Atletico had not planned for the summer like a club expecting to be banned from signing; targets were identified, deals were set up and deadwood was likely told they were free to leave. But that all went up in smoke.
Gone were the best laid plans for Diego Simeone to strengthen and lead Los Rojiblancos into their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium with a squad capable of mounting a genuine challenge on all fronts. With the Argentine in the final year of his deal, it is plausible — although unlikely — that he might not make another signing for the club.
Granted, Griezmann’s decision to stay helped soften the blow, however it was only a temporary respite from the reality facing the club. They are banned from registering new players until January 2018, meaning all their pre-identified targets this summer are likely to move elsewhere — strengthening rivals and, more pertinently, not strengthening Atleti.
Most harmful is the case of Alexandre Lacazette. One of Griezmann’s best friends, full of pace and with a tremendous eye for goal, the Lyon forward was the top-quality striker the club have been lacking since Diego Costa’s departure in 2014.
There was too much onus placed on Los Rojiblancos‘ No. 7 last season, with Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres failing to support Griezmann sufficiently, while the likes of Jackson Martinez and Mario Mandzukic were unable to do so in the past and subsequently moved on.
Lacazette, it appeared, was the answer to the problem. The player’s heart was reportedly set on moving to the Spanish capital to work under Simeone and pair up with his pal, spearheading a new era together as Los Colchoneros look to finally win the Champions League. It all seemed so perfect — and then came the court’s decision.
Alas, the ban means Lacazette is now likely to move onto Arsenal rather than wait six months before signing for Atleti in January. It is a huge blow for a side in need of more goals from their frontline. Atleti will have to make do until at least January before potentially recruiting a new forward, with Diego Costa reported to be happy to bide his time in order to seal a return.
But the reality of the situation is that the season could be all but over by then. Real Madrid and Barcelona may well have sailed off into the distance in La Liga, and while Los Rojiblancos‘ recent Champions League record is tremendous, a couple of bad days in the group stage and you never know.
Unfortunately Lacazette is not the only case. Sandro Ramirez, another priority target for Simeone, could be on his way to Everton; Sevilla’s Vitolo will receive other suitors from across Europe, too. It is a far from ideal situation for a squad that needed refreshing.
Now the club must at least tie down other members of the squad. If they cannot strengthen, they must ensure they do not get weaker.
Saul Niguez’s scintillating form for Spain Under 21s will not have been lost on the plethora of scouts in Poland, and it is imperative that Atleti get him to commit his future to the club, just as they did with Koke last month.
The 22-year-old has become a fixture in the starting lineup at the Calderon ever since he truly announced himself with a sensational overhead kick and sublime display after coming on as a very early substitute in the famous 4-0 derby victory over Real Madrid in 2015.
Testament to his growing importance was the fact he was awarded the No. 8 shirt before the start of last season — a number made famous by club legend Luis Aragones.
Saul’s strong end to the campaign, including goals in each of the Champions League knockout rounds, has continued into the Euros this summer and two strikes in two games for favourites Spain has seen Barcelona suggested as a possible destination for the talented midfielder.
But under no circumstances can the club afford to lose a regular, let alone an academy product and fan favourite, and they must ensure he commits his long-term future to them. Similar deals for Jose Maria Gimenez and Jan Oblak must be in the offing too in order for Atletico to at least tread water before they are allowed to recruit again.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.