Luciano Vietto will improve Atletico Madrid but they might miss Arda Turan
You can almost picture Arda Turan sitting at his hotel in Barcelona, legs stretched out on the table, flicking on the lunchtime news with a smile creeping out from behind that magnificent beard, an unmistakable air of cool. "Phew," he says. "That was close."
Wednesday afternoon and 600 kilometres away at Cerro del Espino to the northwest of Madrid, his former teammates are back at work with the temperature hitting almost 40 degrees.
Around the pitch, TV cameras are gathered, capturing every moment and now, just after 3 p.m., the images are all over the sports bulletins. Soon, it's everywhere. The man doing the voice-over can't help but giggle.
"El Profe" Ortega, Diego Simeone's physical trainer, is haranguing the players as they run through the drills. "I see there's been a lot of ping-pong played this summer," El Profe says. Table tennis, sure, but not much training. It's been 47 days since the 2014-15 season ended. It's a hard slog and the players are suffering.
No one is suffering more than Luciano Vietto, Atletico's €20 million signing from Villarreal. Some fans have gathered and, like the cameras, they can't help but notice. The same goes for Simeone and Ortega. There's something playfully sadistic in their smiles; they're enjoying this, like army corporals with a new recruit. "He's as unstable as the dollar in Argentina," Ortega jokes, pushing him ever harder and they laugh as Vietto escapes to the shade, pouring water over his head. The players glance over, knowingly.
"El Profe wanted to give him an early welcome," captain Gabi grins later. At the end of the session, Vietto virtually collapses, gratefully pulling off his boots. Welcome, indeed. A lucky escape for you, Arda.
In truth, Turan's words were probably misinterpreted. It wasn't so much a case of not wanting to run -- nine teammates ran greater distances than him last season, sure, but he was neither lazy nor a cold fish lacking personality. Rather, it was him believing himself to be better suited to a different approach. One that is a little less direct, a little less athletic, a little less based on pace, a little less aggressive. A little less focused on counter-attacks.
This season, all the more so. Atletico look set to reinforce that identity; the likelihood is that they may evolve back toward a style more like the Atletico that won the league in 2013-14 than the Atletico of last season.
And no, not because of Turan's departure. He has been central to Atletico's success over the past four years; he was a player that gave them something "different" but necessary in the words of his manager, who not only recognised Turan's importance but often made shifts to suit him. Indeed, it is still tempting to wonder what might have happened had he and Diego Costa been fit for the 2014 Champions League final.
"Arda gives us football," Atletico's coach said after the first Madrid derby last season, when the Turkish midfielder hadn't just scored the winning goal but had been the game's best player, on a different level to everyone else. Easy to say afterwards, of course, but before it Simeone had declared: "We need him." He was right, too. As Atletico evolved last season, Turan was vital for it to work. He was the season before, as well.
Instead, the shift this season is symbolised not by the departure of Turan but by the departure of Mario Mandzukic; the approach is encapsulated not by Turan but by the man on the television screen, the victim -- Luciano Vietto. By Vietto, and by Antoine Griezmann, last season's revelation as a striker rather than a wide midfielder, scorer of 25 league goals. Also, by Jackson Martinez, Atletico's €35 million signing from Porto, where he finished as the top scorer in the Portuguese league for three of the past four seasons.
In the absence of Diego Costa, Atletico signed Mandzukic. The change made a shift in style inevitable: Between Griezmann and Mandzukic, they hoped that two men could do what Costa had often done alone. But while Griezmann was a huge success in learning a different type of movement and running beyond defences, the Croat could not do the same. Mandzukic was superb in the air for the first half of the year, but through-balls were pointless as he simply did not have the pace for them; instead, ball movement became lateral.
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Now, Simeone wants to recover that quality. It is not just via those three, either. There is also Fernando Torres and the 20-year-old Argentine Angel Correa, who has fully recovered from a heart problem. Between them, they scored almost 90 goals last season and although it is simplistic to reduce it to speed, they're also all very quick. Meanwhile, if they don't have Turan to release them, they do still have Koke, Saul and Oliver Torres. They also have Vietto, a man who Simeone sees not just as a striker but as a creator, too.
"Luciano has extraordinary qualities. He's a second striker, good in attacking combination and scores goals," Simeone said. "He is similar to David Villa."
Simeone knows. He gave Vietto his debut for Racing Avellaneda in Argentina when he was just 17, and last season, Vietto repaid him with the goal that defeated Atletico at the Calderon, making Diego Godin look silly like few have.
And just as Simeone knows what Vietto can offer, Vietto knows what Simeone demands, and not just because Turan's words were a warning. "He knows what I can offer and he has a way of getting the best out of players," the forward said at his presentation. If there had ever been any doubt, he got a painful reminder at Cerro del Espino. It was Thursday afternoon, 24 hours later, when he was officially presented. He still ached.
Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.