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Diego Simeone should consider his Atletico Madrid future

He hasn't phoned me yet, but when he does I'll tell him: "Diego -- it's the right time to start thinking about moving on from Atletico Madrid."

In this hypothetical situation, I must point out, I'm acting as his agent and speaking in his best interests.

Back in the real world I sincerely hope that Atlético's attempts to renew his contract, which still has another season to run, succeed.

La Liga would be a less colourful, less intense, less competitive place without him. From a selfish point of view, we are all better off with him here in Spain

However, I think that the defending Spanish champions are edging towards a downward part of the parabola, which all clubs must confront when they strategise and evolve over a five-year period.

Might they overturn their 1-0 deficit to Bayer Leverkusen this week and progress to the Champions League quarter final?

It's far from impossible.

Might they buck-up their Liga form and finish third, qualifying automatically for next season's elite European competition?

That is equally feasible.

But those are not my central points.

Looked at analytically, Atleti are going to need to begin a process of renovation which, over the next year or two, at the very least threatens how competitive they will be for trophies and for upsetting the biggest clubs in home and abroad.

It might be time for Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone to consider his managerial future.

Look at what the X-Ray shows.

Atleti are, globally, over €500m in debt and they have a new stadium to finish and occupy. That's a lot of high-maintenance repayments.

Champions League revenue is manna from heaven in that context but, even so, Los Colchoneros will always need to give priority to the importance of selling major players when an extremely profitable bid arrives.

Hence the departure to Chelsea last year of Diego Costa, their marquee player whose goals, not unnaturally, Atleti have failed to replace.

At this stage last season they had 64 points from 27 games, having scored 63 and conceded 21 en route to winning the title.

One year on, they have 56 from 27, with 51 goals scored and 23 conceded.

While the dip this season isn't yet earth shattering, they are worse in every statistic compared to last season, including yellow and red cards, as well as being fourth instead of second by three points.

But it is not the end of the world.

Not, at least, if it was simple buy top-class replacements in competition with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Bayern Munich.

Not if it were simple to retain their remaining star properties like Diego Godin, Koke or Arda Turan.

Neither will be straightforward.

Atleti's "winning" era began to show itself almost precisely five years ago when the habits, the mentality and the quality required to consistently win trophies, or to reach finals, began to bear fruit.

However, when Quique Sanchez Flores' team beat Frank Rijkaard's Galatasaray in the first knockout round of the Europa League in February 2010 en route to winning the competition, they had one, repeat one, player in that matchday squad who is still involved with the first team these days: Raul Garcia.

That's a major turnover in the five years from then until now. Atletico would have loved to to retain the likes of Costa, Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Aguero, David De Gea and Radamel Falcao but that's not the reality of their situation. Equally, the turnover in the years prior to lifting that trophy was important, strategic and a slow-burner.

You can trace the roots of Atleti's current success to 2006 when they appointed Jesus Garcia Pitarch as sports director.

It was a time when los Rojiblancos hadn't won a major trophy -- promotion aside -- for 10 years and hadn't played European football for six.

Four years later they were winning trophies: The aforementioned Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup (they also finished runners-up in the Copa del Rey final to Sevilla).

You pick the right seeds, you try to make the ground fertile, you plant and you wait. There are no guarantees the harvest will be vintage but what is certain is that it will take time.

That harvest came from a sizeable squad renovation which saw Pitarch bring in the likes of Costa and Godin as well as Diego Forlan, Tiago and Filipe Luis, while overseeing the development of Koke from Cantera to first team.

From 2006-2010 there was a consistent and intelligent overhaul of playing staff to make Atletico "winners" again. And yet, from that 2009-10 season, only Tiago and Raul Garcia remain.

No one thought Atletico could win La Liga last season. They don't believe it this year, either.
Simeone led Atletico to the Spanish title and Champions League final last season.

In the summer of 2014, Atletico suffered/put themselves through a turnover of 38 players -- those who left, those who came in, those who went out on loan.

That's a massive transplant of talent, learning, attitude and mentality; hugely hard for a club to deal with and assimilate and continue to play winning football.

If you look, hard, it's clear that it wasn't enough this season.

There have been times when the collective "30-something" ages of Gabi, Juanfran, Tiago, Miranda, Fernando Torres and the enormous intensity being asked of late-20s Arda, Godin and Raul Garcia has just taken a cutting edge away from their play.

From May 2010 until August 2014 Atleti won seven trophies, at least one per season.

I'd predict that next season will be the first since 2009-10 that they win nothing. The Copa del Rey isn't improbable but, there you are, that's my prediction.

Last season, when they played some of the best and most determined football in their history, they were within a goal of not winning the title and were on their knees with fatigue by the end of the Champions League final.

That's a marker that not only are they not good enough this season to win titles and to go one step further in the Champions League, but they'll need to get back to the levels of quality of last season and supersede them.

Furthermore, this summer will see a tooth-and-nail fight to retain three players -- Koke, Godin and Arda -- while I'd expect both Miranda and Mario Mandzukic to be sold, no doubt profitably.

Atletico Madrid have dropped to fourth in La Liga after a run of one win their last five games.

Since taking charge at Christmas 2011, Simeone has renewed his contract once.

At that time he demanded one fundamental thing: squad security, that sense of continuity and reliability whereby you know for sure that all the positions where you need to buy will will be covered and those players that you want to retain will definitely be retained.

It was not "No movement of my first team players!" -- he's not unrealistic -- but a request for solidity, consistency and reliability of squad alterations.

Subsequently, he's updated that demand and said that, to retain him beyond his current deal, he merely needs to know that the club "is as ambitious as me and can demonstrate that ambition".

There have been some of the signs he's looking for, including the sale of a 20 percent stake in the club to a Chinese investor, spending [gross] over €100m on signings and paying Fernando Torres' wages.

But here's the thing that, as his agent, I'd be counselling to take into account.

Right now Simeone looks nearly as attractive to prospective employers as Barcelona's Pep Guardiola did in 2009 or 2010.

Patently talented, trophy-winning, inspirational, good at the day-to-day training, intense, capable of making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, a brilliant "representation" of his club, part of the club's image/identity -- he is a minor force of nature.

The ultimate in "seller's market".

What Simeone might also want to recall is what the last couple of years at Barcelona did to Guardiola compared to the first couple. They drained him, they irritated him, they cost him the need to take a sabbatical, they frayed some relationships.

Guardiola, just as Simeone does now, had to face the prospect of renewal, change, shedding of resources and rebooting tactics.

My perception is that Atletico's gradual drift away from the title, Copa del Rey exit and slightly precarious situation in the Champions League is an indication, as is their dreadful discipline record, of them knowing full well that they lack the absolute top class resources of last season.

Competitive? Yes. Capable of a comeback win over Bayer Leverkusen? Yes and hopefully that's exactly what will happen.

However, at a time when they are going to need three or four absolutely excellent transfer market successes this summer -- Edinson Cavani perhaps being one -- they face a fight to retain crown jewels like Godin and Koke.

There are young players emerging, of course, but that again takes time as a new cycle begins.

Of course, what Simeone does next obviously depends heavily on whether an exquisite offer, for a properly planned, well-funded and reliable football project, comes to him from a major club. This is a time when only a truly elite club can be attractive to him.

If that offer isn't on the table then the decision to stay at the Calderon becomes far easier -- naturally!

However if Simeone decides that, unilaterally, he wants to stay at Atletico irrespective of the offers which come his way then he needs to accept a few realities.

The first is that the unabashed love affair between him and the fans, the media and his players may hit stormier seas.

Secondly, that Atleti might return to what was their previous normality and not necessarily win a trophy per season, for two or even three years.

Thirdly, that there's an opportunity cost. If now is not his time to accept the challenge at, say, a top Premier League or Serie A club, then it's feasible whoever does take up that challenge might stay in post for five years and reap huge success. It's just part of the risk of saying "no".

Fourthly, that it'll take time, good fortune and the intelligent work of others -- his President, his football director and his players -- to restore his own brilliant reputation to its current level.

Finally, that Valencia have the potential, at least, to make life in La Liga a lot more competitive than it was when Atleti made themselves a dominant force

If all these things are questions to which he can say "no problem", then fine.

Furthermore, if there is absolutely no suitable, tempting offer out there in the European market, which is doubtful, then, again, fine.

However, if Simeone would become restless and unhappy without trophies, without this current level of competitiveness...

If Simeone would feel bitter if he saw, say, an Inter Milan restored by someone else or the next stage of Manchester City or United's development becoming a project which will keep those jobs out of his reach for four or five years, then it's time for him to move this summer.

It's not a bad choice to have to face.

Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.


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