He was 22 years old, a radiant age, and he faced the summer of 2014 with a confusing emotional cocktail, intense to its maximum expression. Koke Resurrection had just been league champion with Atlético de Madrid, had lost in an unlikely way the Champions League final against its white neighbor and, when calm seemed to finally be assailing him, the then budding midfielder received a disturbing call. The issuer was precisely Barcelona, the red and whites’ rival this Sunday in Montjuic (9:00 p.m., Movistar LaLiga).
The Catalans offered more gold and promised more laurels in that era of infinite waste and subsequent self-sabotage; Barcelona saw in Vallecas the necessary temperance to begin replacing a Xavi in his decline and was determined to pay the 60 million euros of the young midfielder’s termination clause. Koke thought about his decision with his family and in a few days he responded from the heart. How were you going to leave the best Atlético in decades? How could he abandon the club of his life so early? As Griezmann did not do in a similar situation several seasons later, the youth player stayed at home, accepted a notable salary increase and continued the slow construction of him as a red and white legend.
After nine years of that distant episode, the now cAtlético de Madrid captain, a footballer with the most appearances in the club’s history (600), continues to be essential in Diego Pablo Simeone’s plans. Some gray hair dots his fur, showing his early thirties, but to the rhythm of Atlético’s wonderful soccer team, Koke has recovered his best version this season, where he has played everything except for four games between August and September, which he missed due to injury.
The continuity of this footballer perennially in Simeone’s team can be explained, for example, with his performance last Tuesday in De Kuip, when Atlético confirmed its presence in the round of 16 of the Champions League. The Spanish international, destroyer and architect, laid the first stone in the foundation of the ball exit in the face of Feyenoord’s high pressure, gave meaning to the attacks of Riquelme and Llorente and was the main link between the Atlético low block and the midfielder, the place where Griezmann enjoys his free will.
However, among so many joys, Atlético is reunited today with an anguish that is almost 20 years old. Because, despite the return to greatness at the hands of Simeone in the last decade, the red and whites have not won a football match at the Barcelona stadium since February 5, 2006, when an Atlético team much smaller than the current one, Trained by Pepe Murcia and drowned in the middle of the classification, they won 1-3 at the Camp Nou against the leader. Today, third in the League, with one game less and tied on points with Barça, the Madrid team has a precious opportunity to settle debts with its past.
A thorny renewal
Obviously, in the athletic imagination there is no idea of a short and medium-term future without its captain. Logic indicates that Koke must retire from red and white, the only shirt he would wear in his career, under a period tribute at the Metropolitano. That assumption is still distant for the 31-year-old player and the only certainty is that next June he will end his contractual relationship with the club.
The renewal seems the most obvious consequence, although, however, the same footballer expressed his doubts after the last League match against Mallorca. «I don’t know how far I will go. I’m enjoying it a lot. I am very happy with the work done so far. I have been athletic all my life and I will try to play as many games as possible. It doesn’t depend on me. I hope I can stay as long as possible,” he explained. The Madrid native could then negotiate freely with another team starting in January, although that future seems unlikely. Because both the entity and the player are condemned to understand each other.
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