Atletico Madrid could be left clinging to the faint hope that UEFA will come up with a ‘wildcard’ system for next season’s Champions League, in the event of this season’s competitions not being able to be finished.
There was little indication of such a scheme on Thursday when the game’s European governing body confirmed that if the season does not run its course, ‘sporting merit’ [in most cases points per game] would decide who reaches the Champions League.
Atletico know it’s unlikely but they have to cling to something. The horizon will look very dark for them otherwise – they would stand to lose around €100million [£88m] from missed Champions League revenue next season and that will only be partially offset by the far inferior Europa League prize money on offer.
Atletico Madrid would miss out on around £88m if they don’t get a Champions League spot
UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin has laid out plans for ‘sporting merit’ to decide European places
Wildcard entry could be granted to Atletico on the basis of their club coefficient. They are currently second in UEFA’s ranking.
They would also benefit if any team who had not finished in the European places in their national league but were still in the Champions League when it was abandoned, and therefore, theoretically still in a position to win it, were also allowed to play in next year’s tournament.
As things stand Atletico look cut adrift from Europe’s top table via the traditional route. They are sixth in La Liga.
UEFA have left the way open for national federations to use play-offs but the Spanish Football Federation has already made it clear they will use the latest league table at the point of the season being terminated as the deciding factor in who represents Spain next season in Europe.
Atletico Madrid’s hope is that the season is finished and that, using their performances against Liverpool as a springboard, they make it back into the top four.
If it can’t be finished then they had argued for the season to be voided but having seen how both the Spanish Football Federation and now UEFA have ruled that out, their only hope would be a wildcard entry.
Atletico would love to build on their stunning win over Liverpool by finishing in the top four
Diego Simeone’s men had dropped to sixth in La Liga before the season was suspended
Atletico jumped ahead of many of their rivals in Spain when they built their new stadium in 2017 but they borrowed from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s company Inbursa to pay for the arena, taking out a loan estimated at €200m (£176m) that will not be paid off in full until 2028.
They have at least managed to break even in the transfer market, buying big but selling big too. And that would have to be their way out of trouble again.
The squad is full of saleable assets. The head of the Spanish League Javier Tebas has told clubs that they need to largely forget about the transfer market and concentrate on bringing back loaned-out players and developing youth-teamers. But the exception to any downward curve in the market will be the clubs that have no alternative but to sell.
Midfielder Saul Niguez has never made much secret of a desire to play in England one day. His Champions League performances reminded everyone of his ability and although his buy-out clause is set at an unreachable €150m (£135m) suitors such as long-term admirers Manchester United know he would be available for much less.
Thomas Partey has attracted interest from Premier League and may be sold to cover the deficit
Saul Niguez is also another saleable asset but they wouldn’t get £135m release clause for him
Thomas Partey has a buy-out clause of just €50m (£44m). Atletico would be determined to stick to that figure if the Ghana captain, whose dad admitted this week has been the subject of interest from Arsenal, was to leave the club.
Jan Oblak is another who has never been short of suitors although his €120m (£105m) release clause is an indication of how much Atletico would want for him.
Joao Felix was on Manchester United’s radar towards the end of last year when it seemed the Portuguese 20-year-old looked to be really struggling to adapt to life under Diego Simeone.
The coach and his salary will be another point of contention, although Atletico will need Simeone more than ever in the coming crisis.
The La Liga giants borrowed close to £200m to pay for their stunning new stadium
If UEFA’s guidelines come into play, Simeone’s men need wildcard lifeline to save their season
He earns around €10m [£8.8m] more than any of his peers according to France Football. He topped their list of highest-paid managers last year, grossing €40.5m [£35.5m]a season, just under €10m more than second-placed Antonio Conte, who earns €30m [£26.2m] and third-placed Pep Guardiola on €27m [£23.6m].
But the club have always argued that having brought in well over €300million [£262m] in prize-money since he took over eight years ago, he has more than paid for himself and continues to do so.
Next season he may have to earn his money more than ever with the club inevitably reducing, instead of increasing the quality of the squad.
That, at least, will be the scenario if the season cannot be finished and there is no plan from UEFA to offer Atletico a wildcard lifeline.