Whilst the upcoming changes for the broadcasting rights of La Liga may go some way to reducing it in the future, for now the imbalance of power in Spanish football – and European football, for that matter – is very much alive. The economic duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid means that everyone bar those two are effectively selling clubs, something which even applies to the team who broke their dominance on the pitch and won the league title as recently as 2014.
It’s easy to be empathetic towards Atlético Madrid’s position as victims of their own success in the last few years, and equally so to wonder what might’ve been this year if they were able to have kept hold of all their players, but vitally they don’t feel sorry for themselves. The club have made something of a successful habit of selling their best players and replacing them effectively, most notoriously in attacking positions, and this upcoming summer transfer window based on newspaper gossip (yes, that horrible thing) appears to be no different.
Antoine Griezmann and Koke are two players that have been linked with moves away, but the most likely prospective outgoing right now seems to be Miranda. The 30-year-old Brazilian centre-back only has one year remaining on his contract, and if he desires to join one of the bigger European clubs who are apparently chasing him for somewhere between €20-30 million (again, rumours) then Atlético’s bargaining position is significantly weakened unless they want to risk losing him on a free next summer. But unlike with Griezmann and Koke, will they even be that bothered that he might go?
Well to an extent they will, of course, because he’s been at the heart of the backline which has helped Diego Simeone to such great success at the Vicente Calderón – though only to an extent. The first reason why is that for a club who are accepting of their position and reputation (in comparison to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid) to reject that kind of money for an ageing centre-back with one year left on his deal would be crazy from a financial sense. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is that they’ve already pretty much replaced him on the pitch without needing to sign anyone else. And that’s where José María Giménez comes in.
First-team opportunities were hard to come by for Giménez when he initially joined Atlético at the start of the 2013/14 season, with just one La Liga start and two Copa del Rey appearances coming in the year as a result of Miranda’s infallible partnership with Giménez’s fellow Uruguayan, Diego Godín. In fact he played more minutes at the World Cup for his country than he did in the whole season for his club, where he started three games after getting the chance to replace Diego Lugano when he picked up a knee injury following the first game against Costa Rica.
It seemed like it could be a similar story in this season too, with his first game – a very good performance, actually – coming in the middle of October against Espanyol, but his big break finally happened towards the end of November when Miranda picked up a short-term injury on international duty with Brazil; a spot was opened up for him, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
He went on to start 13 of Atlético’s 18 games on various fronts from the 22nd November until the last day of January, playing regularly even after Miranda’s return in the middle of that period, and then (following a spell in February where Simeone reverted to sticking with his two most experienced centre-backs) made a further 12 appearances from March until the end of the season. That totalled 26 in all competitions, with each one warranting a further chance in the side.
His constant string of truly excellent performances have helped to not only prove but further establish his reputation as one of the most promising young defenders in football right now, whilst the point that his best showings have come alongside his countryman (and centre-back partner at international level since the World Cup) Godín is one that has made Miranda much more dispensable than he was at this time a year ago.
In fact, in the 18 games which the two Uruguayans started together, Atlético had a ludicrously good record: they won 14, drew two, conceded just 10 goals, and kept 10 clean sheets – only conceding more than one goal in their match away at Barcelona. And let’s face it, when you’re playing against Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, it’s quite hard to blame them for that.
The pair are, as that record suggests, perfectly suited to each other. Giménez’s mobility and great recovery pace make up for what is probably the biggest weakness in Godín’s game, whilst he has a similarly excellent positional sense and ability to read the game: a discipline which Simeone heavily demands of his players in his defensive system. He’s also extremely good in the air, too, which is again vital when playing in a horizontally compact side that shut off space down the middle and just allow opponents to use the flanks and put crosses in.
Perhaps the only thing that the 20-year-old Giménez truly lacks as a player, although arguably his ever-improving distribution and slight tendency to dive in a little rashly could do with some more work too, is experience – and whilst he makes up for Godín’s main flaw, Godín similarly compensates for his in this area. As one of the best defenders in the world and at almost 10 years his senior, Godín (29) provides great balance to Giménez’s youthfulness, which would otherwise be one of the few concerns of bringing him through to be first-choice ahead of Miranda so soon.
Alongside the young defender’s rise, the other factor which could facilitate a potential sale of Miranda is the return of Toby Alderweireld (26) and Emiliano Velázquez (21) from successful loan spells at Southampton and Getafe respectively. There is a possibility that Alderweireld may leave still, although according to the club’s sporting director José Luis Caminero in April they’re very keen to keep him – and he in particular would represent an excellent (and experienced) rotation option at both centre-back and right-back.
As for Velázquez, who’s another promising Uruguayan defender, he could be given a chance to grow too if they decide not to loan him out again. Having two young centre-backs at the same time could possibly be considered a risky move, but leaving Giménez to hold the fort alongside Godín certainly isn’t.
Giménez is ready for permanent first-team football, and clearing his path with the financially-sound move of selling Miranda this summer makes an enormous amount of sense. He’s prepared to step up – and when you have somebody as talented as him at your disposal, you let him play.