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Atletico signing Thomas Lemar would represent change in mindset, raise ambitions

Boom. Just like that, on a day that was supposed to be all about Antoine Griezmann, an afternoon that turned into focusing on Real Madrid's decision to appoint Julen Lopetegui, finally became Atletico Madrid's at the 11th hour as they announced the -- likely -- arrival of Thomas Lemar from Monaco.

To get the full picture you need to wind back the clock a few weeks.

Griezmann was promised -- in addition to a pay rise -- top quality signings that demonstrated the club's ambition matched his own. Winning the Europa League, they told him, was just the start and it was not the trophy that they were going to be targeting next season. All he had to do was resist the overtures of Barcelona...

Come Tuesday morning, the papers both in Spain and France ran with the same story: Griezmann was set to announce he was going to stay at his news conference with the France national team that afternoon.

Then came the event itself. Griezmann read out a short statement that turned out to be something of a damp squib. "Today's not the day to talk about it," he said, declarations that only served to further add credence to the rumour he is waiting until July 1 when his buyout clause drops to €100 million and he suddenly becomes more affordable.

That then brings us to Lemar. The cynics out there will think this is a preemptive strike from Los Rojiblancos, who are spending their Griezmann money before it officially hits the coffers in order to appease fans.

Yet, the same media who reported the diminutive attacker was set to stay also said that Atleti were on the verge of signing Lemar -- seen as something of a sweetener to entice him to stay put. Granted, recent Instagram posts have shown that the pair are very close, but could the deal really be that simple?

Thomas Lemar is a signing that indicates Atletico Madrid intend to compete for titles.
Thomas Lemar is the type of signing that indicates Atletico Madrid intend to compete for continental glory.

Of course not. Firstly, given their seemingly close relationship, if anyone knows whether the No. 7 is staying or not, it is Lemar and if Griezmann ultimately leaves it still represents an excellent bit of business and quite the coup for the club given the interest that has surrounded the Monaco man over the past two years.

To suggest he is coming only to keep his mate happy does a disservice to the 22-year-old who shone during Monaco's incredible Ligue 1 title win in 2016-17, netting nine goals and laying on another 10. He was also an integral player as they reached the Champions League semifinals that season before their squad was decimated by Europe's super-rich.

While other players were sold off to the highest bidder, the club kept hold of the pacy midfielder, and they did so with good reason. He was key to their style of play and they wanted to build a team around him. While he remained, there was always a desire there from him to move on, and ultimately he got his wish.

For Atleti, the signing of a player set to start for France at the World Cup and who is proven at the top level represents a significant change of mindset. Add in that the player could possibly see his value increase further at the tournament, and snapping him up now seems like very smart business.

Hot on the heels of Diego Costa, they have brought in yet another top-class attacking player to add to their spine of Jan Oblak, Diego Godin, Saul Niguez, Koke and Griezmann. It is, at €65m, the kind of signing that a club who want to fight not only for the La Liga title, but also the Champions League and Copa del Rey make.

While not officially complete, the clubs have announced a deal is agreed and the rest appears to be a formality. While supporters of El Pupas (the cursed one) will not be counting their chicken out loud, this one looks all tied up.

Perhaps the easiest piece of the whole story is to see how and where he fits into Los Colchoneros' starting XI. Ever since the sale of Yannick Carrasco in January, Atletico have lacked a player capable of beating a man with a burst of pace and carrying the ball 30-40 metres from midfield to attack in the blink of an eye. He can play out wide in midfield or as part of a front three. Just imagine Lemar, Costa and Griezmann as a triumvirate.

In Lemar they have signed someone with proven output, the kind of pace, stamina and power that will have Diego Simeone salivating and, most crucially, someone who wants to be at the club whether Griezmann remains or not.

Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.


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