For the last decade, Atletico Madrid has been a revolving door of exceptional strikers. From a blossoming Fernando Torres, to the prolific tandem of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, to the pre-fallen Radamel Falcao, and a whole lot of other hot commodities in between, the Vicente Calderon has churned out enough firepower to staff an entire league of worthy forwards. And with Atleti’s recent purchase of Kevin Gameiro, it appears that lineage will live on for a little longer.
On July 30th, Atletico Madrid announced the signing of Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla for €32 million. The Frenchman signed a four-year deal with the Colchoneros, while Luciano Vietto headed the reverse direction on a season-long loan. Despite drawing strong interest from rivals Barcelona, Gameiro insisted at Sunday’s presentation that he “wanted to join Atletico from the beginning.” As if all of this was meant to be.
The Gameiro deal comes towards the end of a rather topsy-turvy summer in regards to Atleti’s frontline situation. This has been, in part, because of the uncertain future of ex-Colchonero Diego Costa, whose somewhat underwhelming Chelsea career has repeatedly left the door open for a possible return to Madrid. Of course, Costa’s 32 goals in 54 total games for the Blues isn’t the kind of record that should indicate an unsettled player. Yet the opportunity to reunite with a Diego Simeone side that was once tailor-made for the prickly Brazilian-Spaniard has always seemed too good for either party to pass up.
The reality, however, is that Chelsea appear hellbent on blocking any and every attempt of Costa and Atleti to rejoin forces. To the point where the club actually sent multiple letters to Madrid warning Simeone and company to end their pursuit of the player. It seemed unlikely that Atleti would ever halt their courtship of Costa; that is, until a certain Frenchman entered the picture.
But you can’t really talk about this Frenchman without first discussing that other one.
Fresh off his Golden Ball and Boot-winning Euro 2016, Antoine Griezmann is entering Messi/Ronaldo territory with his influence on the pitch. The 24-year-old has broken the 20+ goal mark in both of his first two seasons in Madrid, but it’s much more than that. As Griezmann became this high-flying, goal-scoring wide forward for Atleti, Atleti began to also shape-shift in Griezmann’s image. Though they were always a defense-first countering team, having the Frenchman leads those breakneck charges from end-to-end has added a new element to an already dangerous offense. It’s no longer about the bulldozing punishment of players like Costa, or even Falcao. Now, Atleti’s entire attack sweeps through the Spanish air like free-flowing wind, before unleashing a blitzkrieg at the opposition’s goal. What’s even scarier is that it’s only going to get quicker and more deadly.
This is where Gameiro comes in. The 29-year-old Frenchman is equipped with vanishing speed (just ask Javier Mascherano, who still probably has rojiblanco textiles under his fingernails) and a distinct eye for goal. Although he managed “only” sixteen Liga goals last season for Sevilla, look no further than his ridiculous Europa League run in which he notched ten goals in fifteen appearances en route to hoisting the trophy. He’s a pure athletic talent, but even more, he’s a perfect addition for a scintillating attack that already includes the pace and ingenuity of Griezmann, Yannick Carrasco, and now Nico Gaitan. In fact, he might be the ultimate missing piece.
For as much as Gameiro is a household name among both La Liga and — to a less extent — Ligue 1 enthusiasts, it’s still appropriate to categorize him as an emerging talent. If that seems like a bewildering statement, it kind of is. After all, the Frenchman is 29-years-old and has already scored over 150 professional top-flight goals, including a career-defining strike for Sevilla in May’s Europa League final against Liverpool. These aren’t the typical accomplishments of a budding star.
Yet, Gameiro still fell beneath forwards Olivier Giroud, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Anthony Martial, and Kingsley Coman in Didier Deschamps’ Euro 2016 squad, failing to even receive an invitation. Additionally, in one of the more extravagant European transfer windows in recent memory, Gameiro managed to only draw significant interest from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, the latter of those clubs seeing him merely as a deputy option for when Luis Suarez was either tired or suspended for one of those weird things Luis Suarez gets suspended for.
In the right situation, Gameiro is quite clearly a world-class striker. He’s proven it. Still, he isn’t seen as one simply for the fact that he’s been kicking around with the sub-elite class of Euro-ball’s unforgiving caste system. That is unfortunate, or at least it was. He’s a Colchonero now, which means he’s arrived at the grown ups’ table. And just in time for the main course.