Ever since his arrival in the summer of 2008, Paulo Assunção has been an undisputed starter at the Manzanares.
The Brazilian midfielder played 64 league games in his first two seasons for Atlético, and started in all but one game.
The role Assunção plays is often misunderstood, but with Atleti’s recent success the admiration for the defensive midfielder has grown, especially among the rojiblanco faithful who recognize the value of Assunção’s dirty work.
In a team with four very offensive players and little balance, the 30-year old closes the gaps, wins duels in midfield and is willing to sacrifice himself for his team-mates.
Even with players like Forlán and Agüero at his disposal, it was Assunção’s name which Quique Sánchez Flores put on the teamsheet first.
Was, because things have changed in the past ten days. Quique surprisingly dropped Paulo for Mario Suárez in the derby against Real Madrid, arguably our biggest game of the season.
The change came as a shock to the fans, as it was only the second time Mario appeared from the start in a league match. At first it was assumed Assunção had suffered an injury, because it was unimaginable that he could be dropped for a player that had failed to impress since (re)joining us this past summer.
But Sánchez Flores explained after the match that he had opted for Mario because of his speed and passing skills, whereas Assunção’s ball circulation is lower. Suárez had a rather unremarkable performance, which is perhaps what’s asked of a player in his position.
However, it came as a surprise when Flores again started with Mario in Saturday’s clash against Osasuna. Under the scrutiny of the fans, the midfielder delivered an outstanding performance and came close to scoring, but his attempt hit the crossbar.
Despite debuting for the first team over five years ago, the 23-year old is still relatively unknown to most Atlético supporters. Mario was trained in our cantera, but was sent away on loan from 2006 till 2008, when he played for Real Valladolid and Celta de Vigo, both in the Segunda División.
When he was sold to Real Mallorca in 2008, it seemed Mario’s future had taken a definite turn away from the Calderón, but Atlético included an option to re-purchase the midfielder for €1.8m. After having played 60 games for Mallorca, being a key player during last season’s incredible campaign for the islanders, Atleti decided to activate their clause.
With Tiago, Assunção, Raúl García and Ignacio Camacho already at Atlético, Mario’s future was uncertain and until last week it didn’t seem likely Mario would soon obtain a position in our starting XI.
Given the fact that statistics point out Atlético are a lesser team without Assunção – 10 of our 15 games without him were lost – Atlético fans are now unsure of who should get the nod in midfield.
It seems unlikely that we’ll see the two of them together, so it’s either one or the other. Mario’s latest performance has us eager to see more of the canterano, but it must be said that this was only Osasuna.
As always we’re interested in your opinions! Who do you think will and should line up in midfield?