodied his wonderful performance. But what shouldn’t go unnoticed was the Belgians work rate in those sparkling 69 minutes. Valencia rely so heavily on their full-backs, but the threat of Cancelo was immediately nullified by the defensive side of the young mans game. Simeone has definitely matured his game in the short time he has worked with him, and it is easy to draw comparisons with the road map that Antoine Griezmann has taken in the capital.

To give context; the two games with Valencia last year were the toughest that Simeone’s side had faced outside of Real and Barca. A year on and Atlético showed that their progression on the field has been massive, whereas Valencia’s big strides off the pitch haven’t been matched with performances. Valencia seem more content on lining the pockets of Benfica and Manchester City as well as airing their dirty laundry in Spanish newspapers than building on the fantastic achievements that they made last year. Boss Nuno has fallen out with €30m man Alvaro Negredo after the Spanish international told AS that he had no idea what the Portuguese was doing tactically, with influential coach Ian Cathro pitching up at Newcastle in the off-season.

Simeone on the other hand has become much more flexible with tactics over time, his willingness to innovate has lead to Atléti making huge strides. They look threatening on the counter, but the influx of talented younger players has meant that Atlético have become much better at retaining the ball – evidently, their one advantage over other teams during the title winning season was their ability to work the other team off the pitch and counter attack with pace. Now, Atléti have evolved, they have become quicker in transition, much better at cycling the ball around to create spaces and look much more comfortable when playing out of the back and through the phases. Tiago, aged 34, looks as majestic as he did ten years ago winning the title with Chelsea. Jose Maria Gimenez is keeping out big summer signing Stefan Savic and under the tutelage of Diego Godin looks to be turning into a younger form of his tutor.

As Ferriera Carrasco was replaced by hometown starlet Oliver Torres, the Vicente Calderon was on it’s feet.. “Carrasco, Carrasco!” they boomed as the Belgian trotted off the pitch. If initial performances are anything to go by, they will continue to shout his name for many years as he wins the hearts of El Frente. Atletico, meanwhile, are on the road to success and winning back the hearts of Europe’s football enthusiasts.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


Share this article:


Over the course of July and August, Atlético Madrid assembled the most eclectic squad of the Simeone era to date, in what was a clear changing of approach from the shot callers at the Calderón.

After a hangover season for los Colchoneros, who, as expected, failed to defend their title of 2013-14, it was evident that the club would need to formulate a new plan if they were to return to the summit of Spanish football. And following the conclusion of the summer transfer period, it seemed as if they had secured the chips they needed to launch a renewed assault on Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, nine games into the new campaign, Atlético have already been defeated three times, with two of them coming at the usually bulletproof Calderón. But more so than results at such an early stage, the more profound concern has been the team’s struggle to unload their new found wealth of ammunition.

In their most recent game against Real Madrid, we saw further signs of star players being inhibited. For long stretches in a game where Atlético were chasing, Antoine Griezmann – the club’s unassailable superintendent – spent an unhealthy amount of time with an eye on the protection of his full back, sacrificing attacking expression for rigidity. The 24-year-old would remain on the periphery of the game throughout; one they needed him the most in.

Ángel Correa, the club’s new injector of youthful attacking zest, also found himself marooned far from his optimal areas of play for large portions of the contest. Playing as a second striker to Fernando Torres, the Argentine remained the liveliest of Atlético’s crop, but the overawing feeling was that he had been held back by a duty to defend in the same capacity as his other teammates. By the 59th minute, Simeone’s most effective attacking weapon was substituted; out of fuel for the night.

The defensive demand of his attacking players hasn’t only been an issue in the big fixtures, either. Even against newly promoted Las Palmas – who played with a reinforced, face-saving 5-3-2 system themselves – Atlético persisted with an overzealously cautious approach of their own when out of possession, making sure every man was behind the ball. They would eventually squeak a 1-0 win at the Calderón, thanks to a deflected Griezmann free kick.

Now, such demands have always been on his players, and it has brought them great success. But Diego Simeone’s palette of options is evolving – perhaps more so than ever before. Atlético were incessantly bold in the transfer market; collating an array of attacking tools that would seemingly have them covered for a wide scale of eventualities. That type of audacity is yet to correlate on the field though, and the sense of under-application is starting to become tangible.

Taking issue with Simeone’s demands does feel somewhat like sacrilege, given how it has changed Atlético’s standing in world football. But as much as ‘Cholo’ craves for his team to remain the underdog, and thus prolong their backs-to-the-wall approach, the reality is that his playing squad has been injected with some 80 million euros worth of talent over the summer (most of it attack-leaning), and that type of expression has not even nearly emerged on the pitch.

It comes as no surprise that Atlético’s best two performances of the season to date came away from home, at Sevilla and Galatasaray. It is there, in those hostile arenas against sizable challenges – where the scope to mix things up is granted – that Simeone’s men thrive. Taking the game to their opponents back on home soil, or where they are expected to establish and maintain the front foot, however, is proving a thorn in the side of this transitioning team.

Simeone coined the term ‘partido a partido’ in their title-winning season of 2013-14, in reference to treating each game as its own final and being non-discriminatory of each opponent. Evidently, it has served them very well and seen them build towards targets that were deemed inconceivable for a long time. However, the Atlético of then and the Atlético of now is markedly different. With their unexpected success, every corner of the club has developed; changing the dynamic of their tasks, and heightening responsibilities as a product, even if Simeone remains coy in regards to their modus operandi (he claims their real competitors are Valencia and Sevilla, not the big two).

Of course, it’s merely a method of containing expectation. Atlético and Simeone want to be the champions of Spain again – as soon as possible – but utilising many recurring themes of the dogged approach from 2013-14 with the current, more nuanced crop of players doesn’t appear to be doing them many favours at present.

After a summer in which all the talk on incomings revolved around how they would adapt to Atlético and Simeone, maybe the time is coming to experiment with some role reversal in the interest of maximising their individual stamp on games.

About the author – Jamie Kemp

Jamie is a freelance sportswriter, who writes on English and Spanish varieties of football in the main. He is also the creator of the popular blog El Rondo; a spot where you can find regular musings on the world of La Liga.

twitter: @jamiekemp



Share this article:


Occasionally a players comes along in Europe whose talent is paradoxically matched by their worldwide under-appreciation. A player who mesmerizes opposition fans and leaves them wondering what would be possible if he played for their team. These players are rare; they’re the stars we know all about but often overlook when picking our favourite players from around the globe.

One such player is Barcelona’s new boy Arda Turan – a man who looks like he’d be more suited to a Spartan battlefield than the Camp Nou. The Turkish international had been a revelation for Atlético Madrid since moving from Galatasaray for the bargain fee of £10 million and is widely regarded as one of La Liga’s most influential, gifted and effective players.

It wasn’t always this rosy, however. Joining Galatasaray at the age of 13 in July 2000, the diminutive youngster struggled to cope with the rigours of daily football, not least the speed and strength required for the game. Arda was the shortest player in the ’87 age group and it showed in his early performances. Bigger, more experience players in the league were unaccommodating towards a player who had all the tricks but lacked effectiveness.

His academic record was far from exemplary too. In his early teens he struggled in school and was often found on the wrong end of visits to the school headmaster. It was these disciplinary issues that almost cost the Istanbul-born midfielder his place in the Aslan’s academy.

Change was needed and his religious faith – a factor which he now attributes to his success in Spain – was born.

Fast-forward to 2005 and Gheorghe Hagi, the man many would subsequently believe Arda could emulate in Turkey, was to give a slight 17-year-old his debut against Bursaspor in a Turkish Cup game. Turkish football fans, notably Galatasaray, have always paid particular attention to the next generation of national stars. Turan was talked about in the stands of the Ali Sami Yen stadium for almost a year prior to his debut.

It wasn’t long before the boyhood Gala fan soon broke into the first team. A loan spell at Manisaspor confirmed that he was ready for Turkish Süper Lig. By now, the coaching staff at the Gündüz K?l?ç youth facilities in Florya had worked tirelessly with Arda to improve his balance and turning speed. It is these modern training regimes that are so abundantly evident in his refined game today.

The sharper, quicker Turan established himself as a first team regular in the 2006-07 season, going on to win his first Turkey cap and helping the club qualify for the Champions League.

Prior to the star of the 2009 season, just three years after establishing himself as chief creator, Turan was appointed captain of the side. Now 22, he was also handed the number 10 shirt; previously worn by Gala’s greatest goalscorer, Metin Oktay, and perhaps the clubs most gifted footballer, Hagi – ironically the man who handed Turan his debut.

Injuries were to disrupt the final year of the attacking midfielder’s stay at his hometown club. After registering an impressive 14 assists – many of which were audacious, delicate passes – 2011 saw the playmaker decide that his future lay elsewhere.

Linked with just about every major club in Europe since his debut in Turkey’s top flight, many thought his next destination would be Liverpool. Turan stoked the fires when he remarked:

“I want to play in major leagues and my dream team is Liverpool. As I always mention, Liverpool attracts me because of their tradition. In Europe, I am a Liverpool supporter, so if I go to play in Europe, I would like to play for them.”

The precarious financial trouble at the Anfield club all but ensured any move to the Premier League would have to wait. Fiorentina, Lyon, Ajax and Bayern Munich all came close to signing the Turk before he finally opted for the forthcoming revolution at Atlético Madrid.

He was to become the poster boy for change at the Spanish club and would forge one of the most efficient and underrated partnerships in La Liga with Falcao and later Diego Costa. Barcelona aside, no combination of players made more interchanges than Costa and Turan in Atleti’s title-winning campaign. Costa himself reserved special praise for his former teammate, telling Marca:

“He’s the best player technically to play behind me. He has vision and speed of thought and the skill to make the pass.”

The early troubles of Arda have contributed heavily to the man he is today. Deeply religious and largely professional, his intimate relationship between football and religion has elevated his game to new levels. The 83-time Turkey international claims that Islam has helped him find peace on a football pitch and that it offers him the freedom to play his game without fear:

“When you realise that some things are bigger than football, bigger than even your family, then you know your life is dedicated to that. Football is something I enjoy, but God is love.”

Perhaps this liberated and expressive freedom is what makes Arda so graceful and effortless on the pitch. His ability to glide past defenders gave him the second highest dribble success rate in La Liga two seasons ago, just beaten to the post by Lionel Messi. Nothing to baulk at when Arda himself claims Messi is the world’s best player.

Aside from his technical grace, intelligence is another factor that separates Turan from his peers. He frequently drifts around the pitch, always attempting to provide the best option for his teammates. The speed of turn and sharp accelerations – a homage to his early training rigours – allowed him to initiate attacks at pace and set the likes of Antoine Griezmann, and previously Falcao and Costa into goal.

Diego Simeone is indeed an admirer. It would take an article in itself to cover all the superlatives the Argentine has proclaimed when it comes to Turan – therefore his departure will be a bitter pill to swallow, despite the recent high-profile arrivals at Vicente Calderón.

Some argue that his stats don’t even reflect his true value, and it’s hard not to agree. Turan is often the middle man, linking play before setting a teammate through on goal, or spreading play to allow maximum time and space for those around him. He’s just a player you have to watch weekly to legitimately appreciate. And appreciate you will.

It’s been a long road for the Turkish international, an arduous one too. Arda’s story of discipline and faith is a timely reminder for all young players that obstacles will arise in the game, no matter what your level. The key is finding solutions to overcome them.

Even without the extra strength and agility training that he conducted at Galatasaray, it’s likely Turan would’ve turned pro anyway. He was still a supremely gifted technically and a wonderful exponent of the final pass with his vision and speed of thought. But would he have become captain aged 22? Would he have become the most expensive Turkish footballer ever? Perhaps not.

After his recent move to Barcelona, it appears that one more challenge awaits in Spain before he will inevitably head back to Turkey. A century of national caps are inevitable for a player who can mix it with the very best but remains largely confined to the second band of Europe’s best footballers.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


Share this article: