On Tuesday Atlético officially announced one of Spain’s worst kept secrets, the departure of Jesús “Suso” García Pítarch.
The 48-year old sporting director replaced Toni Muñoz in 2006 after having worked at Valencia for four years.
Although heavily criticised for some of his signings, García Pítarch did help build a squad that twice qualified for the Champions League and won two European titles in 2010.
During his time at Atleti, he signed 46 players for a total cost of roughly €200m. In this two part series we take a look at the five best and the five worst deals Suso has made as Atlético’s sporting director, starting with the more memorable additions:
5. Tomas Ujfalusi (Summer of 2008 – Free)
After Ujfalusi announced he was leaving Fiorentina as a free agent in 2008 he seemed to end up at Sevilla, but Atlético hijacked the deal and signed him up. Because he had already agreed a pre-contract with our rivals he was later ordered to pay €875k for breaking the agreement, but it’s a fee Atleti will have been happy to cough up because over the years the Czech has proven to be an important part of the Atlético squad.
Although he has been used in various positions, Ujfalusi has been a mainstay in our defence. In the three years at the club he’s been partnered with several different colleagues, but Ujfa was always a regular in the starting XI. Our Jack Sparrow look-a-like originally signed a three-year contract but extended his deal to 2013 last October, which shows a lot of confidence in a defender who just recently turned 33.
4. José Antonio Reyes (Summer of 2007 – €12m)
In 2007, Atlético had millions to spend after selling Fernando Torres. García Pítarch replaced the Rojiblanco idol with a host of big name signings, one of which was José Antonio Reyes. Although once dubbed “at least as talented as El Niño”, the arrival of Reyes excited few Atleti supporters given the fact that he had made Real Madrid league champions just a couple of weeks prior to his transfer. The winger had even broken a pre-arrangement with Atlético to be with our arch rivals a year before, but when he joined he claimed to be excited to finally be able to join the club that had been chasing him for years.
Javier Aguirre preferred other players and Reyes buckled under the fans’ pressure in his first season, which resulted in a loan move to Benfica the year after. But since Quique Sánchez Flores took over at Atleti, roughly 18 months ago, the Andalusian has blossomed and has become one of our most influential players. It took two years but now ‘la Perla’ is back to the form he showed in 2006, when he last represented the Spanish national team. With seven goals and nine assists to his name this season, Reyes has managed to earn the respect of the Vicente Calderón, where he will continue to play at least until 2014.
3. Simão (Summer of 2007 – €20m)
Another result of our spending spree in 2007 was the signing of Simão Sabrosa, a product of Sporting Lisbon’s school of highly talented wingers. Having finished as the club’s topscorer in all of his six years at Benfica, it was clear the Portuguese was ready for a second move to Spain after an adventure at Barcelona early in his career had proven unsuccessful. But at Atleti, Simão was an instant hit, playing 41 matches and scoring 10 goals in his first season at the club.
He even made it into Atlético’s record books when he scored the club’s 4,000th league goal against Deportivo. Sadly, it seemed he declined as the years went by and the winger, now 31, was forced out of the club in January 2011 after it was clear that Atleti weren’t willing to offer him a new contract. His productivity for los Colchoneros did decrease in his last year, but that might be because he made 168 appearances for the club in just three and and a half years time. Simão seemed worn out in his last months but we will always remember him for his great performances against Barcelona and the occasional golazo he produced.
2. Tiago (January 2009 – On loan)
Considering his short tenure at the club and the fact the he did not feature in either the Europa League or the European Super Cup, Tiago’s inclusion might come as a surprise, but his temporary signing was one of García Pítarch’s better ideas. Atlético took the midfielder on loan during the January transfer window of 2010 when the team was occupying one of the spots near the relegation zone and immediately claimed a spot in the line-up. His performances, despite Atleti’s irregular results, were so convincing that we decided to take him on loan for another year.
Many fans claim Atleti haven’t had a playmaker since Miliko Pantić left, and although Tiago seems to only have been a temporary replacement, his stay won’t be made a permanent one even though he did manage to make the team tick. With the Portuguese midfielder on the pitch, we had someone who could bring the ball forward to our attackers. The 30-year-old also posed a big threat on set pieces. It’s not yet clear who we’ll sign to replace Tiago, but next season Atlético might come to regret not holding on to one of the most complete centre midfielders we’ve had this decade.
1. Diego Forlán (Summer of 2007 – €21m)
After the aforementioned departure of Torres to Liverpool many thought we’d suffer, but in the years to come his successor made us all forget about the striker we lost. Diego Forlán surpassed Torres’ goalscoring records and was the protagonist of our legendary Europa League-winning run last season.
With Javier Aguirre at the helm and Maxi Rodríguez, Simão, Kun Agüero and Forlán in the attack, Atleti quickly became an unstoppable goalscoring machine. Forlán would not only score frequently, he was banging in some incredibly beautiful goals too. In his first year at the club Diego scored 16 times, but the following campaign would prove to be his most succesful. Especially in the second half of the 2008-09 season, Forlán was like a beast unleashed, netting 32 goals on the way to earning not only the Pichichi, but also the European Golden Boot-title, an honour which had never been won by any Atlético player before.
The Witch had us under his spell and the Vicente Calderón embraced him with their ¡Uruguayo, Uruguayo! chants. Last season Forlán scored 28 goals in all competitions, most notably the ones he bagged in the Europa League. With two goals in the semi-finals against Liverpool and another brace in the final against Fulham, Forlán brought Atleti their first silverware in 14 years and first European cup since 1962. In the weeks that followed he made all Atleti fans even more proud at the World Cup in South Africa, where he was awarded the Golden Ball as Player of the Tournament.
In his 195 appearances for the club, Forlán has amassed an amazing amount of 96 goals but, to this date, it remains to be seen if Forlán will continue at Atlético. Even if this last year has been largely disappointing and frustrating for all parties, he will forever be remembered as the man who led us back to Neptuno in May 2010.
In the coming days we’ll publish Part 2: Suso’s worst signings, including a list of all the players he’s brought to the club.
Who do you think will feature in the next Top 5?