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Why Atletico Madrid may be forced to sell Saul Niguez to Manchester United this summer

Saul Niguez Manchester United

It may be nothing more than harmless transfer tattle, but nevertheless, Manchester United have been linked with Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez as a possible replacement for Paul Pogba

It makes sense on a lot of levels: aged 24, the Spain international has long been considered one of the brightest players in Europe and would fit Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s transfer strategy of recruiting younger players who have the ability to make an immediate impact. 

But United could also capitalise on a weak spot of Atletico Madrid’s – namely, the fact that the Spanish club don’t own a sizable chunk of their own player. According to Football Leaks discoveries, the Ireland-based Quality Football – headed up by superagent Jorge Mendes and former Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon – stumped up a paltry €1.5m for 40% of his transfer rights when Saul was only 16.  

And that’s not even the most galling part for Atletico Madrid. According to that leaked information, LosRojiblancos are obliged to tell the Dublin-based company about any offer within five days of its arrival, including the sum and who it came from.

If Quality Football want the transfer but Saul – who signed a nine-year contract in July 2017 with a release clause of €150m – doesn’t, their 40% stake is returned to Atletico and the club must compensate them for the income they would have made from a deal. 

Saul’s situation is far from unique. Before third-party ownership deals were finally outlawed by FIFA in May 2015, Mendes and Kenyon regularly encouraged investors to sink in cash to fund similar moves (completely legally). In June 2015, according to Football Leaks, Quality Football and its investors had €88m wagered on 40 players. Just over a year later it was still €45m in 27 stars. 

Atletico Madrid have often been in the crosshairs. In 2011, they sold a third of Radamel Falcao’s transfer rights to Doyen Sports – another company founded by Mendes – for $10m. In 2013, the club sold Falcao to Monaco for €60 million. Also in 2011, Doyen paid $2.5m for 12% of Sergio Aguero – then watched on with glee as the Argentine was sold to Manchester City for £35m months later. Quality Football only had to fork out €2m for 50% of Diego Costa’s rights (sold for €40m), meanwhile, and €6m for half of Arda Turan (sold for €34m).

It all stems from the poor financial state Atletico’s former president Jesus Gil left the club in. Although his son Miguel Angel eventually took over, the Spanish capital club were in debt to the tune of €520 million in summer 2015 and required such short-term fixes to keep them out of trouble. 

If Saul’s situation remains as it was upon the Football Leaks revelations, Atletico Madrid may have their hands tied if a substantial offer comes in for him this summer. Reports from May suggested that they are refusing to budge on an offer below his release clause of €150m – perhaps because they would only see €90m of it. 

How much sway they really have, however, is unclear. Powerful people have a habit of getting their own way.

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