Diego Simeone not worried Saul Niguez will leave Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone says he is not worried that other clubs will soon take his promising young stars such as midfielder Saul Niguez away from the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Saul, 21, is part of a new generation of Atletico stars -- along with Antoine Griezmann, Jose Maria Gimenez, Angel Correa and Lucas Hernandez whose reputations have soared as the side chase success in both the Champions League and La Liga this season.
The situation is not dissimilar to two years ago -- when Atletico won the Spanish title and reached the Champions League final, with the following summers seeing leaders of that team including Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, Arda Turan and Miranda being tempted away by richer clubs.
The Spain U-21 international's stunning solo goal and impressive all round performance in Atletico's 1-0 Champions League semifinal first leg win over Bayern Munich has led to increased speculation he could also move away -- with Manchester United thought to be among the potential suitors for a player whose contract runs until 2020 and includes a €60 million release clause.
Some reports have claimed that Atletico sold 40 percent of Saul's playing rights to investors linked to his agent Jorge Mendes in 2011 for just €1.5m, while others maintain that Barcelona received first option on the then-teenager's signature in the complicated deal with took David Villa to the Calderon in summer 2013.
The Colchoneros coach told his news conference ahead of Saturday afternoon's La Liga clash with neighbours Rayo Vallecano at the Estadio Vicente Calderon that he thinks his young players will stay put.
"We are in a situation with young players, very young, with a great present and an even better future, all based on their day to day work," Simeone said. "Saul has a very good present and the best thing for him is to stay away from all the talk about him. I am not afraid he will move to another team."
Simeone and his team are being praised throughout Europe after their commanding display against Bayern, while a squad with just a third of the budget of both Barcelona and Madrid are again right in a tight three-way Spanish title race.
"I never like extremes, they are not good," Simeone said. "I do not consider them fair. I take a balanced view and know that I cannot be distracted from the day to day reality, which is what keeps me going and excites me. I do not like out of proportion praise."
The Argentine coach must watch Saturday's game from the Calderon stands, as he is suspended for the final three games of the La Liga season having been held responsible by the La Liga authorities after a ball was deliberately thrown onto the pitch to disrupt play during last weekend's 1-0 win against Malaga.
"I accept that those who have to decide have made their decision," he said. "I will prepare for the game, from the position I will have to be in."
Rayo themselves badly need the points as they sit 16th in the table, just three points above the drop zone, following their 2-3 home defeat to Real Madrid last weekend. Atletico cannot really afford to rotate their side too much and risk a slip-up as Barca are expected to win at Real Betis and Madrid at Real Sociedad in their games this weekend.
"I will choose the players who can bring me solutions for this game," Simeone said. "I always think that our next game is the hardest. We must stick to our own, we have few options, and the only thing we can do is win our game."
Experienced centre-half Diego Godin was still sidelined with a hamstring injury, Simeone said, and seems unlikely to make the UCL semi return at Bayern on Wednesday evening.
"I am not thinking about [Godin] now, I am thinking about [Stefan] Savic, Lucas and Gimenez," he said. "If he is better we will be happy, but if not we will keep going with the three lads who are doing great work for us."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan