Wanting a place back in the Spain team is what’s driving Saul Niguez towards a switch to the Premier League and Thomas Tuchel could be the perfect coach for a player who has been Diego Simeone’s man for all seasons for the best part of a decade.
After winning the league with Atletico Madrid last season Saul was absent from Spain’s Euro 2020 squad and his value to Simeone as a player with the intelligence to occupy so many different outfield positions was the key to him missing out as players who had played the entire season in midfield were selected ahead of him.
For the last two seasons the player who, not so long ago, was the future of Spain’s midfield has been used in almost every outfield position at Atletico Madrid.
And he has started the first two games of the season under Simeone as a left wing-back in Atletico’s 3-5-2. It was from that position that his crossfield pass to Angel Correa set-up Atletico’s winner on the opening day of the season against Celta Vigo.
But he wants his place in the Spain team back and he believes solidifying his place back in midfield is the best way to achieve it. If it’s Tuchel’s midfield then all the better.
The German coach’s love of quick-thinking players who can adapt to changing systems mean he and Saul could be the perfect match with the 26-year-old competing with Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho for a place in Chelsea’s side.
Watching Pedri, Sergio Busquets and Koke playing every game for Luis Enrique this summer it was easy to forget that Saul was once the first name on the team sheet in midfield.
Diario AS’s Spain reporter, Joaquin Maroto, wrote in 2018: ‘He has that great physical presence in midfield, he covers so much ground, he can arrive in the area to score and he can sweep up at the other end of the pitch. What [Steven] Gerrard was for Liverpool and England, Saul can be for Spain.’
Saul hoped after filling holes all over the pitch for Simeone and never complaining his reward would be for the Atletico coach to put him back in his best position and build a team around him.
But Simeone told Diario AS this summer: ‘Last season he spoke with us about his need to have a place in the team where he felt important but I consider Saul’s importance comes precisely from his ability to play in so many different positions. He and those around him seem to see it as something negative.’
Those comments and him starting this campaign at left wing-back have confirmed the player’s belief that it is time to move on to get himself back in Luis Enrique’s side before the next World Cup.
Chelsea’s excellent relationship with Atletico Madrid has seen them work out deals around Diego Costa, Felipe Luis and Alvaro Morata in recent years. If Saul completes his move to Stamford Bridge it will be a similar deal to the one that first took Morata to London.
Chelsea would pay the player’s €7million (£6m) net wages and pay a similar figure to the Spanish champions for one season’s loan with a €40m (£34m) option to buy next summer. Manchester United have been long-term admirers.
Atletico see it as a way of getting the most for an unsettled player whose €150m buy-out clause is not going to be met this summer. For Saul it will be the opportunity he has been waiting for – to get himself back in the Spain team in the midfield position he believes is his best.