Over the last couple of months Jesus García Pítarch has paid multiple visits to South-America, and Brazil in particular. The Sports Director was said to be looking for cheap and unknown talent with the potential to develop into stars in la Liga, or at least become valuable assets to be sold for a neat profit.
It’s a strategy stolen from Villarreal, who reap the benefits from their extensive scouting networks in Latin America. Diego Godín, Antonio Valencia, Mateo Musacchio, Marcos Senna and Gonzalo Rodríguez are just a handful of players who were signed for small fees and have become integral parts of the first team, or have been sold at high profits. The strategy was originally adapted by Monchi, but the Sevilla S.D. seems to have lost his touch lately. In previous years however, he was the man responsible for spotting Dani Alves and Julio Baptista. He signed them for €50K and €3m respectively, and sold them for a combined fee of €60m.
Atleti’s first adventure, which started years ago in Argentina, was without success. Germán Pacheco has been largely unimpressive on loan at Independiente despite ample playing time, while Martín Acevedo decided to join Real Madrid. A second attempt brought us Fabiano Eller and Cléber Santana, but they were quietly shipped back to Brazil. Last season we imported from Uruguay, and although the jury is still out on the duo, there is little indication that Leandro Cabrera and Sebastián Gallegos will be able to be of any help to Atlético in the future.
This time, García Pítarch hasn’t come back with a low-risk signing. Instead the club decided to splash out a large sum of money on an unknown, unexperienced and unproven South American. And like Salvio last year, Elias will be joining us in the January transfer window, generally the worst time to arrive at a club. A hefty price tag brings big expectations, but how can a new player fulfill the high expectations without having spent pre-season with his team-mates, let alone adjusting to a new culture and adapting to the most competitive league in the world in the middle of the season?
When Atlético spends €7m, we should be buying a player who is guaranteed to be an improvement for our team. Seven million almost bought us Godín and Filipe. Seven million could have bought us Borja Valero. But instead of spending it on an established la Liga player, Suso has once again spent our entire budget on a player from South America. Instead of signing a right-back or a winger, he signed another centre midfielder.
Even if the Brazilian midfielder was on Suso’s wishlist for a year – rumours first appeared over a year ago – this transfer reeks of rash decision-making by the club. A panicky, impulsive purchase. Something to keep the fans happy after a week with three defeats; after they had decided to sell Jurado on the last day of the transfer window; and two days after Agüero received his Spanish passport, as if the club feels all three non-EU spots must be filled. We are Los Indios after all, right?
But it’s short term planning. What happens when Salvio returns from his loan spell at Benfica? And what about Koke, who is ready to make the step to the first team? What about Fran Mérida, who hasn’t been given a decent run in the first team yet, but has already been replaced by the next signing? What about the seven centre midfield players we currently have in the team?
If anything it seems we have been manipulated into signing Elias. García Pítarch appears to be nothing more than a naive football manager, a wannabe, a pawn used by Jorge Mendes. The player agent intended to bring Elias to Portugal, but Benfica wasn’t willing to meet Corinthians’ demands. So Mendes rang Atlético, a club easily duped into buying. Last summer Elias was on the market for €2.5m; Mendes managed to make Atlético cough up seven.
Don’t get me wrong, I do hope Elias proves me wrong. He has been capped by Seleção coach Mano Menezes three times in recent months, so the player surely must have qualities. But there seems to be little thought behind the transfer. Atlético need a strategy. Sign proven players; sign cheap players; sign young players; give canteranos a chance. There are many philosophies to pick from. But at Atlético there is no organization, no master plan. It seems we try to imitate Real Madrid, but also Villarreal. Only with a strategy can this club build a structured and balanced first team. From the facts that we still don’t have a right-back, that we have no one to replace Simão or Reyes on the wings, and that we do have seven centre midfielders; it is abundantly clear that García Pítarch has absolutely no clue as to what he’s doing.