In a piece of news that will come as relief — but probably not as a great surprise — to Atletico Madrid fans, Diego Simeone has extended his contract with the club to 2020 and the Calderon faithful should all doff their cap to the club’s board for how the potentially sticky situation has been handled.
In one of the more bizarre moves in the ever-erratic world of modern football, the Argentine is — in reality — back to square one. His original deal with Los Rojiblancos ran through to 2020, however in 2016 — following a second Champions League final defeat in three seasons to Real Madrid — Simeone took the unprecedented step of reducing his contract by two years to June 2018.
He was angry, exhausted and in need of a break. Who could blame him? The dramatic circumstances in which they lost to Madrid would have been enough for anyone to call it a day in football. The 47-year-old had promised to take Atleti into their new era at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium but refused to commit his future beyond a maiden season at the new ground.
Despite all this, he insisted that “nothing has changed” and it was “for the good of the club.” Of course, for the club and its fans, everything had changed. The man who had dragged them from mid-table mediocrity to one of the major players in world football was making the first noises in his six-year tenure about leaving. It was a moment everyone knew would eventually come, but nobody wanted to acknowledge it — not least two years before it was due to happen.
His future was directly linked to that of several star players and an unthinkable mass exodus of talent seemed possible. Antoine Griezmann has never been shy of saying his future is connected to Simeone’s. The likes of Saul Niguez, Koke and Jan Oblak would have been considering their positions, too, given the uncertainty surrounding their coach.
Last season, things remained normal despite the news. No players left without the boss’ say-so and they reached yet another Champions League semifinal before the seemingly now-mandatory Madrid derby elimination. They finished the campaign strongly, coming third in La Liga and bowing out of the Vicente Calderon in style before the summer.
The club started to brief the local media they were planning on entering negotiations with a refreshed Simeone to extend his deal back to 2020. The dust had seemingly settled and the Argentine was more relaxed than he had been 12 months previous.
Simeone made noises about the need to freshen up the squad and the club ceded to his desires, targeting the players Simeone had identified. The board were prepared to do anything to placate their man and ensure he stayed at the club a while longer.
Then came the bombshell that the Court of Arbitration for Sport had upheld the club’s transfer ban. The club had not been planning as if they were expecting the news and it threatened to accelerate Simeone’s departure. There was a moment when Manchester United’s public courtship of Griezmann looked as if it might pay off, while Saul’s form at the Under-21s attracted plenty of interest.
He would be unable to mould the squad ahead of the transition to the Wanda. The groundwork put in by the club on Simeone-specified signings such as Vitolo, Diego Costa and Sandro could all have been rendered useless and even worse they faced the realistic possibility of losing players without being able to bring in replacements.
Yet the hierarchy have excelled in dealing with the crisis. Behind the scenes they worked hard on Simeone, promising him money to spend, even if it meant farming players out on loan until they could return. When Koke, Saul and Griezmann all put pen to paper on new deals this summer it seemed inevitable that the boss would be next.
The club pressed ahead with a deal for Vitolo, despite the ban, in a huge show of faith. The Canary Islander was a player Simeone had been insistent upon signing and there was even some controversy surrounding the way the club from the capital convinced him to join. That the first six months of his Los Colchoneros career would be spent away from the club because of the ban added credence to the theory that Simeone was planning on staying longer than the end of this season and so it transpired.
The same for Costa. He would not be quite as desperate to return to Atleti — no matter his dislike for England — if he knew Simeone would only be there until next summer.
Expect that deal to be done in January as Atletico attack the business end of the season refreshed and rejuvenated, safe in the knowledge that the man who is the brains behind the operation will remain for another two years at least as they seek to land the holy grail of a modern Champions League title.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.